The Great Divide

One of the hardest things to do as Christians is to finally see “non-Christians” as equal human beings especially if, like me, you grew up in the egotistical spirituality that I did. It was our job as Christians to help, save and direct those that weren’t Christians. It was our job to be the moral police and salvation picketers of our culture. To make sure everyone knew that they were sinners, and that we knew the answer to their problem because we already had it. Non-Christians had very little to offer the world in terms of truth, love, common sense or intelligence. It’s not that we were smarter, we just we’re more informed had were graced enough with the right answers.

I was talking to a friend the other day who is the father of two who has gone through some rough times losing his job. He was a little bewildered by the lack of support and encouragement that came from his Christian community. What was even odder for him was the strong support he got from his friends that weren’t Christians. It wasn’t weird that his friends were supporting him, it was weird that they were and his Christians community wasn’t. How do you reconcile stuff like that?

Being downtown Sarnia, I am faced with the reality every day that I’m not doing anything ‘more right,’ I’m not holier and I’m not better off than anyone else on my street. Some people that I run into everyday in Sarnia care far more about God’s creation than I do, and they work all day long to help take care of it and treat it properly. The amount of servanthood that goes on downtown way surpasses anything I am doing. Yet these are the things that are supposed to define my life, and I see them defining ‘non-Christians’ lives so much more than most Christians I know.

I realize more and more every day that separations like Christians and non-Christians, whose going to heaven when they die or not; are not relevant or accurate categories to place people in. The best category always is to check if they have a breath and are human, if they do, then pop them into the category of humans that God loves and is relentlessly pursuing them to help them be better at who they were created to be whether they are aware or not.

The separating line I see now is becoming more about intentionality and less about action. Christians are no more than those that ‘intentionally’ try to follow Christ and ‘intentionally’ try to live out his commands. I can’t justify much more than that. A line based on intentions I think has a lot less meaning than one based on actions. Maybe that’s the point, maybe there isn’t supposed to be a visible line between us. You can’t see people’s intentions, and maybe that’s only what God cares about. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

What I do know is that Christians don’t have much to brag about. For every Christian that is doing amazing things, I could find you two non-Christians to balance it. I realize now that those that I run into everyday that wouldn’t consider themselves Christians in any sort of way aren’t much different than myself. The only thing that really makes me different is intention, and even sometimes that is weak. So I guess I’m left wondering where the problem lies. Is it that Christians aren’t being who we are supposed to be and ‘separating’ ourselves, or is it that maybe there is a lot more ‘God’ in people than we think? I’m sort of leaning to the latter.

13 Comments

  • What’s even worse is what is done in the name of God:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LRA

  • This is a question I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’d like to offer some thoughts if that’s okay:

    1. I don’t think it’s sufficient, at least in terms of what Jesus expects, to make the only line of division between the church and the world “intention”. It seems to me, at least, that Jesus wants his church to be a “city on a hill”, a “light to the world”, that he wants the world to know us by our love for one another. However difficult this might be for our theology (and we’re not the first generation to struggle with this question, for certain), Jesus definitely seems to expect that his church will be noticeably different from the world.

    2. That said, we have to deal with the experience that you describe. Why is it that in our experience we find many non-Christians acting better than Christians, and many Christians not being practically different from non-Christians? I don’t think there is a simple answer to this (the answer is as complex as human psychology, multiplied by the number of individuals we are observing), but my hunch is this: what you and I see as general trends in our experience are actually unusual historically speaking. And by that I don’t mean to say our period is the only one where such things have been seen. I think the problem is basically that the church in our age (and in many others) has completely lost touch with what Jesus actually has called us to. It’s not that it is never possible that the church could be noticeably different than the world (for example, the early church, the Mennonites/Amish, missionaries in 3rd world countries today, etc.); it’s just that the Western church is failing horribly at living up to its calling (not unlike other churches in other periods of history).

    I might be off base here; if so, I’d definitely like to hear other ideas. But I think if we reduce the church/world distinction to intentions, we start to cause problems for the gospel as a whole. If Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to earth, but all it really changes are the thoughts inside people, isn’t Jesus’ message just plain false?

    What do you think?

  • Such a massive blindspot. I’m so glad you wrote these struggles.

    We are taught to glory in our knowledge about God and what he wants. I really believe that we are taught to be Pharisees much more than we are taught to follow Jesus. And, honestly, I don’t think you really need to be taught how to follow Jesus. Jesus was simply living in the heartbeat of the creator and I believe we have the same heartbeat and impulse with in us. But the Pharisaic teachings that we get mushed into our hair as Christians clouds us from feeling the heartbeat of God.

    It won’t be a popular idea among some Christians, but our oh so holy knowledge drags us so much further away from God than our neighbours are. And once you have been poisoned by religion it really does take Intentional Living to bring you back into balance with creation.

  • No doubt God can do a good work through anyone God chooses.

    I am sometimes even uncomfortable with claiming to be a Christian, not because I’m ashamed of professing Christ, but because I feel unworthy of the title.

    I would never put a bumpersticker on my car that read “Jesus is My Co-Pilot”. I’m a terrible driver.

  • Andrew.

    I agree that I Jesus wants these things and for us to be known for our love, however do you think that its actually happening? I don’t think it is. However I do think their is love and goodness in the world, but it doesn’t come exclusively by the church. So either we redefine who the church is or we admit that the church isn’t who it’s called to be.

    To me it always seemed that Jesus came to change the heart, and to change the inside, not because he didn’t care about the outside actions of people but because he knew that only by changing their hearts and intentions would their outside actions ever change.

    And by saying that I cancel out my statement that the difference is intentions. It can’t be, because even Paul struggled with that, intending to do one thing and doing another. So then really I struggle what is the difference between Christians and non.

    Or maybe your right, maybe we’re so far away here in the West from what Jesus meant that very very very few of us are actually the church. But then where does grace come in.

    Are Christians those that are participating with God in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth? Can someone who doesn’t profess to be a Christians actually participate without knowing it?

  • I think my answer to your first question would be yes, but not a lot in our current place and time. However, if we expanded our horizons to the Southern church, things might look differently. I definitely think the church in the West is not being what it was called to be, and it has no excuse.

    I agree with your point about Jesus’ intentions. I’m not sure about your interpretation of Paul (in Romans 7, I’m assuming you’re alluding to); I of course recognize that mixed intentions and actions are a part of every Christian life (I’m not a Wesleyan perfectionist), but I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about, and I think that even within the context of that passage Paul teaches that we should be noticeably different than the world: Christians are not under the dominion of sin anymore.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking regarding grace… care to expand a bit?

    Are Christians those that are participating with God in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth?

    In a sense, yes. But it all depends on how “participating” and “the kingdom of God” are defined, I think. The same would go for your second question.

  • Agreed that Paul wasn’t giving an excuse for his sin, especially if you go with that argument that the “I” in Romans 7 he was alluding to Israel which Stephen Thompson showed us. However, either way I think it is very telling of how I have felt many a times, and I think humans have felt through history on either side of the Cross.

    My comment about grace just meant that if ‘actions’ or ‘intentions’ negate being a Christians, well I don’t think any of us agree with that, but if we did there would be no grace.

  • I’m wondering what all the things your life is “supposed to be defined by” are.

    And who decided what those things are, and who decided who decides, and why your life can’t just be defined by the things you’re doing now… like pouring yourself into the co-creation of a rather vibrant and exciting community of faith in downtown Sarnia, or defined by the person of Christ, or defined by…

    I’m hardly one to have any right answers, either – in fact I’m getting used to saying that I’m clueless about most of this following Jesus stuff, but I’m really beginning to embrace the wisdom of just doing the best I can, with what I have, right now. It seems a whole lot better to live like this than all those years I spent beating myself up for not being a good enough Christian.

    Of course, I might have missed the entire point of what you’re saying. (Been known to happen!) I’ve been reading here for awhile, and enjoying it a great deal – so I hope you don’t feel any of this is criticism, just the stuff you made me think of after reading your post.

  • Maybe I need to do some work defining my terms on Kingdom of God and participating…

    Rhymes with Kerouac
    I’m hoping that the things in our lives are defined and given meaning to by Jesus and his mission. Where I don’t think a lot of Christians really see their faith that way, it’s more of an add-on thing for them. So the things you mention, they are most certainly things that I should be defining my life, yet with so much more…It can’t be just what I’m doing, I still have a lot of changes to make.

    No criticism at all and thanks for the comment!

  • My comment about grace just meant that if ‘actions’ or ‘intentions’ negate being a Christians, well I don’t think any of us agree with that, but if we did there would be no grace.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re trying to say that the criteria for being a Christian can’t be moral perfection, since then no one would be Christians, and we know God has promised to forgive even Christians of their sins. If that’s what you mean, then you’re right, of course; but I don’t think the reality of grace and forgiveness for Christians undercuts that we are supposed to be distinct from the world. Jesus and Paul still have those frightening words, “I will say to them, ‘Depart from me, you evildoers, I never knew you,'” and “Do not be deceived, people who live like this [re: the ways of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The problem is: where’s the line? How do we know when we’ve crossed it? The best answer I can give is: our characters, in the sense of the way we generally act (not the way we always act), ought to be distinguishable from the world. If it isn’t, then we ought to be afraid.

    But that’s just my $.02.

  • It seems to me a lot rides on how we interpret being “distinguishable from the world” and what our definition of world is.

  • Prodigal Kiwi has some interesting thoughts along these lines. The difference between being sent/invited and just doing good.

    http://prodigal.typepad.com/prodigal_kiwi/2008/01/thinking-about.html

  • Nathan: On a far less academic level, I would love to read about the situations and about the people you say you meet downtown that are examples of living a good life, full of love and encouragement for others. I’m not looking for names but I think we could all benefit from learning about the good that people do. So often we hear/read about bad behaviour. There’s so many positive things people do every day, small things and big things, and they should be celebrated.
    So, let’s hear about them!
    Cathy
    PS I, of course, have always believed that Christian or non Christian, it’s the heart that’s generous, honest and giving that God celebrates.

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