Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping Up Christian Appearances?

What do real evangelical Christians look like?

Hmmm. What are we supposed to look like?

Are we supposed to be wispy, kumbaya, peace-and-love groupies? Should we be in your face, thumping our Bibles on every bully pulpit we can find? Or must we disguise ourselves, blending into the scenery around us, picking and choosing our favorite parts of spirituality and pleasantly ignoring the stuff that makes us look legalistic?

What Do You Model?

Recently a gay, agnostic friend of mine asked me how Christians are expected to look and act. (Well, he claims to be an atheist, but secretly, I think he's less certain there isn't a divine being than he is that it's God.) Somebody had commented to him that Christians were supposed to be purposefully insular and cliquish to the exclusion of everyone who isn't our own kind. Yet my friend looks at me, a person who is relationally introverted and frustrated by it, and sees a disconnect.

If I'm supposed to be spending my time around goody-goody people, why am I friends with him? In fact, he knows he's one of my best friends, since I don't have many close associations at church. One of the reasons we get along so well, despite our vastly divergent worldviews, is that we share the same jaded view of pop culture, we've never been part of the popular crowd, and we both love Uncle Julio's restaurant in Dallas.

He lets me talk about stuff going on in church, and I let him talk about stuff going on in his relationships. We talk about our parents, our brothers' kids, and the people we used to work with. We met when we both worked at the same company.

Maybe I didn't model the proper exclusivity of stereotypical Christian relationships with my friend, so that's why now, he's curious about why I never seemed to hang out with a more holy-rolling crowd.

A Friend Indeed

I've heard of evangelical Christians who say they befriend unsaved people only to win them to Christ. I think that is a patently disingenuous, almost fraudulent reason to "befriend" anybody. What happens if the target for conversion never receives salvation? Do you dump them and move on to the next target? If you're not truly interested in having the friendship of another person, and they're more of a notch in your Gospel belt than a literal human being worthy of your time, how miserably cynical - and disrespectful of the humanity God has created - is that?

Besides, with my personality, as with my friend's, we're not ever going to be close friends with everybody. Neither of us have the charisma or the social magnetism to draw others to ourselves and have to fight them off with a stick. Well, my friend is far better-looking than I am, so if either of us had the chance, he would. But otherwise, maybe we do get along better with each other, rather than with some of the people in the social spheres in which you'd assume we'd circulate.

Is that wrong?

According to the Bible, in the book of James, "friendship with the world is enmity with God." But it doesn't say friendship with people in the world equates to hating God.

Don't Do Do's and Dont's

Yes, there are certain things believers in Christ generally do - or don't do - because they believe these things either honor or dishonor God. For example, we usually go to church, give money, read our Bibles, and help those in need because not only are we commanded to, but these practices help us develop in our faith. By the same token, people of faith usually avoid situations that could compromise morality. Depending on how we choose to do that, we tend to end up subscribing to lists of do's and dont's, in a pattern that some people describe as legalism.

And without going down a rabbit trail on this one, let's just say legalism generally can be described as performance-based religion. For example, some people assume that the reason I don't drink alcohol is because I'm legalistic, even though the real reason is because I'm concerned I could get addicted to it.

So do I look like a Christian? I don't drink alcohol, but a lot of Christians do. A lot of Christians claim to be ill at ease around gay people, but my friend and I get along fine. Granted, he's not a flaming, demonstrative homosexual. And neither am I a hellfire and brimstone type of Christian. Just as I'd probably become uncomfortable around a flamboyant gay person, my friend would likely have little to do with ranting fundamentalists.

But at least to me, it matters less whether I look like a Christian than if unsaved people like my friend know I'm one. When California radio preacher Harold Camping predicted the world would end on May 21 of this year, my friend and his partner quizzed me on how realistic that was, because they knew I am more balanced in my faith than Camping and his followers. When my friend throws his annual birthday parties, I'm never invited, because he knows the activities there wouldn't be compatible with my faith (although I've had church friends not invite me to their parties for the same reason). And we've had frank discussions about why I don't believe homosexual marriage is right, even though we both agree that married Christians have done a lousy job of proving me right.

Yet we're still friends. In fact, I'm confident enough that what I've blogged about today is accurate, I'm going to show him this blog entry.

So maybe I'm not what this acquaintance of my friend's would consider to be a poster-child for conventional Christianity.  Truthfully, I'm not sure what he thinks Christians are supposed to look like, but I have an idea, and I imagine I don't fit.  I don't tow the Republican party line, I'm not a neo-con capitalist, I don't not drink because I think doing so banishes me to Hell, I don't confine my friendships to the "right" people, I even let people be my friend who aren't saved, and I'm not afraid to point out foibles in the Christian culture.

However, if this acquaintance sees Christians as sinners saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, then I do fit.

And I pray that some day, my friend will, too.


  1. I agree with the way you think and id like add a few points. 1) sometimes Christians stay exclusive because they fear they fear compromising....the whole "bad company corrupts good morals" which is legit. You can compromise your beliefs too far.
    2) its great to have friends from all walks but honestly, what happen to "forsake not the assembly with believers" we need STRONG Christian relationships so to go too far into church is not good and staying outside as a Christian isn't either.

    I quite honestly see more compromise in the church today so we can cool down to worlds level and what does revelation say about lukewarm?

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and say Amen! I've been asked the same question by various friends ("How can you be my friend and be a Christian/religious person/church-goer?") and my response is always: "Why wouldn't I be your friend?"

    Thank you for sharing!


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