Several years ago, a friend’s young daughter wanted to do something because everyone else was doing it. In a variation of the old Empire State Building analogy, her mom said: “If everyone was eating cat poop, would you?” I thought that was rather graphic, but the 5-year-old got the point.
In another instance, I questioned a young man’s desire to permanently mar his skin with a tattoo. He responded that everybody was doing it; he wanted to be different too — just like everyone else.
I recently read an article on the “new” church — churches that are less structured and more appealing to the younger generation. They’re more laid-back, into social programs and doing for others. Part of being a Christian is doing, as spelled out in Colossians 3:17: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The article expressed concern that the Gospel message of a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior was being shuffled into the background.
Countless times I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t want to be a Christian, based on believers they’ve seen or known. And with it comes, “The church is full of hypocrites, so why would I want to go there?” Our pastor’s response each time, delivered with grace and a touch of humor, was, “Come on in; there’s always room for one more.”
Have we, as Christians, gone so out of our way to show unbelievers that we can be “just like them,” that we’ve made a mockery of true Christianity? What IS true Christianity? In Sunday school we learned it’s “I following Christ.” (I always wondered where the “anity” fit in.)
There are 17 references in the Gospels of Jesus saying, “Follow me.” So many people get hung up on the dos and don’ts different denominations have added, it’s no wonder there’s confusion. But Jesus said, “Follow me.” Period.
We should all be aware that our Christian behavior is the only exposure some people will ever have to the Bible. I’m reminded of a joke a visiting minister told at our church when I was a kid.
A rough and rowdy lumberjack attended a revival meeting at the church in town and gave his life to Jesus. He told the pastor he was anxious about returning to the logging camp for fear of what the rest of the crew would do to him once they discovered he’d become a Christian. The pastor said he’d pray for the new convert. The next weekend, when the man returned from the camp, the pastor asked how things had gone. “Oh, great!” replied the lumberjack. “Nobody suspected a thing.”
While that story is humorous, it has a serious implication. Do the people we work with know we’re believers? And I’m not implying we should ram the Bible down their throats. Is there anything in our behavior that sets us apart from anyone else? There should be!
I attended a church’s youth club sledding party and there were several kids attending who didn’t normally go to the meetings. They all appeared to be having a wonderful time and I was pleased to see so many gathered together. But the leaders made no mention of Jesus or Christianity to the group. They wanted the kids to see that Christians do fun things and are just like everyone else, and felt that was enough of a positive message. What a missed opportunity to share with them the most important life-changing message of Jesus Christ making the difference in our lives.
If we shift our focus from faith in Christ alone, and instead, concentrate on doing good deeds, working together for the common good, having good times — how does that make us any different from any other “good person” or social organization? We know the difference, but to the unbelieving eye, is there anything that indicates they can’t do all these things under their own power with equally good, if not better, results?
You never know who’s watching, or how much damage a careless word or action can do. When an elderly neighbor visited and saw my Bible on the floor beside my chair, she quickly scooped it up and reminded me that the floor was no place for God’s Word. She was an atheist, and she was right. But that unfortunate slip opened the door to some lively discussions on faith issues, and I hope she enjoyed them as much as I did.
In 1st Peter 3:15 we’re told, “But give honour to Christ in your hearts as your Lord; and be ready at any time when you are questioned about the hope which is in you, to give an answer in the fear of the Lord and without pride;” (Bible in Basic English).
What’s the answer? Follow the crowd? Everybody’s doing it. We can’t afford to be complacent. Follow Jesus. Do it for everyone.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.