Christianity and respectability

LLM posted an interesting quote from Tim Keller in her blog, Enough Light. Here is a part of it:

Man in suit

“in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you’ (Matthew 21:31).

Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.”

Is this true?

It seems to be.

Keller may have exaggerated the offence Jesus caused to “Bible-believing, religious people” – many of his followers would have been faithful believers (Anna and Simeon in Luke 2 come to mind). It was more the religious establishment that he offended. But his general point seems to be true of Jesus’ ministry.

And it certainly seems true, in western countries at least, that most successful churches are in middle class “Bible belt” areas, and christianity doesn’t do so well among the less educated. Some years ago many of my “church friends” were people who were marginalised and stigmatised (in their own eyes, and I suppose often in reality) by drug dependence, alcoholism, mental illness or unemployment, and some of them really struggled to feel they could be accepted by God and by christians in the church.

If it’s true, what are we going to do?

What do you think? Please make a comment, start (or continue) a conversation.

Photo: MorgueFile

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  1. In our area we have many churches of different denominations and at one time was considered a city of churches. Today many churches are “going out of business” while others are thriving. What I see is the surviving churches are reaching out in ministry (youth, local mission, singles…) and doing the “unthinkable” updating the music, yet still including the hymns and are going on line to reach the younger generation. They are moving out of their comfort zone and in the process probably offended the old traditional churches. The biggest change I see is less “preaching” when they are out in ministry but more ministering, as one pastor told me “we are called to show God’s love in practical ways” let our actions be our preaching – to let people know they are loved and respected…there is still much to do but I think the church as a whole is on the right path to furthering His kingdom. Personally I see the church shifting into a new revival, we are in the in-between stages as we learn and seek to go forward. There will be mistakes after all we are all human, but the end result is what matters.

  2. Thanks for your feedback. That is overall very encouraging. I see two things particularly in what you say:
    1. If we hold onto traditions too long, they become very difficult to change. We need to be adjusting, changing, improving all the time as the Spirit leads.
    2. In mission, talk is cheap. Most people want to see the actions before they’ll listen to the words.
    Thanks for this input.

  3. Thanks for re-posting this. I think part of the problem is we look at people and see their sin first. We see a “_______” (drug addict, homosexual, prisoner, etc). Instead of just seeing them as a person for whom Christ died. There is so much more to a person than their drug problem or sexuality or crimes or….! I’m guilty of this too. It is too easy to label people. We also need to get better at meeting people “where they are”. Jesus did that.
    A changing point for me regarding this was my father-in-law. I won’t go into details but he was a very rough man. And he made me nervous. Then he got cancer but hid it from everyone. We did not know until it became physically obvious (significant weight loss). He was “suddenly” terribly frail. For the first time ever, I just saw him as a person who needed love and care. How sad I never viewed him like that before…but only saw his rough exterior.

  4. Thanks, that is an interesting story about your father-in-law. I think for many, christianity has become a religion of being good rather than an invitation to be renewed and to be part of a movement to renew the entire world.

  5. My memories of Church and Sunday school all centre around the old “Sunday Best” tradition and all the paraphanalia that went with it. Oh, and rock hard pews that made my backside numb!
    On saying that, I would prefer this to the snake charmers of the charismatics or the You- will-all burn-in-hell Billy Graham type Evangelists.
    Scare poor kids half to death.;)
    However, while not having been brought up in a Catholic Environment, if there was a third choice I would opt for Father Ted and Dougal. These two are my kind of religion.

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