Tuesday, November 24, 2015

One Reason Why People Don't Go To Church - Christians are Judgmental

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My post 10 Reasons Why People Don't Go To Church struck a chord with many. The first reason I gave for why people don't go to church is because, frankly, many think Christians are judgmental, negative and critical. I want to ask you, is it true?

One young lady once said, 'I don't like working in the cafe on a Sunday, because that's the day the Christians come in.' I had to double check that what she was saying was true. She wasn’t making it up. I wish she was. She was adamant. When the ‘Christians’ came into the cafĂ© in which she worked, they were demanding, picky, negative and demeaning. I was thinking I could argue and say, ‘Well, that’s just your perception of Christians.’ I could have argued that point, the problem was, however, that her perception was an accurate view of reality.

We have all seen the bad caricatures of Christians in secular media; depicted as outdated and irrelevant people, wearing weird clothing. Well, this lady’s view of Christians was true. In this particular incident, Christians were negative and rude. Now one desires to defend the Christian faith, and its poor representation, but at times, one must simply admit, that these followers of Jesus let the team down.

Sometimes Christians are very judgmental; sometimes we simply appear to be so.

Let me clarify for you, before you move on to washing your car, making dinner and putting the kids in bed. People of Christian faith are regularly making moral judgments about what is going on in their reality and in their world. 

Though one must surely distinguish between being judgmental and making judgments. 

See, to make a judgment is to merely discern the appropriate action to a particular problem and to form an opinion. Being judgmental is technically one who is simply making a judgment, but is usually used with a negative connotation; that is, ‘someone is being judgmental.’

When a Christian makes a judgment that need not mean she is being judgmental in the negative sense. For instance, I recall a time a few of us were sitting in a local fast food restaurant and we were chatting about leadership. Then we got on to the topic of allowing people to become Christian ministers, and the process in which that happens. The topic got quite heated as we discussed what really mattered in the scheme of things when it came to ordaining someone for Christian ‘Full-time’ Ministry. Then some blurted out, ‘Well, it’s not our place to be judge!’

I thought about this for a moment. Wait a minute, it is someone’s place to make a judgment. Say Johnny Smith puts his hands up to become a Clergyman, after some of his previous professions hadn’t gone too well. He’s out of work and sees an opportunity. Now, I’m not saying Johnny shouldn’t be able to become a Priest, but the fact is, someone needs to make a judgment call at some point. Should Johnny be able to become a priest? It is not judgmental in a negative way, to go through the right processes, of prayer, background checks, psychological testing, interviews and the like to make a ‘judgment’ about Johnny’s capacity or otherwise to do the job he feels called to do.

Christians make judgments. Well, we all make judgments. We make decisions on whether we will buy that new jumper, or wear the old one in the cupboard. We decide if we’ll take out that loan or not, and we decide whether we’re going to eat out and cook at home again for another night. Employers make judgments about employees. Politicians make judgments about new policies. Farmers make judgments about how they’ll prepare their crop. Dancers make judgments on their choreography.

The issue then, is not that Christians make judgments or are judgmental (in the strict sense of the word), but there’s something else at play.

Could it be that what infuriates unbelievers the most, is not so much that Christian’s have a say about a particular topic, but rather it’s the content of what they say that annoys them. So, it’s then, not so much that Christians make judgments but it’s what they find to be so important in life that drives others crazy.

Let me go down this rabbit warren for a moment. Most people, in secular democratic societies today are big on free speech. You have a right to speak your mind, and you have a right to a particular ideology. You have human rights and that affords you the luxury of choosing which way you lean politically, creating your own view on the environment and making an opinion about the latest music.

Though you have a right to speak what is important to you, that doesn’t mean people are going to like what you say. Often when someone hears something that challenges their foundational belief system, one feels offended and taken-aback. That’s when you hear, ‘Stop being judgmental.’ 

Wait a second: If your belief system is challenged, the other person may not be intending to be ‘judgmental’, but is probably just them making particular comments about the aspects of the beliefs to which they have a different view.

So there’s a difference from being negative and judgmental to offering up an opinion that runs in stark contrast to the one listening.

Here’s the challenge for communities of faith today. Our views and forthright opinions that we express in church communities can come across as judgmental to those listening. That may not be because we are purposefully being antagonistic, but rather, that what the listener is hearing, is so at odds with their own world-view, it appears judgmental and harsh.

How do we deal with this issue? Is it simply the work of the Holy Spirit to convince those that hear what we say has validity? Does that then mean it doesn’t matter how forthright we share the message of Christ and the Kingdom of God to a yet-to-be-Christian?  

If we head down the track that it is entirely the work of the Spirit to convince someone of the credibility of the Gospel story, then we excuse ourselves from any part that we play. One has to admit, we surely play a part. We are responsible for:
  • What we communicate to others 
  • How we communicate that message to others
  • How we conduct our day-to-day lives
  • How we express compassion to another
  • How we respond to negativity ourselves
  • How we introduce aspects of our faith story with an unbeliever

It is the role of the Holy Spirit to guide people into all truth[i] but it the role of the believer to creatively and compassionately live out and proclaim a message of hope to the world. Christians cannot abdicate their responsibility to be salt and light in the world, and cannot shirk from the accountability God puts on us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.[ii] 

People would surely seek to be part of churches if they were places that overflowed with respect, love and compassion and were communities that acknowledged people are on a journey of discovering the truth of God. We must show respect and love in the process.

I don't mean to judge, but Christians can be negative, pessimistic and judgmental. We need to show another way. 

The way of Christ.

[i] John 16:13
[ii] Micah 6:8

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What John Wesley said that is IMPOSSIBLE to Ignore


In the 18th Century, John Wesley preached to thousands of people, and became a prominent religious teacher, whose actions prompted the beginnings of the Methodist movement. He is mainly known for his teachings on holiness, and the privilege of believers to live holy, sanctified lives before the Lord.

There was something John Wesley said that is impossible to ignore!
In an English society that was becoming increasingly individualistic in outlook, Wesley said that there is no holiness without social holiness. Now what did he mean by that? I have never really understood the gravity of this statement until recently.

He meant, that when someone lives a holy life, the impact is not just on the individual, but on society as a whole. A holy life affects the community at large.

Think about the Christian politician who is challenged publicly by a journalist about their faith in Christ. We have heard the response numerous times before, ‘My faith is between me and God, and is private matter.’ This sounds cute and safe, but what is actually being said is, ‘My faith is between me and God, and won’t affect anybody.’ Wait a minute, how is that even possible? If I am a Christian and I walk through the supermarket and someone falls over and hurts themselves, does my faith matter? One would suggest that if I have any depth to my relationship with God, then I would feel compassion on the person who has fallen and desire to help them. My faith has a social impact. Now, that’s not to say people who aren’t Christians don’t help people in need, far from it (and many are better than Christians), but it is clear that a relationship with God changes the way we interact with society. Social holiness is about lives committed to Christ, that impact society, by virtue of what God is doing in their lives.

So back to the politician. Say she needs to make a policy decision about asylum seekers. If she truly is a follower of Jesus, she would surely request the wisdom of God in formulating that policy. That would not be unreasonable to suggest. Now, go with me for a minute. If the policy is created and communicated to the society at large, her faith has not been private, it’s made a wider impact. You  cannot have holiness without social holiness.

You may think your faith is private and you may want it to be private, but what God does inside of you, impacts others. In fact, it should. If what God does in your life does not impact others, then go back to God in prayer and ask why!

Let me labour the point a little further. Your faith cannot just be a thing that is ‘between me and God.’ This is a cop-out and dare I say a response made in fear of the repercussions of what a public faith would mean. Irrespective of how overtly you communicate what you believe, your actions will show society the depth of your belief. You cannot divorce your faith from its impact upon society.
An interesting passage is found in Leviticus chapter 19. Have a look at verse 1-2:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”   

This is gold. The Lord effectively says to Moses, ‘Quick, get EVERYONE together, I want to tell them something!’ God doesn’t pass on a message to a select few, but God wants everyone of the people of Israel to hear what is about to be spoken. Then the challenge comes, ‘Be holy!’ The reason you are called to be holy, is because God is holy and you are called to reflect the image of God. God is holy, therefore you should reflect holiness.

Now, that’s not simply the end of the story. As you may well know, if you’ve fallen asleep reading the somewhat repetitious laws outlined in Leviticus, you see that holiness has some expectations attached to it. Amidst laws around forgiveness, sickness, sexuality and personal renewal before God, we see this pearler just further on from the passage in Leviticus 19:1-2 that we just looked at:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:9-10).

Let me recap. God challenges the people to be holy, as God is holy. Then, out of that holiness, when you’re gathering your produce from the farm, leave some for the poor. You see what happened there? Individual holiness affects society. When you are holy, these are the things you will do: you’ll look after the poor. 

Your faith affects others!

As John Wesley said, there is no holiness without social holiness. Your depth of relationship with God affects others. Will it affect others for good?

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