This week, we've been talking about condemning our Christianity because the world is upset with it, but we've also seen that not everything that bears of the name of Jesus is actually Christian. There are all kinds of questions that we have to ask ourselves about any accusation the world makes before we jump so quickly to throwing ourselves out with the bathwater.
These questions include: who is using the name of Jesus? how is the name of Jesus being used? and what do they mean by "Jesus"?
But even if we were to find that it was the world that was using the name of Jesus to try to create tension or if we found that it was a fringe group of Christians with wildly different beliefs than mainstream Christianity or if we found that it was only a small number of Christians who were present, but weren't there specifically for a "Christian" purpose...does that mean that Christianity, then, doesn't have a problem?
Even if we were to find that it was not Christianity as a whole, or even as a majority, that has an image problem in the world, we would have to then confess that, well, Christianity has an image problem in the world.
This is the idea of "living above reproach." If the name of Jesus is being used in the world even by those with less-than-pure intentions or shallow understandings and the world truly believes this is representative of all of us, then we have a problem. And that problem is that we, as Christians, are not living in such a way that the world can tell the difference between someone who is truly in Christ and someone who is just using His name.
There's something that circles around social media from time to time that captures this. It says something like, "Live such a spotless/righteous life that even if they heard the rumors about you, they couldn't possibly think they are true." Because the world is always going to talk. And the only thing we can do, as Christians, is to live so respectably, so righteously, so consistently with the love of Jesus that we preach that even the world would look at events like those that prompted this week's conversation and say, "Those aren't Christians."
We should be so absolutely, thoroughly, completely known for our love, grace, and hope that the world couldn't possibly mistake any of these imposters for the real church.
This is, of course, a bit harder to do in a culture that is antagonistic to the Gospel and in which language is used as a weapon, where all that matters is that a story exists and is being told, whether that story is true or not. In fact, the louder you shout it, the more true it becomes somehow. So there is definitely a challenge ahead of us in trying to live a beautiful witness in a world that only has to say that we are not and that one statement becomes just as true as thousands of hours of love. We live in a world that can say whatever it wants to, completely ignore the evidence, and create a "truth" out of nothing at all and then, remarkably, stand on it.
But that doesn't excuse us from trying.
That doesn't excuse us from being called to live the kind of life that Jesus has called us to live. It doesn't excuse us from being the embodied Gospel in a broken and hurting world. It doesn't excuse us from trying to show the world the real truth about Jesus and what it means to be a Christian.
But neither does it mean that we have to engage on the world's terms, that we have to live in response to their story. We simply cannot be a people who condemn our Christianity at a mere whisper just because the world has condemned us. We cannot be a people too quick to jump in and say, "Oh yes, us, too. We are so sorry." Because the name of Jesus is being used all over our world, but not necessarily by those actually drawing near to His heart. There are, and always have been, and always will be false prophets and rumors and rogues but the church does not have to claim them...and we certainly don't have to let them claim us. (Which is what is happening by the way.)
All we have to do is all that we ever had to do - stand on the truth and the love and the grace and the hope of Jesus Christ and live loving Him and one another. That is our best answer to the critics. That is our best witness to the world. That is our best hope of staking our claim in culture.
Everything else is just a distraction.
(And can we just say this, too? We will never argue the world into believing us. We will never refute their accusations well enough or condemn ourselves thoroughly enough to please them. We cannot win this battle in words. So can we please, please stop trying and just love already? Okay, thanks.)