Westboro Baptist, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart… what do these people have in common? They’re either groups or people who have “made Christians look bad”, either in the past or currently. They’re names from which, whenever they’re mentioned, Christians try to disassociate themselves. If their name pops up, they’ll say, “Well, they may claim to be Christians, but they’re not what being a Christian is really about.” Some people even take a more aggressive approach. A key part of their presentation of Christianity is, “I know that when people think of Christianity, they think of ___________. But let me assure you, we’re not like that.” And then they go on to describe what it’s really like to be a Christian, in comparison to those “wayward Christians”.
My complaint, however, is that I think sometimes we spend too much time saying “Look at those people… we really are not like that,” rather than saying, “Look at Jesus… he really is like that.”
A lot of people would be wary about pointing to a devout Christian and saying, “Look, she embodies perfectly what it means to be a Christian!” And with good reason. Humans are not perfect and will never be until the age to come. Plus, we know that the crux of the “appeal” to Christianity shouldn’t be focused on just any person, but on the Person of persons, Jesus himself. He’s the only one we should point to when trying to describe what Christianity is really like.
Yet, aren’t we falling into a lot of the same errors when we’re so focused on pointing out “wayward” Christians? The only difference is, instead of pointing what Christianity is supposed to look like in a human, we’re pointing out what it doesn’t look like. The fact still remains that no one is perfect. If we don’t expect “devout” Christians to be an accurate picture of Christianity, why should we be so critical of (and surprised with!) “wayward” Christians when they fail to provide a “perfect picture of Christianity”? The point of not pointing to just anyone is that everyone falls short. And if we really believe this, we shouldn’t allow people to represent Christianity, but we should also be careful not to hold people up to a standard they were never meant to be held to, namely, being a perfect example of what Christianity was about.
Also, if we’re so passionate about the message of Christianity not revolving around any person, but only Jesus, why do we think that that only applies when talking about those who reflect Christ well? If we really don’t want the message of Christianity to revolve around anyone except Jesus, why are we so quick to point out those who have fallen from grace as an object lesson of what Christianity is not like, in order to prove what it is like? If our gospel is really Christ-centered, should we not be just as wary about relying so heavily on shaming people like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart? Because when people denounce those guys as a “not what Christianity is all about”, they’re committing the same crime as someone upholding Tim Tebow as “what Christianity is all about”. They’re making Christianity about just some person, not about a Savior.
We know from the Bible that the only true representation of God, of the gospel, of Christianity, is Jesus himself. Colossians 1:15 declares that he is ” the image of the invisible God”, meaning that if you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus. Don’t look at some other person. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” It goes on to say that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. In other words, we don’t look at some woman or man to look at what God is saying to us, as they did with the prophets. The only person we look to is Jesus Christ.
Now, my point is not to say that we should affirm the actions of those who claim to be Christians but act otherwise. Nor am I saying that it’s bad to call wrong “wrong” and right “right”, in the right context. My point is that at no point should the good news of Jesus revolve around an person and the actions of that individual. Whether it be the actions of a righteous person or an unrighteous person, if you’re pointing to someone else other than Jesus to justify the legitimacy of the gospel, then you’re doing it wrong. The fact that C.S. Lewis, one of modern literature’s most esteemed authors, was a Christian is an awesome fact. But it shouldn’t be what I use to bait someone into seeing the good news of Jesus. The fact that Westboro Baptist claims to be a Christian group and yet acts so hatefully towards certain groups of people is awful. But I shouldn’t feel the need to bash and shame them when I’m trying to explain why Jesus and his message is so beautiful. We shouldn’t be looking to either party… only to Jesus!
The point is that the gospel is about Jesus. If we point to him more than we pointed to others, either in a positive or negative way, maybe people would start to see why it’s the greatest news in the world. Maybe if we focused on the only Person worth focusing on, the gospel would make a lot more sense.
This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.