More about hard issues

Unsavory Christians

I like just about every kind of music there is, so I used to have each button on my car radio set for a different kind of station. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t get to enjoy that variety very much, because the only station that broadcast music and not blab during my morning commute back then was the classical music station. So I ended up listening to that.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I punched the button for the Top-40 station and discovered a radio preacher! The newspaper confirmed it: one of our Top-40 FM stations had switched to Christian radio. At first I was pleased, because it used to be that the closest Christian FM station was in Baltimore, forty miles away. I thought that I would now be able to listen to hymns whenever I wanted to, just by pressing a button, and I wouldn’t have to worry about poor reception from Baltimore. But alas! The new format was mainly talk, and I don’t like to be distracted by conversation while I’m driving, whether from a passenger or from my radio. But there were no hymns. For my morning commute, the radio station’s new format had some sort of radio preacher who sounded like one of those comics that make fun of radio preachers’ hick accents.

So it was back to the only station that broadcast music during my commute: the ‘fine arts’ station whose DJs affect counterfeit British accents because they think it’s classy. But at least there was music, and some of it is sacred.

Every morning when I punched the radio buttons, searching for variety, I winced when I come across that poor guy with the speech impediment (or accent, I can’t tell which) on the Christian radio station, preaching with the rhythm and cadence and intonation of the best preacher spoof I’ve ever heard. People like that make us all look bad, I sometimes think, because they perpetuate damaging stereotypes of Christians as unintelligent yokels. Well, I am sure you know how I feel: just about every one of us has at one time or the other has been embarrassed by some of our fellow Christians. Every once in a while some one makes a public spectacle of himself, bringing us all into disrepute, and you become discouraged and wonder what you should do. When this happens, I sigh and wish that Christians could be classless without lacking class.

How many public advocates of Christianity turn us off? The squirrelly priest? The country hick preacher who makes ‘Jesus’ into a four-syllable word? The controversial political figure who claims transformation? The social activist who sees the whole point and purpose of the gospel in one social issue? The overly intellectualized preacher who is lost in sophistry? Or perhaps it’s a coworker who makes a show of religion, but whose personality repels people.

But today I stand rebuked by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, and I wonder which one of those people is me.

Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
—1 Corinthians 1:26-31, NIV

And then I look beyond my discouragement and see God’s wisdom in this. The wise of this world cannot see beyond the speech impediments, the social preoccupations, the mechanical religiosity, or the narrow political views of the saints of God. They are blinded in their arrogance, as we are sometimes blinded ourselves: they see the limitations of the saints without perceiving their greatness. For by what power can these people overcome their limitations to do the things they do but by the power of God? Let us not be blinded by the transient standards of this world so that we fail to see the eternal glory of our God manifest in saints around us!

In this the power and love of God is manifest, that the least and the weakest of this world have become the greatest in the Kingdom of God. God goes to the farthest extremes of society to recruit His saints and demonstrate His love, so that all of us who stand somewhere in between may not lose heart.

So I take heart and try to be humble, because if God associates with such people, He certainly will not cast me out—because in some way, which I know in the secret part of my heart, I am one of them.