The internet lit up recently with story after story about a Seattle pastor who used over $200,000 of his megachurch’s money to buy his way on to the New York Times best seller list. It’s bad enough for any author to attempt such a deceit, but it’s more painful when it’s a person making claims about representing Jesus. The criticisms of such behaviors get “enhanced” much like the prison sentence of a person using a gun for a crime or belonging to a criminal street gang.
Anytime a person asserts a relationship to God, spiritual insight, personal righteousness, and other things we commonly associate with being religious, the individual’s life must resemble those claims. It doesn’t have to be perfect – just genuine and intentional. None of us has much stomach for someone who looks holy on Sunday but acts like a jerk on Monday.
Treating the descriptor “Christian” with seriousness and respect is like creating a résumé for a job. We know that if the applied-to company is worth its salt, it will vet the applicant’s claims to see if they are all true. In the same way, a Christian’s life will be evaluated by observers to see if it is true as well.
There are good reasons why a person should carefully examine his or her life before using the descriptor “Christian.”
The first is that your life will be examined for its truth. This is not a bad thing. It is an observer’s way of determining if there is any value to listening to your testimony. And most of the time you’ll never know who is watching you. For example, a local coffee shop employee once said, “I can’t stand the Sunday morning crowd; they are demanding and rude. The employee’s conclusion was that the claims of that crowd weren’t true.
Second, making false claims about one’s life is discrediting. Jesus had a particularly scathing critique of people who live dishonestly. He called them whited tombs that look architecturally beautiful on the outside but are filled with decaying bodies inside.
Third, deceitful claims do incredible harm. In the case of the coffee shop employee earlier mentioned, she does not consider Christianity to be a valid option for her life, largely because of the way she sees people living out of that description. “If that’s what Christian’s are like, I don’t want any of that.”
Fourth, the most powerful evangelistic tool today is authentically living out the implications of your faith. Not going door to door, not a gospel tract, not a large-scale evangelistic crusade. Just being authentic.
Finally, if you think you can be a Christian by being holy on Sunday and a jerk on Monday, you are only fooling yourself. Nobody else will be deceived by your holy charade, and you may even be destroying the nascent faith of somebody watching your life.
The megachurch’s pastor story is still front page news. After his long, rambling apology, pundits are debating its sincerity. That is a foolish pursuit; only God knows that.
The fact remains that irreparable harm has been done by the disconnect between the claims of a Christian life and actions to the contrary. This is desperately sad.