They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our…?

Some of you might remember the 70’s praise chorus, “They’ll Know We Are Christians”,
with the chorus…
“by our love,
by our love,
yes they’ll know-oh
we are Christians
by our love.”

In the past decades, Christians separated themselves from the “worldly” culture, preferring their own Christian sub-culture. The only area where we have a visible presence in the public arena is as antagonists in the political realm.

Our participation in the public sphere has been an attempt to morally shape the culture through political influence which requires the amassing of political clout or power. This has almost exclusively been focused on conservative middle-class values.

What has this done for the Christian reputation, our witness?

What has been the price of being “right”?

What if, like the early believers in Acts, our reputation was that we loved and served those in need? Perhaps if that were our reputation and witness, we wouldn’t be as easily dismissed. Perhaps we wouldn’t be quite so “persecuted.”

Somehow pursuing love, service, and justice as our expression of faith in the public sphere is suspect in evangelical realms. Why did practicing love toward our neighbors get negatively labeled as a liberal social gospel?

As emerging/missional christians shift their attention to lifestyles that express the love that the gospel calls us to, they are constantly challenged to prove their evangelical credentials. The very act of focusing on service and practice arouses suspicion of liberalism and a lack of adherence to orthodox beliefs.

What I don’t understand is why we don’t question the lack of practical expression of the doctrines we flaunt.

The evangelical mindset is still deeply entrenched in the hearts of many believers, and our resulting reputation is still deeply entrenched in the minds of the public.

If we stand in our churches singing updated versions of this chorus, we are fooling ourselves. This is not our reputation in mainstream America, especially in the midst of an election season. They know the issues we stand for and against, but they don’t know we are Christians by our love.

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14 thoughts on “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our…?

  1. I personally believe you are addressing “the addictions of Western Christendom”. What is Western Christendom? I believe it came onto the scene in the fourth century when Roman Emperor Constantine married the Christian Church with the State. This afforded the church the opportunity to wield great power over the masses. Much as Jewish tradition was considered God’s authority in Jesus’ day, Christendom became God’s authority in the emerging Western world. I contend that Christendom was never in God’s plan – neither in the life and teaching of Jesus, nor in the writings of the Apostle Paul. I would go so far as to say that Christianity was never meant to become a ‘world religion’, or any religion at all. I believe that Christianity was to be a dynamic, organic community of Christ’s disciples, following His example in expanding the Kingdom of God through acts of service and proclaiming the good news. It worked well for 300 years, and then it was morphed into a distortion of purity when the state gave church power. The Reformation diversified that power, but never really weaned it from the state. Western Christendom is now going through the withdrawal symptoms of losing the power of the state, and/or the power of the majority. State and/or majority were never meant to replace the power of the Holy Spirit manifesting the character of Christ through the attitude and activity of Christ’s church.

    “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” -Galatians 5:6b

    If the church wants to regain power, that’s the power she should be focused on.

  2. Dang it! I had it wrong, I thought it was “and they’ll know we are Christians by our ‘christian t-shirts’ and republican values” – man I hate being wrong…

  3. what about ‘they shall know us by our holiness’? I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I think this idea is a ‘Western Christendom’ (ht ken) idea rather than a biblical one. We like to make sin and holiness opposites, but biblically are they really? Inanimate objects get called ‘holy’ in scripture but no inanimate object is ever called sin. For simplicity’s sake, we can biblically say that sin is breaking the Law and Love is the fullfilment of the Law right? So wouldn’t that make sin and Love opposites rather than sin and holiness? (Love preceded the Law and is the greater reality I know, but I’m just trying to keep it short here.) If holiness is about being separate, and God being “Holy, Holy, Holy” is about his unique position of being truly distinct from creation (not created, not made up of atoms, self-existent, independent, etc) how did holiness become all about moral rightness and how can inaminate objects (ground, ark, temple, clothes) be morally right?

  4. Ken,

    your “withdrawal symptoms” idea is really fascinating, a new way of looking at it for me. I have certainly been disconcerted by the role of civil religion here in the U.S. My Canadian friends constantly comment on it and cannot understand our addiction to it and how much it plays into politics here. But the more I think about it, you are right that it is something all of Western Christendom has struggled with in different eras. I wonder if it will change for the U.S. as we progress further into post-Christendom.

  5. Sad, but true. I can’t count the number of times I have heard Christian leaders say the we must “look like Christians”, stay away from certain practices, and worship in a certain way so we would be known as Christians. Generally those things we were to do were culturally based rather than Bible based.

  6. I do believe the problem more rooted in what it is we love most, not that we do not love…

    Some believe a love of correct doctrine & the defense of true conviction to be the greater expression…

    Some believe stemming the perceived tide of moral corruption & the disentegrating fabric of society the greater love…

    Some believe a the establishment of strategic laws the love that benefits all…

    We all have a skewed idea of what love consists of & how it is to be expressed best…

    But I do feel that what the world is lacking is a godly love lavished in even rarer grace…

    We are a stingy lot. I’m talking about Christians in general. We are self-preserving & suspicious of others & we are a fearful bunch. Fearful of being deceived. Fearful of being soft on sin although we claim to love sinners. Fearful of alternate ideas or lifestyles or whatever…

    Fearful of political differences. Fearful of ethnic differences. And the list goes on…

    We are not a loving group as God requires it. We have substituted cheap imitations though. Some even bathed in religious toiletries that help us smell good & look good on the outside, but do not change who we are on the inside…

    I think we over-define what we want love to represent & then lose sight of what God requires. And it could be the simplest expressions the ones we become least able to feel comfortable doing…

  7. “The only area where we have a visible presence in the public arena is as antagonists in the political realm.”

    I think that is because the media focuses on it more than anything else. The reality is that Christians put a heck of a lot more effort into helping the poor and powerless than they do in politics. Also, sometimes the two overlap, such as in pro-life work. It isn’t incidental that the most press coverage Christians get for their charitable work in helping the less fortunate comes when the two areas overlap and that it is by and large not very positive coverage due to media bias.

    MB

  8. MamasBoy,

    You may very well be right. The media need to sell negative stories to make themselves profitable, and they are not entirely without agendas and biases.

    But here is the thing. You are known for what you are known for.

    Scream and complain all you want if you don’t like what you are known for. Life isn’t fair. Blame the liberal media which has become a favorite pastime for conservative Christians. But at the end of the day, you are still known for what you are known for. Perceptions suck, but good luck fighting them.

    I have never met outside the Evangelical community, anyone who views conservative Christians as the champions of love. Have you?

    And people with negative views of Christians have stories to tell, and they are not all New York Times stories. Their stories are about their Christan parents, Christan siblings, Christian neighbors, Christian relatives, Christian classmates.

    Yes, sometimes their stories originate from the media. But very rarely.

    You are known for what you are known for.

    PS: I do have a question for you. Do you have hard data to support your claims?

  9. ken
    Very well said. It seems we’re “looking for power in all the wrong places.” The understanding that political power is NOT beneficial for the church will be a necessary shift in worldview, especially for american christians.

    chris and david,
    LOL! :)

    Tracy,
    Yes, but the first step toward change is seeing ourselves as we really are and admitting the problem. As long as we stay entrenched in our “rightness”, we’ll never change. In His mercy, perhaps change is beginning.

    Rick,
    Interesting thoughts. God’s holiness (love) moved into our brokenness (sin). I think it’s really about relationship, not morality.

    dawn,
    I think it will continue to change, and even as some lament the loss of political power, it may be the best thing that could happen to the church.

    Fred,
    And maybe someday “looking like Christians” will be defined according to love and service, not our piety.

    joseph,
    Excellent comments. I think that everything you mentioned is rooted in a skewed concept of God and His love, which is then reflected in how we love others.

    mamasboy,
    I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. I see the same overemphasis toward political activism in the way christians present themselves, not just in the way that the media presents them. I believe we’ve been distracted from our real purpose.

    David,
    Great to see you! I hope you’ve been well.
    Awesome response, I love the bottom line point, we are known for what we are known for. Ultimately, it is up to us to change that, not the media.

  10. Grace – along these lines I was contemplating this specifically (in the world, not of the world) with regards to private Christian schools versus public schools. I’m so totally not sure (especially from some of the comments) what I still think about it, but what you wrote here totally exemplifies the main thrust of my concern. Good stuff.

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