Tuesday, 22 July 2008

There's no Santa!

This is a compendium of comments on a blog by Naked Pastor that really rung a chord for me:

"The other day a friend of mine who is a member of our community was feeling overwhelmed by the incredible weakness and immorality that is displayed in the church - the whole church in general and ours in particular. He came to the rather alarming conclusion that there’s no evident difference between believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians. We’re all the same. Believers and church-goers are no more holy, righteous or good than anyone else, but just as crooked, lustful, adulterous, hateful, angry, greedy and self-centered as everyone else. I agreed, having come to that conclusion decades ago. It’s sad to watch someone suddenly realize there’s no Santa, and that’s what these experiences always feel like to me.

If Christians are as depraved as non-Christians, then presumably non-Christians are just as good and hopeful and peaceful and generous and risk-taking and grace-filled as Christians, are they? Let’s start from the life we have in common. Then we can begin to make a difference.

The problem is, pastor, that when the gospel is sold to us, we are told that Jesus will change us, as he has changed others. Then we become Christians and realize that he isn’t changing us and he has never changed anyone. That’s the problem. People’s behaviour, mine included, prove the inability of a non-existing being to change lives. Change by Jesus is another broken promise of the Christian faith.

I understand what you are saying Lorena. By all appearances it does seem that Jesus doesn’t change lives. I agree that we don’t look different. I think the “Jesus is the answer” kind of Christianity actually leads people to leaving the faith because they see that it is truly a bankrupt position to take. "

Would value people's thoughts on this exchange.


mark said...

Dee came home yesterday telling me the story of another church minister we know who has had an 'inappropriate relationship' with a female member of the church. "Why does this happen?" she said. "Why are Christians no different to anyone else?"

I was not so surprised. I had, like NP, long ago come to expect no more from Christians than non-Christians, and often to expect just as much grace, justice, forgiveness. I don't mean that Christianity does not lead to some pretty good things - financial giving, forgiveness, community. But I don't think that when you become a Christian you are 'changed' into a better person. But other perspectives are welcome.

rache said...

what are my thoughts on this?

I can’t remember the time when I really thought Christians were different from anybody else – don’t get me wrong I’m sure I did, but I think it was some time ago.
Over time being aware that Christians were not evidently better or worse than anyone else led me to question my received understanding of ‘who’s in and who’s out’, and I suppose reject that way of thinking about it. However I never came to the conclusion that God doesn’t change people.

We’ve probably all heard stories from people who have experienced sudden and profound change as a result of hearing the story of Jesus. And Jesus himself prompted change in people as recorded in some of the gospel stories. Maybe occasionally it happens this way.
I think it’s more usual for us to change gradually over time, for better or worse, in response to experiences, relationships, ideas etc. I believe that God works in us as we change, and through us as we interact with others.
Nevertheless I agree that to sell the gospel as ‘believe this and you will experience change’ is a misrepresentation and can lead to disillusionment pretty quickly. (it did for me age 6 and upwards)

The other thing this makes me reflect on is the fact that (with some notable and important exceptions) my relationships in the past with friends outside of church have often been more honest and open than with those inside church. Does this reflect recognised expectations / standards of behaviour / rules we are supposed to adhere to in our faith communities, and that trying to live up to this is inhibiting real communication of who I am? It seems a shame to me.

I don’t think that finding Christians not evidently better or worse than anyone else challenges my faith particularly. What does challenge my faith from time to time is what the church as a whole is and isn’t and has been and has failed to be. I hope there’s more to the kingdom than that.

mark said...

Yes, I agree Rache, so do I. I guess I'm resigned to 'the church as a whole'not being that impressive either - just pockets of brilliant grace.

I think it was interesting that you said that your relationships with non-Christians have been more
honest and open than with those inside church. They have for me and Dee too (present blogging company excepted, of course) - not just more open and honest, but also more reliable. I'm sure it has something to do with expectations, though I'm not sure what it has got to do with expectations.

The other thing I meant to say before was that I actually find Christians worse simply because they think they are better. This means that they add arrogance and complacency to the list of general human misdemeanours. For me, I think this is at the root of why non-Christians are better - they actually don't think they are anything special.

Apologies for all generalisations and sweeping comments in this comment.

DS said...

If I accept myself as ordinary, weak, frail, in other words, totally human and totally dependent on God, then I am stripped of any sense of being in some way set apart, different, superior. It is then that the genuine, real self may begin to emerge.

Esther de Waal
A Life-Giving Way

mark said...

Good quote Schof. Rache says, it forces us to re-negotiate who is in and who is out. I agree. It makes me think about the 'non-Christian's' who are tireless for human rights and the Christian Right in USA who work against them!

Surely, this can only end up with an open inclusive thing where all are in by grace ('but for the grace of God go I') I don't want to draw lines and say - you are in, you are not. Or, is it more personally challenging than that? "By their fruit you shall know them" surely means we need to start to behave in ways which means we are in and not out.