You can lead a horse to water …
Not quite ten years ago, I was sipping tea at an outdoor café in one of the largest cities in Central Asia. Across the table from me sat a person undergoing a remarkable transformation. When we first met, he was grudgingly but cautiously friendly to me, the first and only Evangelical he personally knew. This young man was Muslim, and proud of it. Our talks, at first, were filled with stories and lectures about the superiority of his faith to mine. But as time passed and he grew to trust me, this religious veneer began to crack; more and more he voiced his discontent with what he’d been raised to believe, and his growing intrigue with what I believed. On this fateful day, he burst out, “Christianity isn’t like Islam at all! Islam is about rules – rule, punishment, rule, punishment – that’s all! But Christianity is about love! It’s about relationship! It’s not just a way of life, it’s a philosophy! In order to become a Christian, you have to think! You can’t be a Christian and not think!”
Fast forward to not quite two years ago. I was working mid-week in the nursery of the congregation I pastored at that time. With me was a woman who was a pillar of the church, in manner of speaking. She was influential, and wealthy … and hard, manipulative, and controlling. Her tone was increasingly angry and bitter as she hit me with several years’ worth of pent-up complaints. The one comment I’ve never forgotten was, “Your sermons make me think! I don’t want to think about my faith! I just want to be told what to do!”
Her comment stunned me, and made me think of an editorial in the Washington Post from twenty years ago which described Christians as
“largely poor, uneducated and easily led.”
That silly, elitist attitude bears a grain of truth. Christianity has always had a large number of poor followers because it appeals to the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the despised of this world. As to being “easily led,” that is a vice only if we are being led around by wicked people. To be led by the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is a virtue – in fact, it is proof of being adopted by God (Romans 8.14).
Ah, but ‘uneducated’ – is that a valid criticism? Not in God’s eyes! There are highly educated Christians. There are those who never attended any kind of school. Both types can be good Christians, because scholarship impacts socioeconomic status but not spirituality. When it comes to matters of faith, however, education is critical. To learn is righteousness; to consciously choose to be ignorant is sin. Upon hearing the gospel the people of Berea (northern Greece) eagerly listened and then did some research to find out if what they were hearing was accurate. As a result, the Bible calls them “noble.” This idea is reinforced by the Apostle Paul’s command to his protégé,
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2.15
The young man in the café had never once been to church. The woman in the nursery had been a churchgoer her entire life. He wanted to learn; she did not. He was “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12.34); she was. If the Church in America is to thrive, it needs fewer people like that woman and more like that man.