“It’s so sad that Christians are doing _______, how will people know we’re different, if we act just like the world?”
NEGATIVE ATTEMPTS AT BEING DIFFERENT
Now, I’m not advocating that “Christians should be just like the world” (whatever the heck that means) but I would like to not that the ways many fundamentalists and evangelicals try to “be different” are not exactly awe inspiring. These methods of being different are not really going to make outsiders scream “oh, my, gosh, I want to be just like them!” Most of these attempts at “being different” are all about not doing something that looks similar to the culture, rather than doing something better than the culture. Here is my satirical attempt to show why this sucks.
1. We don’t celebrate “pagan” holiday traditions
Two Christians get together and decide this or that holiday is pagan, satanic, or just plain wicked. This brilliant idea grows into a eureka moment when they realize everyone in the world will see they are different because they don’t celebrate this or that (or all) holiday(s). For example, here comes Christmas, and these awesome “different” Christians go around warning everyone about the dangers of a pagan conspiracy to replace Jesus with Pagan Evergreen (Christmas) Trees. Hooray! They have achieved separation from the pagan culture! But does anyone really want to join them? Seriously? Oh yes, everyone certainly knows they are different, but does anyone really want to join the side that hates Christmas trees and Santa Claus? That is the worst advertising ever!
2. We don’t look like the world or wear their clothes
This is an issue that spans millennia and continents (surprisingly), but I am most familiar with it in the local Slavic-American (or in a few places Slavic-AntiAmerican) subculture. As a teenager I experienced this as a world-changing issue. There is a very real and appropriate issue of modesty, I am not referring to modesty. Modesty aside, it was (and still is in some places?) normal to hear polemical speeches, disguised as sermons, attempting to enforce narrow cultural fascism. These “anti-jeans” tirades, often followed by “anti-jewelry” crusades were often explained as showing the world we were different and holy. The implication was that they would look at us, see we are different, and want to join us. Really? How many of us join the Amish because they dress so differently? Again, the issues of modesty should be a real discussion, but trying to say we ought to wear a special “Christian style” to look different is absurd, we might as well invent a “Christian uniform.”
3. We don’t participate in their entertainment
First, there is much value in discussing what secular (or other religions) literature, music, film, and art is appropriate and beneficial. Everyone should undertake their own personal exploration of these issues and come to the conclusions their conscience warrants. However, there are some fundamentalists and evangelicals who would get upset by this view of liberty and personal conscience. Instead, they would advocate the total abstinence from any entertainment not inherently “Christian.” When the masses flock to watch the new Thor film, these types of Christians get upset and begin to talk about the horrors of Christianity being like the world and watching pagan movies. Though I think part of the issue is that many people in this camp simply don’t understand that fiction is… well, fiction. Might I submit that if the only way people know you are a Christian, is because you don’t know anything about current music, literature, and film, you are probably doing it wrong? Genghis Khan didn’t never saw Star Wars, probably didn’t read Harry Potter, and certainly didn’t listen to rap music, so he was certainly “different from the world,” does that make him a Christian?
4. We don’t consume their food and drink
The Jews and Muslims don’t like to eat bacon. Or perhaps they love it and are secretly coveting their uncircumcised brethren? The Mormons and Seventh day Adventists usually abstain from coffee. And all the other theists try to be separate from the world by enforcing a rejection all alcohol. There are many great people that don’t drink any alcohol for personal conscience reasons, and that is commendable, each should come to his own conclusion. I imagine a great many people might be strangely curious of hearing about Jesus once told he turned water into wine, yet many Christians seem to think Christ’s desire today is the same thing in the reverse order. Just a few days ago I saw many friends on social media bemoan the fact that someone out there held a Bible study at a pub (yes, with that evil liquid bread we call beer!!!). They mentioned that this is yet another example where Christians cannot be distinguished from the world? (Really? The “world” now does Bible studies? That’s awesome!) But seriously if your strong stance against alcohol is the only way people can tell you’re not “of the world” that sucks. This has got to be the worst marketing campaign ever. “Hey you, come join our religion, we have… well, doesn’t matter what we have, what matters is that we don’t have beer, wine, or any other tasty beverage!”
5. We don’t have fun because the world has fun
Okay so this point may be an exaggerated summary of the whole “we are not like the world because we don’t do ______” theme, but I deserve at least one oversimplification. Honestly, if you work hard to promote a clear distinction between your faith and everyone else based on the much smaller amount of fun you have you are probably doing Christianity wrong. Yes the Bible speaks of bearing ones cross, but it also speaks of giddy little children running around Jesus, (and upsetting the stoic disciples who like discipline, order, and no fun). I actually heard a few sermons at various churches where the preachers ranted against “fun” saying that “fun, sports, & games” are the reason for the moral decline in America, and that kids should rather go to prayer meetings and read the Bible instead. Yay! What a great way to distinguish Christianity from the world. I can already envision the side by side comparison. The “world” is having a great day at Disneyland, filled with cute animals, candy, and happy hugs. At the same time the Christian children are home, reading Leviticus. Ouch.
THE REAL WAY TO BE DIFFERENT
By this point most of the people who really need to read this last part have probably gotten riled up and left. Why do I always write the good stuff at the end? Sigh. So if all of that abstaining from doing things is not the ideal way to distinguish a Christian from a nonbeliever, what are some good methods? I would argue that doing something positive (rather than negatively abstaining) would be a far better way to set us apart. I would also submit that Jesus too said the same thing.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Wait a minute. You are probably thinking this is way too radical. You are probably wondering:
So I don’t have to dress like a weirdo and stay home from the movies?
I don’t have to be against everything that sounds really fun?
I don’t have to react to the world and give up whatever they enjoy?
I don’t have to follow the culture, and just try to do the opposite of them?
I don’t have to become an anti-culture crusader and find where I stand by rejecting everything they like?
I don’t have to define Christianity as “whatever is opposite of the people around me”?
(Let me go Rob Bell on you)
You can just love people with reckless abandon.
You can sacrifice for others with a fragrant selflessness.
You can learn to lovingly embrace everyone around you.
You can enjoy a thrilling life of graceful generosity towards all.
You can dance in the magnificent halls of kindness and mercy.
All of that really, really awesome stuff.
You see, loving God and people will actually take care of everything else. Jesus said it, not me. (Matthew 22:37-40) You can simply love people, and as a result of that you won’t steal, rape, pillage, or murder them! (What a novel concept?! If you love someone, you won’t sin against them!)
And so when non-Christians think of you and me, and of Christianity, they won’t see us the weird smashup of mini-cults that try hard to be anti-everyone else. Rather, they will see we stand for something, and that something is so beautiful, they will take notice. I submit to you that the best way for Christians to be different from the world is not by walking around with signs against someone or something, but by following Jesus in loving people to death.