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Monday, March 14, 2011

5 Names That Strike Fear into Modern Christians

I was sitting with a friend and my younger sister Saturday, and at one point we ended up discussing a name people call Christians, and our feelings about it.  It jogged my memory of other conversations about this, and other insults that I have received on account of my faith.

You know, I have been called many names in my life, and I am young yet.  I don't want to discount the fact that getting called a name, especially in front of an audience, will bring you up short, leave a scar, or even cause you to question or doubt yourself.  Still, as Christians, we have cause to celebrate--yes, I said celebrate--names that we have been called.  It is true that slander and insults hurt us deeply, and God never promised they would not, but we have a confidence that our persecutors do not:  We are on the side that has already triumphed, and the God we serve will defend us against those who have treated us badly.

Despite the victory that we have already achieved as followers of Jesus Christ, many Christians these days stagger and stop when they are called certain names.  I suspect the problem is that they are afraid there is a grain of truth in the lie they have heard.  They are afraid to question the insult, in case somehow the false accusations might stick.  So, are they true or aren't they?  Well, lets take a look at a few well-worn favorites:
  •  Crazy--This is a classic favorite, which apparently even Paul had encountered, since he frequently spoke about the "foolishness" of Christianity and how the world rejected what we believe.  It is true that Christians believe some things that seem unbelievable, like a man who claimed to be God, whose mother was a virgin; people rising from the dead or being miraculously healed without medical intervention; and life after death and supernatural beings.  The fact of the matter is that all true Christians do believe these "crazy" things, but they didn't begin with them.  Even the sanest, most logical person could come to believe in Christ, but first that person must be convinced that (1) God exists, (2) We owe God something, (3) His assessment of our situation is truthful and correct, (4) God's solution is a good one, (5) God is powerful enough to make anything happen.  If we can believe these things, it is not a stretch to believe in supernatural or "crazy" events.  The question is, can we believe these things?  I'm not presenting evidence here, but I firmly believe that with enough research, the most basic tenants of Christianity can be logically defended and proven, from any angle or area of knowledge.
  • Naive--While it is true that some Christians are naive, even about their own Bibles or the way the world works, it cannot be said that Christianity as a whole is naive.  The Bible is full of hefty and grown-up topics, and it doesn't shy away from the harsh and sometimes grim realities of life.  Of course, the Bible doesn't talk about technological advances and modern conveniences, but that hardly makes it naive.  When it comes to guile and a proper understanding of human behavior and motivation, I honestly believe Christianity is the least naive belief system out there.
  • Old-fashioned--While it is true that the Bible is full of teachings that older generations adhered to, and it is also true that the Bible was written thousands of years ago by people long dead, I don't believe that Christianity is truly old fashioned. This "name calling" only reveals that Christianity is no longer fashionable, and that people wish it could be forgotten so they no longer have to deal with it. The true test of the Bible is whether its teachings really apply to modern people and situations, or whether it has truly been disproven. Are people still disobedient? Are people still cruel? Is God's idea of universal justice still just? If what we believe is so transient that it can survive only the length of one man's life, then it should be discarded. If, on the other hand, Christianity holds up to serious scrutiny, it should be worthy of our attention, and dismissing it is foolish.
  • Closed-Minded or Intolerant--At the core of Christianity lies the understanding that truth is exclusive; in other words, opposite things cannot both be true, and therefore something must be false.  When we have arrived at the point that we no longer need further evidence that something is false, we make a choice, to the exclusion of what has been disproved or discredited.  In that regard, I think Christians truly can call themselves closed-minded and intolerant, because they have shut their minds against falsehood.  They aren't even friendly to the notion that falsehood is good, because they have confidence that what they have found is much better and unshakable.  That said, Christians should take it to heart that debate and discussion of the truth is necessary, so that others can also enjoy it, and they should remember that even Jesus told us to be kind to those who oppose us and hate us (Matthew 5: 43-48).  Being right does not include haughtiness or unkindness toward others.  If we are to be condemned for knowing the truth and standing by it, it is good; but if we are guilty of refusing to share it, or for deciding, as if we were gods, who is worthy of it, shame on us!  In that case, we have earned a name far worse than "closed-minded" or "intolerant."
  • Religious or Pharisaical--At some point in history, each of these names were taken as a compliment, but in the past decade, they have suddenly become synonyms for spiritual death and hostility toward the unsaved.  How strange, since this is not a part of either definition!  Religion, as it is defined online, is "any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy."  In other words, religion is a specific enumeration of do's and don'ts.  If this is so, Christianity, at its most basic, is religious: You must believe in Jesus; You must repent of sin; and you must obey God, to name a few core doctrines.  If you reject the most basic principles of Christianity, you are not a Christian--you believe in something else.  Pharisees were once commended, because they knew the details of what God had said and energetically rejected any departure from those words.  Unfortunately for them, they followed the letter of the law so strictly that they missed its intention and fulfillment in Christ!  They were so focused on looking like they were obedient that they stopped obeying God. I can't speak for every so-called Christian's behavior.  Some may act just like the Pharisees, rejecting the truth and choosing a form of outwardly good but inwardly wicked living.  If so, they are spiritually dead and cruel to others.  However, if you are a true believer, you are commended for rejecting wickedness and strictly adhering to the teachings of this religion.  What's the difference?   True believers take to heart two things: (1) They are ever conscious of the fact that they are sinners who needed God to save them from themselves (Romans 5: 8), and (2) Like their Savior, they are moved to compassion by the plight of those who are still suffering under the condemnation of sin (Matthew 9: 35-38).
Let us not shrink back and stumble when someone hurls an insult our way.  They are just words, and hollow ones at that.  I talked about name calling before, in my old Ad Hominem post (read it after this and have a good laugh).  I explained there that, behind name calling is a kind of desperation that comes when a person feels he has run out of logical arguments.  So when you are being called a bad name, enjoy the confirmation that you are on the right side, the winning side, of this great moral debate.

As Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5: 11-12 NIV 2010).  Can we take Him at His word, and rejoice, or do we trust Him enough?  Maybe this is what James was getting at when he wrote, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1: 2-5 NIV 2010).  Let us persevere, then, so that we can be complete in Christ, with well-developed character!

Until next time, this is my reminder to stay savvy, and press on toward our reward!


Shannon said...

If a Christian is discouraged by such name-calling, it may be because he is still thinking as a mere human, rather than as a child of God--meaning that he thinks that it is somehow up to him to prove God's truth with man's logic. No, the Holy Spirit is the One who brings doubters to belief (John 14:16-17, 16:7-11; 1 Cor. 3:7). He may use our words, but God's truth remains regardless of our eloquence or lack thereof (1 Cor. 1:17-18; Isaiah 55:10-11). We have nothing to fear from debaters, because we do not stand on our own to argue, but rather with God's Word and Spirit backing us up.

Rachel said...

As I have often said, the truth can defend itself, or it isn't the truth. I know that the Bible is the last word on this (not me) but I just thought I would throw that out there. Thanks for commenting!