Particularly I'm reading "The Myth Of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church". In it, the author makes some remarkable arguments about how The Church (we're not talking denominations here, but the body of Christ which is Jesus' Church in the world) should look and relate to the world like Jesus - not wielding political power or fighting worldly battles, but outrageously loving people, loving our enemies, praying for them, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and laying down our lives in love, just as Jesus did.
Serving people, in love, I think is the first and highest calling of Christ's Church in this world. Go into all the world, teaching and making disciples, Jesus said. To do that, Jesus modeled a life of loving sacrifice that The Church should emulate. Jesus was about His Father's work, not the work of the world. His kingdom was "not of this world", but is the Kingdom of God, which is His church, and every believer in Christ is a citizen first of that kingdom.
With this in mind I got an email the other day, one which is fairly common and I've seen before, but which I looked at in an entirely new light. It was about a Christian minister who works in prisons and confronts a Muslim Imam about what Islam teaches and how it contrasts with Christianity.
After pointing out some of the stark differences, which on the face appear to be accurate enough, the Christian minister then makes some very odd (to me) statements.
In response to the perception that Muslims who kill infidels (all those who don't follow Islam) are pleasing to Allah and get to go to heaven, the minister says, "Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine The Pope commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith, or Dr. Stanley (a well known Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia) ordering all Protestants to do the same thing in order to guarantee them a place in heaven!"
Really? I know it's sort of ancient history, but didn't several Popes order exactly that via the Crusades some thousand years ago? How about the thousands that were burned at the stake by Protestant churches for the crime of being a witch? That wasn't exactly the dark ages, and some of it was done right here, on the shores of North America, at a time some fondly look back as the founding days of America.
An honest reading of history makes it clear that much blood has been shed "in the name of Jesus", and although the minister might have a hard time imagining it today, I promise you many Muslims have no problem imagining it. Is probably one of the reasons there's so much animosity in Islam toward Christianity. Christ's Church hasn't had a stellar history in dealing with people of the Muslim faith. Throughout history, The Church has wielded the sword in some very viscous ways. Jesus said those who live by the sword, will die by the sword. Violence begets violence, in every circumstance.
And that is a tragedy.
The minster goes on in the email to say, " 'I also have a problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me! Let me ask you a question: would you rather have your Allah, who tells you to kill me in order for you to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to heaven and He wants you to be there with me?' You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame."
I have to say, reading this, I hung my head in shame.
How is this "love your enemies, pray for them, do good to them"? How is this like Jesus? Jesus is specifically a friend to sinners! Christ showed his love in that, as we were yet sinners, He died for us!
Jesus didn't shame people. He told the truth, bluntly and clearly at times, but took no pride in shaming people. Jesus didn't shame the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn't shame the woman at the well for all the men she'd lived with. Jesus didn't shame Peter for betraying him. Jesus lovingly acknowledged their sin or wrong, and looked past that to their heart. Shaming people is no way to win them to Christ, to make disciples of Christ, which is the point of being a Christian! Beating someone in an argument, then reveling in their embarrassment for who they are and what they believe, or defeating their ideology, is not loving!
It is not Christlike, in my view. Showing them another way, the way of Love that is Jesus, is Christlike.
This email was forwarded by well-meaning Christians as a warning to Americans that "In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President! I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this".
And at the end was the tag line, in bold caps, " FOR CHRIST'S SAKE..... SEND THIS ON"
Loving people, all people, is a tough thing to do, but I'm convinced more and more it is the right thing to do. It's what Jesus longs for us, all of us who confess Jesus as our Lord, to do, no matter the cost or sacrifice.
Paul says in Philippians 2,
"You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had: Though He was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up His divine privileges, he took on the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God, and died a criminal's death on a cross".
Jesus fully gave himself to me/you/us. God the Creator came humbly to earth to show us how to "do it", how to love, and what love looks like. It's scandalous and outrageous to some, but this is the love that Jesus asks his Church to show to the world.
In Luke 6 (and many other places), Jesus says,
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.
"If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.
"Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate" (emphasis mine).
Jesus paints a "Kingdom of God" way of doing life, very different from the "kingdoms of the world".
In the kingdoms of the world, everyone is trying to have power over someone else. We grow up trying to control things. If someone wrongs us, we have a burning need to make it right, to get justice. After all, fair is fair, right? No one should get away with anything, especially with doing wrong to me!
But in the Kingdom of God, he who is last is first. He who serves is great. Jesus said, if someone take your cloak, give them your tunic, too. If someone forces you to walk a mile, walk another mile willingly. Jesus asks us to love our enemies, not just in word and on the surface, but to prove it! He wants us to pray for them and (can you believe it?) to do good to them! To help them!
Oh, what fractions in the church, as well as the world, would be healed and closed if only God's people acted like God's people should.
No, wait. That's not right. That's not right at all.
God doesn't want actors. He doesn't want pretenders.
He wants believers. He wants faithful children who will be obedient to Him, and follow His Word.
He wants not just hearers of The Word, but doers of The Word.
So let me rephrase: Oh, what fractions in the church, as well as the world, would be healed and closed if only God's people loved, genuinely and outrageously and sacrificially loved not only the brothers and sister in The Church, but all those outside the Church that we come in contact with every single day
Including Muslims, or anyone else for that matter.
Jesus didn't say love only those who will treat you good. He said love everyone, and he specifically stated love your enemies!
The Bible says our battle, The Church's battle, is not "against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places". To fight that battle we put on the armor of God, not the armor of the world.
I'm still working these things out in my own mind and heart, but I'm more and more convinced, Christians who get caught up in the anger and fear of the political changes going on in our world and see the Church as having to do something to respond to them, are looking at the world in the wrong way.
As citizens of the USA, everyone of us should be good citizens, responsible and doing what we can to promote justice and good, But as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to love outrageously, sacrificially, and fully, just as Jesus did.
Where the two citizenships conflict, our citizenship in the Kingdom of God must take priority.
Not that I have laid hold of this fully, but I'm challenged to walk down this path and see what God does.