Twice in my life I’ve received death threats, from two very different groups of people. Or maybe they weren’t so different after all.
For 11 years I lived in two different Islamic-majority nations, and never once did a Muslim threaten to kill me. That’s not in any way downplaying the murderous action of certain Islamic activists, who do indeed all too frequently kill, or threaten to kill, any who don’t submit to their particular interpretation of Islam – I’m simply saying it has not been my personal experience. No, in my case the first group that wanted me dead was a coven of witches, and the second was a group of Christians.
As far as the witches, I never did find out what I’d done to earn their animosity; they refused to say. At any rate, they tried to kill me by supernatural means, which clearly didn’t work, and after a few months of harassment they eventually left me alone. At least the second group told me why they wanted me dead. They took issue with my interpretation of a part of Scripture near and dear to their hearts.
The trigger was my rebuttal, published in an online news and opinion magazine, regarding the Sabbath day. The original article insisted that Gentile followers of Christ must worship on the seventh day of the week. This demand, I contended, is an integral part of the Mosaic covenant, which never, except under limited circumstances, applied to Gentiles. Scripture is quite clear in this regard. I’m not picking on Sabbatarians; we are free to worship on the seventh day if we wish, just not free to demand it nor denounce those who chose a different day. A number of email replies came in, some thanking me – but most attacked my intelligence, questioned my parents’ marital status, and/or pronounced my eternal damnation. And quite a few threatened to seek me out and kill me for daring to challenge their belief system.
It baffles my mind that people who claim to be Christians thought they could uphold the 4th Commandment by violating the 9th Commandment and threatening to violate the 6th Commandment. And yet it’s not so strange after all. The disconnect between claiming to follow Christ and actually following Christ is well documented.
In this country, the divorce rate among evangelicals – generally the most Biblically conservative in Western Christendom – is higher than the US average. They are no less likely to be bigoted than non-Christians. Christian teens are just as sexually active as non-Christian ones. And while Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, are slightly more likely to be out of debt and give more to help the poor, as a whole they don’t give sacrificially. Worse, statistical polling cited in George Barna’s book The Second Coming Of The Church shows that when Americans were asked to describe the God they believe in, only two-thirds were able to do so in biblical terms. The remaining third described their god as “the total realization of personal, human potential” or “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach,” while others agreed with statements such as, “everyone is God” and “there are many gods, each with different power and authority” – this, mind you, in a nation where well over 80% of the population consider themselves Christian. “Evangelical Christians,” says theologian Michael Horton (himself an evangelical), “are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.”
But should this really surprise us? The Bible repeatedly mentions false prophets, false teachers, blind guides leading the blind. Christ himself warned,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
“Only a few.” That’s all. For all the masses of church buildings which dot this land, can we afford to imagine them filled with passionate, devoted followers of Christ? Is it not more likely they are filled with a handful of God’s children surrounded by unconverted and uncaring souls, a few stalks of wheat amid acres of weeds? Be honest, reflect on the widespread pornography, sex trafficking, corporate and government corruption, fear and suspicion, and ask yourself: does our culture look like one where the majority of people are imitating the Galilean?
Why doesn’t the Christian faith seem to make much of a difference? Do you even know the point of the Christian faith? The Apostle Paul identifies it in Romans 8.29 and 1 Timothy 1.5:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
All the Bible study you participate in, all the doctrine you absorb, all the church meetings you attend and every bit of religious activity in which you’re engaged: these are merely means to an end, and that end is for you to be transformed into the image of Christ. If that does not happen – if your character, thought patterns, habits and choices do not increasingly, howsoever unevenly or incrementally, resemble Christ’s – they are worthless. They are worse than worthless, they are sulfurous and bile. Looking back at my personal experience with those Sabbatarians who were enraged at me, it’s obvious they abandoned the goal (Christlikeness) in their zeal to defend their means to reach the goal (their doctrine). And this is just a single example of a scenario that plays out all over this country in big ways and small ways. It inevitably leads to Phariseeism, stagnation, and decline … exactly what we see happening in the Western Church.
Judas Iscariot still appeared to be a follower of Christ long after he had, in fact, stopped being a follower of Christ. How often does that scenario continue to play out in the Church? Does it play out in your life?
Your character trumps your creed hands down. Your behavior is your belief system. They cannot be separated. Never forget this.
Christian, does knowing you are finite and prone to failure make you humble … or do you arrogantly condemn others in an effort to redirect your (and God’s) attention elsewhere? Are you honest enough to admit you may not be interpreting the Bible perfectly? Are you wary of man-made rules and doctrines that will supposedly make you more ‘spiritual?’ Are you asking God to conform you into Christ’s image? Do you cry out as did King David,
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults …. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”