What do you think of or what concept comes to mind when you hear the term "Christian?" What idea resounds the loudest when you hear the word?
It's obviouse when you look around at the world that there is something seriousely wrong in some circumstances and yet there are some things we can say "that is the way it's supposed to be, that is beautiful." How can we look at these good things and not long desparately for the "wrong" things to look like that. To be more specific I'll give an example. In America a woman has a 1 in 3,700 chance of dying in child birth, that's good (relatively) in south Africa it’s 1 in 16 (that's wrong). Do you ever go to bed hungry, I mean really hungry like you had no choice? 800 million people go to bed hungry each night (300 million are children) Is that ok with you? See we've twisted this world so much in some places and have it so good in others. Who is going to respond to these peoblems? Is the Church? Is God?
For most people in my social circle the resounding purpose for being a Christian is to get something for themself. when do you hear a preacher invite someone to Christ by telling them how important it is the poor and the oppressed. Have you ever heard a salvation message end with people raising hands and a preacher saying "Angels are rejoicing in heaven because there's a few more people that care about world hunger!" Being a Christian for most people I've talked to means getting eternal life, and not the kind that starts today but more properly "life after death."
I just went to the bathroom and thought I'd bring some reading material so I hauled in a book from the used book section (I'm working at my mom's store today) entitled "Evangelism explosion" by Dr. James Kennedy. The first page I looked at was "an outline of the Gospel," sort of a "how to" outline of evangelizing christ. The first question you're supposed to ask someone apparently is "have you come to a place in your spirittual life where you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?" or"suppose that you were to die tonight and stand before God and he were to say to you, 'why should I let you into my heaven?' what would you say?" Are you seriouse? is that what it's all about? Would God ever say something like that anyway?
We have been selling the wrong product. Evangelists for years have sold this dualistic Christianity where when we die we go to some other place and it has nothing to do with the way we live.
If being a Christian is about going to heaven when you die then what is the point of living? What is the point of caring about the environment and third world hunger and slavery in the world if we're just all gonna leave this place someday?
"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lords work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless"
-I Corinthians 15:56
We are not in the words once again of N.T.Wright "oiling the wheels of a car going off a cliff." Yes somehow the work we do on earth is directly related to our ressurection described in 1 Cor 15. Somehow it seems that Paul believes that because there is life after death we must care even more about "God's work." Or we should be encouraged to work now because of the assurence of eternity. To me it seems that we've turned the gospel aroud backwards. The first reson someone becomes a Christian is because of the afterlife it promises.
Mike Devries raised a question last year at the Youth leadership Institue team conference that has stayed with me ever since. He asked us "if you knew there was no heaven or Hell would you still be a Christian?"
I guarantee that the disciples did not follow Jesus because of heaven, at least the way we think of it, but because of what they expected Him to do in the present, right in front of them.The disciples were revolutionaries! They were out to reshape the world to bring love to a world that had not experienced it, to bring unextinguishable light to a world that did not recognize it. Jesus story is one of compassion, and mercy, and healing. It's a message of acceptance and celebration and healing.
So why is it that the first thing we think of when we hear the word "Christian" is the word "heaven?" Life after death is part of it, thank God, but it is not essentially what it's all about. In fact I think you could get by just fine without even believing in life after death. The first words I want this broken world to think about when they hear about Christianity are "acceptance," "compassion," "beauty," "Love," "hope," "forgiveness," "openness," "joyfulness," "creativity," "passion," "goodness" I could go on. These are the things of heaven, these are the good things. If these things ruled over the darkness then we would be able to say "this is how it's supposed to be."
So we must ask, if not us, if we don't respond to the world's pain then who will? If we don't change the perception of Christianity in the world who will?