The Lord has been exposing in me a fear of being seen as ignorant, out of touch, uneducated, backward, and the like. An underlying motivation in my presentation of Christ has been to show that Christianity is none of the negative stereotypes imposed on it. More importantly, I want to make sure people don’t think I fit those stereotypes. At bottom, my defense of Christianity is merely self-love. And really, we talk in this day and age as if stereotypes are always completely false when in reality there is often truth to them.
While bridge building is a legitimate calling within the church, so is being misunderstood, maligned, and rejected. Many in the church are perplexed by the world’s reaction to us and assume something must be wrong with the church or our presentation of the gospel. Many of us are busy polling our neighbors, finding out what offends or confuses, and trying to find the “holy grail” of cultural relevance that will end all dissonance with non-Christians. Others make it their mission to engage public debate, relate Christian faith to the latest scientific theories, and rub elbows with intellectuals of all stripes. Nevertheless, the world’s basic attitude toward Christianity is negative and many of us remain surprised by this.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. The scriptures say we should expect the world to hate us (John 15:18-25). We are told we shouldn’t expect the world to listen to us (1 John 4:5, 6). We are told to expect rejection (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:12). Despite all these admonitions, we wring our hands and wonder why all don’t speak well of us (Luke 6:26).
This isn’t to say the church is perfect. Historically, we have been guilty of social injustice, hypocrisy, child molestation, consumerism, and countless other things that betray the very heart of God. For our real failures we should take responsibility and show contrition as is fitting in Christ. But we often go way beyond this and lapse into co-dependently gauging the rightness of our course by the reactions of others. If people are flooding in and not leaving offended, we must be presenting the “real” Jesus. If people react negatively or with hostility, we assume something must be wrong with us and we anxiously set about to find how we’ve dropped the ball.
But we must consider this: Large crowds followed Jesus when He was handing out free food, healing people, preaching encouraging sermons, etc. But when He got to the heart of His teaching about the cross and communing in His broken flesh, everyone left but the twelve (John 6:66). We need to remember that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2). In the end, the crowds we draw through our pleasanter ministries will be the same crowds calling for our crucifixion (Matt. 27:22). I am by no means suggesting we be bull-headed, insensitive, ignorant clods for Jesus. But we can never forget we are not of the world or that our place is ultimately with Jesus (John 17:14). “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).