Tonight, I watched the movie Saved, which is a humorous parody from a teen perspective of modern Christianity. At times, the movie made me mad at the producers. I thought, “How dare they paint Jesus and Christianity with such a jaded brush.” At times, I saw things that I could identify in real life, which made me shake my head in disgust.
Even scarier, I saw myself and cringed. Like any good parody, the movie contained some truth amidst a bunch of hyper exaggerations. Unfortunately, the movie is pretty realistic in that it actively describes how many non-Christians view die-hard, evangelical Christians.
Like it or not, stereotypes exist for a reason – they are based on the typical action by someone in a particular group. And while everybody talks about how bad it is to judge someone based on a stereotype, I have yet to find someone who doesn’t use them at least some of the time. Granted, stereotypes are often accurate and sometimes necessary to make quick decisions.
In the movie, there is one hyper pro-Jesus girl who is the spiritual cheerleader for a bunch of other girls in a Christian high school. She has a gross misunderstanding of her own importance and does not understand her true position in Christ. She seems to think that she has done a pretty good job of being righteous on her own. Of course, she had a little help from the man upstairs. But all in all, she is a pretty righteous girl. This girl would have fit in well with the Pharisees of Jesus day.
What really disturbed me is that I could see myself in the actions of this girl. There were times were I rushed to judge and not to love. There are lots of times where I think my work for God is more important than God’s work in me. There are lots of times that I have looked at being a Christian as being in kind of club. You are either in or out.
Sometimes I would rather not be known as a Christian. It has nothing to do with being ashamed of Jesus. Instead, I am afraid of being labeled with all the ridiculous mess associated with Christianity. Many people, including myself, have done some pretty ridiculous, stupid and sometimes barbaric things in the name of Jesus.
When I stop to think of all the times that I have sullied the name of Jesus, all I can do is repent and say, “God forgive me a sinner.”
I have come to the realization that I am not an island. My actions have an impact beyond just me. People are expecting me to be a reflection of Christ. If I act like a nut or self-righteous Pharisee, it reflects poorly on anyone else who calls himself a Christian. The good, the bad, the ugly can either help or hinder the cause of Christ.
While in the mountains last summer, I encountered three young adults. One of them invited me to come to their camp site for a beer and fellowship. The Spirit prompted me to go join them.
The one guy knew that I was a Christian because when he saw that I was alone, he asked, “What are you reading?” I answered, “A book about finding community as the people of God.” He asked, “Are you alone?” I said, “Yeah, I’m just up here to get away from stuff and to enjoy hanging out just me and God.” He seemed a bit stunned, not sure what to say. He then extended an invitation to come join them.
When I took him up on his invitation about 30 minutes later, these three guys warmly welcomed me. The first guy I met must have told them about me. One of the guys looked at me and asked, “Are you a Christian?”
I decided to be honest. I said, “Part of me wants to say no because of all the bad baggage associated with the word. But I certainly can’t deny who I am. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ on a personal journey of spiritual discovery.”
I went on to say, “There have been a lot of misguided things that have nothing to do with God but have been done in His name by modern so-called Christians. And I would rather not be labeled with all of that.” We dialogued for a bit about what they believe and my beliefs. One of the men claimed to be a Christian. But he freely admitted that he was not living like one right now. I openly talked about how Jesus came to give the best kind of life.
God is more about love than knowing the right Sunday school answers. We are saved because God is love and has offered us love and forgiveness through His Son. I have not been able to forget my interaction with those three men on the mountain.
For some reason, I felt like I had to apologize for all of the sins done by others who were or had claimed to be “Christians.” Why do I feel this way? Is part of me ashamed to be judged wrongly? Didn’t the same thing happen to Jesus? The Pharisees said that Jesus was possessed by demons. Then again, maybe it is OK to speak as I did because some people automatically turnoff anyone who claims to be a Christian.
A missionary friend of mine recently told me about his experience with labels in Uzbekistan. He never wanted to be called a Christian there because the average Uzbek person thought of a rich, aristocrat, Greek Orthodox person when talking about a “Christian.” These are the type of people who would lift their hand and ask a common person to kiss their ring out of respect for their position. This picture is far from what the missionary wanted to be connected with. It would not help him establish rapport with the common people nor does it accurately reflect Christ and His message. My missionary friend instead described himself as a follower of Jesus. He was not hiding his faith. Instead, he was refusing to be labeled as something he was not.
I don’t like to think of myself as a Christian any more. This term is way to limiting. Instead, I view myself as a disciple of Jesus, a part of His Church and a person on the Way to the best life possible.
But then right when I thought I had this particular issue figured out, I came across the following verse:
1 Peter 4:16
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God on this behalf.
Based on the above Scripture, maybe I should glory in being called a Christian? Each answer seems to lead to a deeper question. When will it ever end?