“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Those are Jesus’s very own words. And I don’t think that there is any more concise statement of what Christianity should look like to be found anywhere. How should people know that we are Christians? By our love, love, love, as the old campfire song says. My brothers and I used to cough into our hands and say “t-shirts, t-shirts, t-shirts” during the chorus, as at Bible camp it seemed that wearing a loudly “Christian” t-shirt was a requirement if you wanted to be taken seriously. And now, fifteen years later and a whole lot of life experience later, there are still moments where I see church groups “Evangelizing” out around town, all wearing matching loudly biblical t-shirts, and I catch myself singing that old tune again.
Sometimes I sing it “they shall know we are Christians by our pamphlets, yes, they shall know we are Christians by our pamphlets, pamphlets, pamphlets…”
Then there are the questions, asked by other Christians, meant to hold us accountable to our need to “evangelize”. Questions like, “when was the last time you shared the gospel?” or “when was the last time you witnessed for Christ to your neighbors?” When asked those questions I generally falteringly reply that I don’t really make a point of doing such things. I try to live my witness and live my gospel daily, in my temperance and temperament and willingness to share and care for others, even if it’s something as simple as letting a little old lady struggling with her groceries to cut in line. It’s not the moments where we blindside someone with gospel tracts, shouted slogans and pictures of mutilated fetuses that will win hearts and minds to the Lord.
It’s our love, love, love. We are to be known not for our huge congregations, our bulging coffers, our well-worded slogans, our catchy worship tunes, our contemporary language, our well-reviewed media, our “40 days” of this and “Month-Long Focus” on that and “NEW SERMON SERIES!” whatever and horribly archaic sayings on our letterboards.
And for the love of all that is holy, we are NOT to be known for our bumper stickers! (Especially as we are cutting people off in the fast lane.)
What did Jesus say? Seriously, WHAT DID HE SAY? There are times that I want to stand on the rooftop and scream it. What do the gospels REALLY SAY? I’ve read them so many times, and every time I am struck by how Jesus first demonstrated tolerance and compassion, and then required obedience. He never said “obey or burn”. Certainly we must take the parables into account, but in every case where people were left outside in the streets where there is great wailing and gnashing of teeth, it was because they themselves brought their judgment down upon their own heads.
Which is slightly different than a gay couple innocently walking into Wal-Mart, or a teary-eyed desperate teen going to get an abortion because she feels lost. Imagine, those two examples- imagine how they feel when literature is abruptly thrown in their faces. Imagine, instead, that someone took the time to introduce themselves, speak compassionately, maybe buy them a soda, maybe take the time to hear what these passing strangers have to say.
Imagine instead of saying, “I have a message for you [FROM GOD]”, if we said, “how can I help you have a better day?”
Because, honestly, when we beat people upside the head with the Bible that’s not “sharing our faith”, that’s emotional assault. Sharing our faith is what we do, every day, without thinking about it. And a sad amount of the time it’s not our faith we’re actually sharing- it’s our lack of it.