They’ll Know We are Christians…How?

Written by beyondwords : December 18, 2007

A long weekend with extended family helped crystallize a fact about modern Christianity. We’re all about salvation by grace through faith alone, but nobody seems to pay attention to the biblical commands to build a community of disciples (Christ followers).

So, what we seem to have, instead of a community of disciples, is a culture of church-goers.

And so an elderly matriarch was content to sit at the kitchen table and tell me how blessed she is to count all her children as church-goers.

Now, in no way was this grandmother equating going to church with salvation. She was simply expressing “going to church” as the external evidence marking her children as members of the Christian faith.

Ironically, she seemed oblivious to one of her daughters’ bitter outbursts, to the grandson who spent the weekend playing grisly video games on his computer, and to the condescending remarks her children made about certain church people and/or members of the Democratic party.

I spent some sleepless hours staring at the strange, dark ceiling in the little guest bedroom, pondering what it would look like to follow Jesus if we didn’t have the membership badge of going to church.

I know what it looks like in my life. There’s a richness of worship and fruitfulness of the Spirit in the relationships in my home, with a few members of the community who meet and pray with me, as well as in relationships I’m building in the community at large, not to mention, of course, in my vocation as a writer.

I’m praying for patience and wisdom and perseverance to hang in there with my congregation. I long for worship there to be a visible outpouring of lives spent following Jesus in radical ways.

Jesus says they’ll know we are Christians by our love, not by our church attendance. But how does one tell that to one’s family and one’s congregation? Instead of preaching, I’m modeling it as best I can.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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7 Responses to “They’ll Know We are Christians…How?”

  1. Jonas Lundström on December 18th, 2007 1:36 pm

    As I see it, we need to leave established churches that are occupied with their church buildings, one-way worship, hierarchy, lack of community and discipline etc. A genuine church has to be a band of Jesus-followers. Most churches are a mix where many and maybe most are not following Jesus. I think that we should not support this way of being the church. Instead we need to form alternatives. Radical reformation, ones again.

  2. Jonathan Brink on December 18th, 2007 10:40 pm

    Beyond, Nicely said. The question is how long will it take to create alternative communities. Unfortunately, I say at least twenty years.

  3. Michael Cline on December 19th, 2007 9:57 am

    I think leaving the church is the easy way out. I too think a lot of what you are saying is right on, and I also agree with Jonas, that churches occupied with their real-estate more than discipleship is just plain offensive to God.


    Leaving isn’t going to change anything. 100 years from now, there will be another group of people who are attempting to be “Jesus-followers” in a more radical way, outside the church walls, and guess what? The church will be marching on. So how we can we reform and renew the churches from the inside? How can we create remnants from within, not from without?

    I think it is always the duty of a few to call our the church to be more pure and radical (i.e. prophets, monastics, etc…) but that is not the calling for everyone. Perhaps you, Jonas and Beyondwords, are part of the prophet crowd. But to say that a “genuine church has to be a band of Jesus-followers,” and then pretend that everyone else doing church without the same passion or zeal, and are therefore not genuine, is misguided in my opinion. I’ve found tons of people within local churches (especially in my generation of twentysomethings) that are desperate for change and reformation, and they are STAYING and being agents of change within the body. That is where change will be sustained. Not on the fringes.

  4. Jonas Lundström on December 19th, 2007 1:24 pm

    Michael. This is a classical issue in times of reformation. I tend to side with the outbreaking groups like early monastics, waldensians and anabaptists. It is not the question of whether there are genuine disciples within the established churches. Of course there are (as there of course also are disciples within the sects). The question is whether we need to follow all of christ´s commands and invite others to do the same. How can we support structures that are opposed to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles?

    Of course there will be new groups over and over again. Thank God. God´s people should be a people of great diversity, not a gigantic institution.

  5. beyondwords on December 19th, 2007 2:25 pm

    Keep up the conversation, guys!

    I think people in local congregations would follow all of Christ’s commands if they were taught how. But I see the institutional church so enculturated and enmeshed with empire that the only way for it to make sense of what Christ taught is to reduce it to “spiritual” concepts, so there’s very little for people to get passionate about except piety and sexual morality. That’s why so many twentysomethings are desparate for change. And guess what, a few fiftysomethings are, too. You know God is up to something when people my age are being called to be agents of change within the existing institution as well as on the fringe. I consider myself to be active in both places. But I’m shouting against the wind most of the time, especially since I’m a woman. The best I can do is be faithful, prophetic when I’m given a chance to speak up, and continue to model change with my whole llife.

    I do pray for God to raise up people within my congregation to come alongside.

  6. Michael Cline on December 20th, 2007 6:55 am

    Once again, I hope you both realize how much I appreciate your voice in a time such as this, and I think the prophetic zeal that you bring to the table is just as needed as those who wish to stay on the “inside” and try to be agents of change (no matter how unsuccessful it can feel at times).

    keep up the good work.

  7. beyondwords on December 20th, 2007 7:25 am

    Thanks for the encouragement, Michael.

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