... if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words ... (1 Peter 3:1 NIV).
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ... (1 Peter 3:15).
Those of us in the Christian community suffer from an awful credibility problem. We can pretend it isn't there, but if we venture out of our church cocoons, we are slammed with the hard truth: people outside the church community see us as fakes and hypocrites trying to force our values — the very values we don't appear to practice — on others. (See for example, Dan Kimball's book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church for some good examples and insights on this growing trend.) In fact, many of our own young people share this anti-Christian point of view about church goers. (See Sarah Cunningham's convicting and challenging book, Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation.)
Most assuredly, there are many faithful and genuine church-going Christians who daily do the will and the work of God. That, however, isn't the issue. We're facing an uphill battle because the behavior of many so-called Christian spokespeople consistently re-affirms the negative stereotypes believed by the watching culture. You can probably name some self-professed Christians in your own circle who reinforce the stereotypes and exhibit all of the negative and hypocritical characteristics targeted by these church critics. To make matters even more challenging, the lived values of those who claim to be Christians are not very different than the values Christians criticize in the world culture around them.
Most of us who find ourselves connected to church and who are seeking to reach folks outside the church cocoon have experienced the anti-Christian backlash of good people who are turned off by hypocrites, loud mouths, and insensitive church goers. Simply changing the terms we use for ourselves — like switching to Christ-follower instead of using the term Christian — will eventually come off as merely cosmetic window dressing as these terms become more widely accepted mainstreamed, no matter how well-intentioned and convicting the effort for transformation behind them may be. (See YouTube for a spoof on our terms. I'm all for some terminology change, but we need to make sure we back up the terminology change with real change in our lived values!)
So what are we to do?
Hey, here's a novel idea: let's try to live for Jesus in our daily lives. (Yeah, I know that this can become a cliche, too — where did we put those WWJD bracelets anyway? But what if we really got serious about it? BTW, is your Bible most worn out in the Gospels and the story of Jesus?)
I know that protecting our civil rights and religious freedoms are important. I know that supporting issues related to moral concerns are worth our efforts. Ultimately, however, folks will not be made Christian — in fact, they will often be turned away from Jesus — because of the hostile position many self-professed Christians take toward culture and the bombastic way we self-promote our values publicly when we don't live them. What we need are more everyday believers living the life Jesus called them to live right where they are.
Let's not forget that the early believers in Jesus faced a daunting challenge: the world didn't share their world-view, the world around them was largely immoral and hostile to their faith in a crucified Jewish carpenter they claimed was raised from the dead, the seed-bed out of Christianity grew often persecuted believers in Jesus, and many false and inflammatory rumors were spread about those who followed Jesus. Yet somehow, a group of everyday Galilean people changed the course of history and "turned the world upside down" by simply living for Jesus in their daily lives wherever they were.
Peter's words quoted at the beginning of this article were written to a group of believers facing hardship and persecution. Peter was trying to help them change the view of those around them to Jesus ... even if it meant that believers in Jesus suffered unjustly. It would be worth all of our time to go back and read the letter of 1 Peter and let the grand old apostle's words permeate the fabric of our character and change the conduct of our lives and then put them into practice. The world needs Jesus today. The world is open to Jesus today. Let's make sure we don't get in the way of the message whether we call ourselves Christ-followers, Jesus-seekers, or Christians. Let's put our lives where our mouths are and live for Jesus ... no matter the cost.
How much damage has the public caricature of Christians hurt your witness among unbelievers?
How do we undo the damage of Christian hypocrites in the world in which we are trying to share Christ?
I'd love to hear from you on my blog about what we can do:
Oh yeah, and here's a little spoof on the Mac vs. PC commercials some of our guys at church did to promote our upcoming Wednesday night series on Being the Jesus Next Door!