I’ve been surrounded by Christians and their unique lexicon of vocabulary my entire life. And occasionally the prolific use of Christianese, my own or others’, leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but generally it simply washes over my accustomed ears. However, lately, certain words and phrases have been jumping out of conversations and off pages and into my consciousness, demanding some reflection.
Today, it is the phrase ‘the world’. What does that even mean? Who does it mean? What does the person using it think it means? What do I mean when I say it? Why is this grabbing me right now?
I think it has to do with another word of recent note: belonging. We BELONG to God, whether we want to or not. He is Our Creator and He loves His creation. This has been, is and will always be perfectly true. And as disciples we are to imitate Our Teacher, telling ‘the world’ that they belong too. But I feel almost assaulted by the numerous ways in which Christians, usually unintentionally, send exactly the opposite message. “You don’t belong. Unless your beliefs are demonstrated in your behaviour.”
Unlike our belonging, our beliefs and behaviours are not perfect constants. They are continually forming, being transformed by the work of the Spirit in a relentless process of sanctification. Certainly the book of James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). But at times I feel like those visible works/behaviours are required before we embrace a brother or sister in the pew. That doesn’t sound right. Or maybe this is about being welcome at the Lord’s Supper or sign-on-the dotted-line church membership only? Hmm. So you can belong to Jesus, sure, but not at His table or in our church, until such time as you have your belief and behaviours tidied up?
Are we called to be the gatekeepers of such belonging? What is the worst that could happen if we ‘admit’ someone who falls short?…Oh, wait, that’s ALL of us!
I know we are called to be hagios (holy/set apart/different) and to be ‘in the world and not of it’ (Rom. 12:2). But I think there are times when we use the idea unfairly to distance ourselves emotionally from the very people God sent us to disciple. For fear of stepping over the elusive in/of line we don’t engage, sometimes in the name of ‘abstaining from all appearance of evil’ (I Thess. 5:22). We are, I am, to varying degrees, afraid of ‘the world’ and the loss of control that comes from being in community with those we’ve decided are ‘in’ it. This is sad. It needs to change. I need to change.
Counter-cultural, Christ-following needs to be lived intentionally in the midst of those who need Jesus- all of us. No soup kitchen serving table between us. No chequebook. No return trip ticket to my developed nation. No charity clothing drive drop-offs*. Life-on-life. Just like Jesus did.
I have the privilege of mentoring an amazing university student who recently said to me, “I don’t feel like I can challenge others to break from status quo until I do it myself.” Amazing. Convicting. Let’s do it together.
*Note: Soup kitchens, monetary donations, missions trips and charitable participation are NOT the enemy. They are good. As long as they don’t keep us from being WITH ‘the world’ in meaningful relationships.