The Christian church is full of Christians, right?
Sadly, the answer you'll get to that question is heavily dependent on whom you are asking. Certainly, the church should be full seeking to follow Christ, seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus. However, increasingly, there are those who claim the church is full of hypocrites. They are not saying the church only has hypocrites. That's clearly not true. They are simply pointing out there are surprisingly high numbers of people going to church, calling themselves Christians but whose actions run counter to what Jesus taught. I believe we can do better.
Which brings us to the first thing on my list of the “10 Things THE CHURCH Can't Do While Following Jesus.”
10) Be hypocritical.
This isn't about making mistakes. People who follow Jesus mess up all the time. I try to follow Jesus and I mess up every day – probably more like every hour. This is about saying one thing and then actively doing another. In many ways, this list is a study in hypocrisy in the church. Like my first two “10 Things” lists, it isn't a complete list but it is a good place to start. Sure, Christians do these things but they can't claim they are following Jesus when they do.
9) Let “how we've always done it” rule the day.
One of things you should pick up in reading the stories about Jesus is that he wasn't afraid of doing a new thing, even when it went against what his religion had always done. Here's the thing: we are not all that we are called to be. Like I said, I mess up at least every hour. Also, our relationship with God isn't everything it could be. In order to improve ourselves in those areas, we must change. No change? No improvement. “We've never done it that way” is code language for “I'm not changing.” Not only is avoiding change a surefire way of getting stuck in your spiritual journey, but it's also a pretty clear indication that you've stopped following the one who said, “You've heard it said ... but I say.” Change is a Christian value.
8) Worship the Bible.
It will never happen but I want Jeff Foxworthy to add a new bit to his comedy routine. It won't happen, in part, because it's not funny — but it sure is true. “If you think you are going to hell because you used the Bible as a coaster, you might worship the Bible. If you think God speaks in King James English, you might worship the Bible. If you think reading Scripture from an iPad rather than a printed Bible makes it lose its magical mojo, you might worship the Bible.”
Even though there are some places I'd like to see the new pope be more inclusive, I like Pope Francis quite a bit. When it comes to his thoughts on gossip, I'm a big fan. Gossip is like slapping Jesus. Every time you talk poorly of someone else, you are talking about a child of God. As Pope Francis says, it brings “to the Church a spirit of destruction.” That's not what Jesus would do.
6) Enable a consumer Christianity.
At some point, some churches became more about the services they offer members than about the services their members offer to the world. When church becomes about “what's in it for me?” it loses focus on serving the least of these. Jesus didn't say, “when inasmuch you have done it unto yourself, so too you have done it unto me.”
5) Let polity be more important than people.
Jesus frequently found himself being questioned for doing the right thing rather than following the letter of the religious law. Churches? Too frequently, not so much. We've elevated our rules and regulations, our polity, to the point of it making them next in line to the Bible (see #8). When we choose to follow our rules rather than to do the right thing by temporarily setting them aside to show compassion and care for a person, it could be argued that we are lifting them above the biblical text that not only show Jesus setting religious rules aside to do the right thing, but also tells us that more than anything else we are supposed to love one another – which brings us to the next item on the list.
4) Exclude people.
I pointed out in the first article in this series on “10 Things” that Jesus had a rebel streak in him that actually sought out folks who didn't “fit in.” Too frequently, modern-day churches are in the habit of defining who doesn't fit in and then excluding them. That behavior not only stands over and against Jesus' examples and teachings on reaching out to the outsiders, but it is also counter to his core message. It's a little thing he called love. It was so important he told us loving other people and caring for them is the same as loving and caring for God.
3) Think of outreach only as giving money to help those in need.
I realize I'm dating myself a bit here but sometimes the church reminds me of a Paul McCartney song. The specific song is “Band on the Run.” The reason is the opening line: “Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever.” Outreach needs to actually include reaching out. Not figuratively, but literally – flesh-on-flesh, eye-to-eye ministry. Giving money to help those in need is a beautiful thing to do, but it's only a first step in helping. The next step is developing real relationships of love with the community and world around you. To do it, the walls of the church must come a tumblin' down – figuratively – mostly.
2) Refuse to advocate for “the least of these” because it seems political.
Giving money and developing relationships are beautiful and loving ways to practice your faith, but if they don't move you to work, they are but a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Hiding behind the need to not be political is tantamount to saying you weren't paying attention when you read the Bible. The prophets of God are decidedly political. They are constantly calling the leaders of nations on their less-than-godly actions. For that matter, Jesus was crucified, in part, because of the political nature of his statements. It is impossible to advocate for those in need and not be political. It is impossible to follow Jesus and not advocate for those in need.
1) Hate a person or group of people.
I'm looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church. To be fair, they are far from the only church that practices religion by talking about the things they hate. But they just make it so easy to focus on them. If you want to follow Jesus, let love be your guiding thought. After all, God is love.
Mark Sandlin currently serves as the minister at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, N.C. He received his M. Div. from Wake Forest University's School of Divinity and has undergraduate degrees in Business Administration and English with a minor in Computer Science. He's an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and a self-described progressive.
Image: Depiction of Jesus with arms raised, WELBURNSTUART / Shutterstock.com