Do Christians Actually Like Christ?
I was teaching Sunday School in Birmingham, Alabama while completing my seminary education when the brutal truth of modern Christianity hit me. I was doing lessons on the teachings of Jesus, trying to reorient people who had lived their lives in church to think about what Jesus actually said, rather than the conventional wisdom that churches sometimes pass of as divine revelation. I believe I was talking specifically about the part of Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and the future judgement of all people. I said it as clearly as I understood it– Jesus will judge us based how we treat the poorest and “least” among us. Jesus’ words seemed clear to me, and while the majority of the group seemed to accept Jesus’ teaching at face value, one person couldn’t contain his disagreement.
“But what are we actually supposed to do?” he asked.
“Uh, take care of the least among us?” I answered tentatively.
“Well I know what he said, but we can’t really do that. It’s just not realistic. Or fair to us,” he once again volunteered. “I know Jesus said that, but what should we really do?”
I was for a rare moment in my life, speechless. Although I had taken part in many conversations where people had rejected one of Jesus’ teachings or another, I had never had someone say it so overtly. The person who protested what was clear to me was a person who had grown up in the church, his father read Scripture from the pulpit nearly every week, and he had been involved in the higher echelons of church leadership since he was very young.
The young man didn’t come to my class much after that. But the exchange stuck with me.
Some years earlier, when I was a lowly undergraduate myself, I had an unpleasant exchange with a professor at my conservative Baptist university. Our point of debate was allegiance to Jesus above all else. The professor told me quite matter of factually that if he ever found himself in some foreign land, he would deny Jesus if it meant saving his own life. I was floored. Although still a young Christian, I had come to understand that our lives were to be for Jesus’ service, and throughout history that has meant death for thousands of martyrs. Moreover we should not expect to be above such a sacrifice.
My professor scoffed at my argument. “That is just not realistic. That is idealism, and I have no stomach for idealists.” I never really spoke to him after that.
Over the years I have watched many Christian leaders call people to “moderate” their allegiance to Jesus, to take his more radical ideas with a grain of salt. Ironically Jesus seemed to indicate in John 3 that being born again, a given concept for most Christians, was the most radical of all his teachings.
Although it has been said by many others many times before, I do not believe that our domesticated brand of Christianity has any actual similarity to the brand that Jesus lived and died for.
I wonder what would happen if we actually believed all that stuff Jesus said.