Because I Said So

Granted, the Huffington Post is hardly to be confused as a bastion of unbiased reporting.  Still, I find it interesting to read their takes on things from time to time.  If nothing else, it helps keep the heart rate elevated.

So this editorial on what makes a Christian is fascinating.  Let me say a few things at the outset.  I tend to side with his overall point – that the number of people who claim to be Christian is probably inflated somewhat compared to the number of people who practice anything resembling historical, orthodox Christianity – Sunday morning or otherwise.  His distinction of fans as opposed to followers has some usefulness.  I’ll also grant that the bar he wants to set for Christians is headed in the right direction – more taking up our crosses, less rooting for Jesus from the sidelines.  
But this article is problematic in several ways.
First off, he has his own definitions of both what Christianity means and what it should look like.  Not surprisingly, both of these are measurable in terms of social justice.  If there are Christians, there shouldn’t be poor people or hungry people or any of the other social ills that plague our nation and world.  Where there are Christians, these things shouldn’t be an issue any longer.
That’s a nice idea, but on what does he base this?  Certainly not on Jesus’ own admission in Matthew 26:11.  There Jesus makes the rather astounding assertion that while He is around, the task of his followers is to glorify him, not seek to end the world’s problems.  Now that the incarnate Son of God isn’t among us, we should definitely be turning our attention towards glorifying him in other ways – and serving the least among us certainly can be a way of glorifying Christ (though it needn’t necessarily be in and of itself – an atheist can care for the poor just as well as a Christian).  
The disagreement I have with Pastor Kyle Idleman is that he has determined what Christianity is about.  He has set up a metric for evaluating it according to his definition, and he finds most Christians lacking.  Convenient.  Dangerously so.  In fact, the danger breaks wide open when he attempts to quote Scripture and interpret it for us.  Quoting Luke 9:23 is fine – that is indeed the measure of faith.  But then Pastor Idleman immediately twists these words to suit his personal definition of what faith should look like.  The emphasis quickly slides away from “following me” to “take up a cross” (emphasis mine).  
Jesus doesn’t say “a” cross though.  He says the equivalent of “his own” cross.  In other words, we don’t get to choose our crosses.  A cross is something that is forced upon us, as it was forced upon Christ.  We take it up painfully, reluctantly even.  But the decision is whether to take it up, not whether or not we’re particularly fond of what it looks and feels like.  Since it’s a cross, odds are we aren’t going to like what it looks and feels like.  If we did, we’d call it something else.  Like a choice.  Or a pillow.  Or a big donation.  Or eliminating poverty.  
The examples Pastor Idleman chooses to support his assertions of what a follower of Christ looks like are admirable.  But they’re also highly visible and public and measurable, and they’re also within his rather narrow definition of what a Christian looks and acts like.  If Jesus didn’t bother to clarify exactly what the cross ought to look like, how is it that Pastor Idleman feels he is qualified to fill in that blank?  Jesus’ cross brought his physical death.  Pastor Idleman’s examples are all of people giving out of their wealth in one way or another.  That’s important and beautiful, but it’s hardly the equivalent of the soon-to-be crucified savior telling his soon-to-be martyred followers that they’re going to have to take up their crosses and follow his example.  
Earlier in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus preaches what for Pastor Idleman and myself is a particularly hard thing – that we aren’t supposed to make a big deal out of the things that we do for the kingdom of heaven.  In fact, Matthew 6 leads off with the idea that our giving and caring and loving should be rather discrete.  And if it’s rather discrete, then it’s very possible that a great deal more love is being shown by a great many more Christians than Pastor Idleman’s beautiful but rather skewed examples would lead us to believe.  
And if that’s the case, we need to be cautious about determining who is and who isn’t a follower of Jesus Christ.  I imagine we’re all going to be rather surprised about those categories when Jesus returns.  That was certainly the case in the parable in Matthew 25:31ff.  As such, I’ll attempt to remain encouraging, hopeful, and very, very generous in my assessments, even as I exhort people to greater sacrifice, greater service, greater love (myself included!).  Most of the time I don’t know the crosses that the people around me are bearing.  But I’m grateful our Savior does.

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