Below are two sets of questions, which one do you think most accurately reflect your attitudes and actions?
Which do you identify with more, which do you most naturally answer affirmatively?
Here is the first one
- Do you regularly have meals with people who have very different morals or beliefs from yours?
- Do you see God given value in every person regardless of their past or present condition?
- Do you feel compassion for people who are doing immoral things and not following God?
Here is the second
- Do you tell others that the most important thing in your life is following God’s rules?
- Do you think that people who follow God’s rules are better than those who don’t?
- Do you believe its not your responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves?
In a survey done in the United States 51% of those who responded identified with the second set of questions and 14% of respondents identified with the first set of questions
Now here are three interesting facts about this survey
- All of the people surveyed self identified as Christians
- The first set of statements were created by researchers with the input from New Testament scholars to reflect the attitudes and actions of Jesus.
- The second set of statements were created by researches with the input from New Testament scholars to reflect the attitudes and actions of the Pharisees.
Here is what the survey, which was much more in-depth than just these questions concluded
- The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians—using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians—qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.
- On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus.
- In the middle are those who have some mix of action and attitude. About one-fifth of Christians are Christ-like in attitude, but often represent Pharisaical actions (21%). Another 14% of respondents tend to be defined as Christ-like in action, but seem to be motivated by self-righteous or hypocritical attitudes.
JUST LET THIS SINK FOR A MOMENT.
In a survey of self identifying Christians a majority thought and acted like the Pharisees. Let’s remember that the Pharisees were the group which was most opposed to Jesus and with which he came into most conflict with most often.
Only 14 % of self identifying as Christians had attitudes and actions that were broadly in line with those of Jesus.
As I said, let that sink in for a couple of minutes.
Now I know that no survey is perfect, but the results of this survey are so stark, the difference between the figures so large, that there can be no denying their clear implications. A significant proportion of western Christians would be happier hanging out with the people who were in constant conflict with Jesus and helped crucify him than with Jesus himself. Never mind the lunatics taking over the asylum, the Pharisees have taken over the church! The terrible truth this survey reveals is that the church has been effective in developing disciples, but not disciples of Jesus but disciples of the Pharisees! The unintended consequence of the way we do church and discipleship is that many churches are producing significant numbers of people, who had they lived at the time of Jesus, would have been scandalised by His actions, offended by His words, repelled by the people he embraced and found common ground with the people who counted Him as their enemy.
I couldn’t help but ask myself two questions and I am going to ask you to ask yourself those two questions
- What if that survey had been carried out at Westlake Nyon?
- What if I had taken part in that survey, would I have been in the 51% or the 14% or the confused and muddled 35% in between?
We are grappling at the moment as a church with what discipleship is all about. One thing we can be certain about is that it seems that much of the contemporary church is doing a terrible job at making disciples of Jesus. Rather than being shaped by the attitudes and actions of Jesus, too many contemporary Christians are shaped by attitudes and actions that are self righteous, unloving and hypocritical. There is something far wrong with contemporary discipleship when all too many Christians would feel more comfortable having a friendship with a Pharisee of Jesus day than with Jesus himself, because they would have more in common in terms of shared values!
What are we to make of this? How do we respond as individuals and as a church?
I suspect that I may be thinking about this for a while and as a Church reconsidering our calling we are going to have to think long and hard about whether we are becoming disciples that think and act like Jesus.
However, the main thought that came to my mind is that those of us claiming to be Christians need to get reacquainted with Christ.
Sociologists have a theory that we can only become as loving as the most loving person we know, as forgiving as the most forgiving person we know etc etc. That made me think that the only reason why significant numbers of people who call themselves Christians don’t share Christ’s compassion for those in need, attitude to sinners, forgiveness of enemies and so on, is that they don’t actually know Him very well at all.
A few years ago two friends, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch wrote a book called REjesus. In that book they argued that the contemporary church needed to be “REJesused” that is reintroduced to the authentic Jesus and so be shaped by the real Jesus not our misconceptions about and ignorance of Him. They wrote “It seems to us that a constant, and continual, return to Jesus is absolutely essential to any movement that wishes to call itself by his name.”
Whatever else we need to do as a Church we need to follow Frost and Hirsch’s advice and return to Jesus. I need to be continually REJesused. We need to be constantly REJesused. We need to get to know Jesus better personally and help each other get to know Jesus better as a community. Only then can He exert the influence He should in us and through us. But how do we do that? I am spending a lot of time thinking about that right now.
What I would suggest is that as a starting point is that whatever other bible reading we do that we should be constantly reading the Gospels, listening to Jesus, observing Jesus, getting to know Jesus so we can grow to be like Jesus.
I don’t think we can have a higher priority than that, do you?