Many of the last few new Christians I have met; especially those who grew up with no affiliation with the Church, expressed to me a particular common notion. This notion was that before knowing Christ for themselves, most of their encounters with Christians and Christianity were negative ones. Are you shocked?
I’m not at all shocked.
I have been told many stories by new believers. Some speak of how they were made to feel “uncomfortable” in churches; feeling as though they were the new topic of gossip, or being constantly reminded and ‘re-reminded’ that they were sinners by Christians they were around.
Another common impression of Christianity was that it was perhaps misogynistic. Many women are confused and perplexed when they learn from Christians that Christianity, in part, was about submitting to a man no matter what, even in an oppressive relationship.
I was also told stories of hypocritical and judgemental Christians who condemned non-believers for committing sins that they themselves struggle with. Regardless of what it was, it was almost unanimous that at some point in their life, all of these newer Christians had interacted with Christians who did more to chase them away from Christ than to bring them towards Him. This was a truly sobering revelation. Its even more sobering to consider how many salvation opportunities you’ve missed due simply not behaving in a Christ-like manner.
As it stands there are probably millions of people with tainted views of Christianity simply because of the Christians they’ve met.
“But in your hearts revere 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
1 Peter 3:15 states that you should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” but that we should “do this with gentleness and respect”. For me this gentleness and respect is such a key part of the verse, and yet is something that is overlooked by so many Christians. If you don’t like how someone dresses, or some of their lifestyle choices, the overriding thing is that you owe them gentleness and respect. Most importantly, respect. This is something that non-believers are often not afforded by many Christians at face-value, but if our goal is be as Christ-like as we can, this is something we have to consider.
Inside churches we should aim to make people feel as comfortable as possible, promoting a feeling of family. Love has to be the weapon of choice. No one hates being respected and therefore it is a powerful tool for making people feel at home.
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” Titus 2:7
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:12
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
When I was younger my father would often say to me “remember, you may be the only Christ someone sees today, make sure you are a good example”. Throughout the bible there are calls for us to be examples such as Titus 2:7, 1 Peter 2:12 and John 13:35.
In Titus 2:7 the apostle Paul tells us to show ourselves to be models of good works and to show integrity and dignity in our teaching. Thus, in all our evangelising we should show integrity and dignity. We should be open and honest about our shortcomings, our struggles, our failures. None of us are perfect from pastor to non-believer and so none of us should act as such. In the same way you may not agree with the life choices some may make and there will be some who do not agree with yours but as Christians it is our responsibility to show love regardless.
In 1 Peter 2:12, peter writes that we should keep our conduct honourable amongst the gentiles. Here by gentiles he refers to the non-Jews but today this can be seen as referring to all non-believers. By keeping our conduct honourable, Peter teaches that when non-believers look to say bad things about Christians and Christianity, they will only be able to see your good deeds and thus glorify the God we represent. This idea of representation is something we see even more in John 13:35, which says that by the love we show one another, people will know who we represent. This is because love is the true embodiment of Christ, in everything He showed love. He didn’t gossip because of love, He did condemn non-believers for their sins out of love, He saw women as equal because of love. For Christ love was more important that religious culture and the Jewish leaders hated Him for it. In the same way, some church leaders wouldn’t like to hear that the way they have run their churches hasn’t been from a place of love. But there wouldn’t be so many non-believers with negative experiences of Christianity if this wasn’t the case.
Upon some self-reflection, its likely you’ll find an aspect or interaction with a non-believer where you could have done a better job of showing love or being more understanding. So the question is, how do we as Christians go forward to ensure that we do not paint Christianity in a bad light?
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
Firstly, we should always remember that none of us are perfect, we all have imperfections and all struggle with our particular vices. Who are we to judge others when we too are imperfect. As Matthew 7:5 says, we should make sure that we have worried about the log in our own eye before we even consider our neighbours. This would stop many from believing that Christians are hypocritical and judgemental and perhaps worth their time.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
Often as Christians we have grown up being taught how to behave. However, many of the things we were taught as being good Christians were simply things that our cultures valued that were not important for our salvation. We now have a responsibility to differentiate between the two. Cultural variations are going to cause people to practice their Christianity differently but the things we have in common will be far more important than the differences. We should ensure that we know why we do certain things and if it is necessary for salvation or just something you’ve grown up doing. For example the notion that men and women aren’t equal, is not one of Christ. In fact in Galatians 3:28 we are told that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ. This is just one example but shows the kind of misconceptions we as Christians may promote.
As John 4:12 says, the fathers house has many rooms. We as Christians should be doing all that we can to fill the house. Therefore, we should always be doing our best to make sure people want to hear about Christ. We should be going out of our way to be inviting and welcoming but not invasive. We should be honest and open, not hypocrites. Above all, we should be loving.