See Two Popular Misconceptions About Christianity (Below)
In our attempt to find out the truth about anything we might follow the advice of Dragnet’s Sargent Joe Friday. "Just the facts, please," he would demand weekly. He was not concerned for rumor or hearsay or innuendo—he needed the facts to crack a case.
So it is with inspecting Christianity. There are a lot of half-truths and fiction out there passing as truths and fact regarding the church founded by Jesus of Nazareth. Many people are rejecting Jesus based on these myths and misconceptions. On the following pages are 25 misunderstandings about the Christian faith. Some of these are innocent misunderstandings, some are true but need explanation, some are straight-out lies propagated by special interest groups, and some are stereotypes foolishly perpetuated by the Church itself.
No matter the source, it is our hope that through this pamphlet, the murky waters of religiosity that surround Christianity can be cleared up for you somewhat. We pray that your decision to commit your life to the God of the Bible or not will be based on the important truths of what Jesus taught and not on the mindless diversions that have wormed their way into the church over time. Thank you for your time and honesty in reading this...
1. If you were born in America you’re a Christian.
Well, as usual, when trying to discover the Truth about something, it’s best to define terms. The simple definition of a Christian, a definition which might apply to anyone since the days Jesus walked the earth, is "one who follows Jesus." This simplicity, however, belies an underlying complexity which we should not overlook. One who follows Jesus also believes that He is God and that He rose from the dead. They have been reconciled to the Triune God but only by Christ’s sacrificial death at Calvary. They have confessed and repented of their rebellion against God and now seek to obey Him out of love and respect. Their hope is to spend eternity with the one, true God. The United States was certainly founded on Judæo-Christian principles, but it is not a nation of Christians, no matter what the polls say. To suggest that a person is a Christian because he/she is American is as illogical as saying that being an Arab makes one a terrorist. (See One Nation Under God and Founding Fathers)
2. A Christian must attend church every week or else!
The Bible teaches in Hebrews 10 that believers (Christians) should not neglect the fellowship of other believers. It’s a good thing—a great thing—to praise and pray, read and sing, rejoice and weep, with others who are under the Father’s wings. BUT, it is not "necessary unto salvation." Unfortunately, Tradition has blessed us with the idea that God will disown us and squash us like arachnids unless we attend church every Sunday. But, as with everything divine, the heart of the church-goer is infinitely more important to Him than the act of church-going. (Please do not use this as an excuse not to go to church. The benefits of attending a Christ-centered church are immeasurable.)
3. It’s OK for Christians to sin. They say they’re forgiven!
It is true that a repentant person—one who is sorry for his/her rebellion, desires change, and wants forgiveness—can get right with God because of the Blessed Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But "it’s OK to sin"?! Yikes! Throughout the Bible, His people are exhorted to clean up their act. Jesus Himself says "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven Who is perfect." To the woman caught in adultery, He says "Go now and sin no more." James writes that "faith without works is dead." Evidently, although we are not saved by our behavior, it is, nevertheless, of great importance to Him that we obey. Through our self-sacrificing obedience to Him we conform more to His image; we become more fully His children. And believers are then a stronger witness of His transforming powers. (See The Myth of Faith Alone and What Is Holiness?)
4. Any good person is a Christian.
Well, just what is "good"? The Christian faith teaches that no one is good but God. Isn’t it because we are not good—pure in soul and body—that we need the Savior, the One who delivers us from our "non-goodness" and back into fellowship with the Creator? Simply put, the reasoning here is completely backwards. Becoming good is quite clearly the effect of a transformed Christian life, not its cause.
5. All Christians are conservatives.
Let’s define our terms first. Suppose we define a conservative generally as one who likes things the way they are, status quo; and a liberal as one who wants change. Clearly to a Christian there are some things that need changing in this land: the hearts of men for one thing, also the collapse of the nuclear family, homelessness, the drug problem, greed fueled by capitalism, pro-abortion laws, unbiblical discrimination, the wave of "hate" crimes, bias in the media, legalism in the Chuch, toleration of homosexuality, etc., etc. In this light a Christian might be a liberal (Oh no!). On the other hand, some things must remain the same: what’s left of Judæo-Christian principles, freedom of religion and to worship, laws protecting the sick and elderly, etc. Is the believer now to be a political Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? May it never be! When all is said and done, their allegiance is to their God, not to a political ideology; and when given any choice they are to choose what God wants, not what "the party" wants.
6. The Christian life is so very fun and easy!
This misconception is propagated by some well-intentioned believers probably to bring people "into the kingdom." But if the Truth be told, as it always should, the Christian life is not easy; it’s not always fun. The New Testament is filled with examples and warnings that to choose God means to be prepared to suffer for Him. The gifts He grants believers, however, gifts such as joy, peace, forgiveness, everlasting life with the Master, far outweigh whatever "suffering" American Christians encounter and provide hope for the multitude of other believers throughout the world being persecuted for their faith. There are at least two reasons why our stay here is not endless fun. One is that there is an Enemy determined to get us back and destroy us. Another is best put by C.S. Lewis:
The settled happiness and security which we [Christians] all desire, God withholds from us... by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in the world and [would be] an obstacle to our return to God... Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. (The Problem of Pain, p 115) (See Articles in Section Safeguarding Your Faith)
7. Only Christians go to heaven. All others burn in hell!
The committed Christian, as defined in Number 1, is assured of eternal life. But merely being labeled a Christian assures one nothing. In Matthew 7, Jesus says that not all who call Him "Lord" will see Glory—mere acknowledgment does not equal commitment. And what of those who have never heard of Christ? Will they "burn in Hell forever"? The Bible implies in the first chapters of Romans that those people who have never heard of Jesus by name but respond to His "invisible qualities" which "have been clearly seen" in their hearts and through Nature, that those people might receive eternal life. (Jesus is referred to, after all, as "the Light that gives light to every man.") But, above all, what the Bible makes clearest is that because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and abundant mercy, those who want to spend eternity as willing servants to the Most High God can be reconciled to Him and thus repossess that which was lost: spiritual union and indescribable Joy with the Father. Those who do not want this will not receive it; God will not force it against their will. Theirs will be, quite literally, a Godless hereafter—without Hope, without Joy, without Peace. In fact, theirs will be no "Life" at all. But their existence without God is of their own choosing. Sadly, "the gates of hell are locked from the inside." (See Religious Stew)
8. You’ve got to be baptized in water to go to heaven.
The entire Bible, chapter after chapter, from the Old Testament to the New, makes it abundantly clear that we are not saved by anything we do; we are not saved by any "works." The Bible screams from every page that we are saved by our faith in the completed work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It was His sacrificial work at Calvary, dying in our place, that saves us. The act of baptism is a deed. We are not saved by deeds. Therefore, we are not saved by the act of baptism. It is true, however, that we ought to be baptized. Baptism is the public declaration of being set apart for Him; the Christian’s signal to the world that he/she has died to sin, been washed in the blood of Jesus, and has now risen again with Him, victorious over Death. Therein lies the Beauty of the rite of Baptism. There are several events in the New Testament proving that people are saved apart from baptism. One obvious example that the physical act of baptism does not save us took place at the Crucifixion. The thief being crucified next to Jesus said to Him, "Master, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus did not reply with, "Hey, unless you get baptized first, you’d better get ready to dodge flames!" Instead, knowing the man’s heart, Jesus replied, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (See Baptism)
9. Heaven will be boring.
Picture this: The Almighty Creator of all the Universe, the Designer and Organizer of everything from the smallest subatomic particle to the most majestic of galaxies, the Giver of Life itself, the One who knows the heart and mind of every creature, the One Who can create from absolute nothing or annihilate at will, looks around Heaven and says with dismay, "Great! And I thought they would be happy—but just look at them! They’re all bored stiff! Now what do I do???" It’s hard to fathom, after only a moment’s reflection, that the Almighty Living God has an eternity of boredom awaiting us. Wherever Heaven is and whatever He has planned for us can only be the ultimate in growth, development, understanding, excitement, and fulfillment—Life as it was always meant to be. Spending timelessness as a willing servant of the Most High can be nothing less. (See Heaven A very interesting look at the question of whether there will be time and space in Heaven).
10. Christians despise Mormons, JW’s, and other cult members.
The so-called "cults" (such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) are so called because, among other things, while often claiming to be "Christian" they deny or sabotage the fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity, namely the Deity of Christ and His finished work on the cross. This tends to irk a lot of Christians who see this as a personal attack on their Saviour; implying that He is something less than God or that He didn’t do quite enough in His death. Thus, wrongly, some Christians will utter some pretty unchristian things. But this is not as Jesus wants it. As in everything, He commands His people to hate the sin (or doctrine or false teaching or misunderstanding) but enlighten the sinner in love. (This is, ironically, the same attitude He has towards Christians themselves.) There are many Christians who do just this, just as Jesus commands, but, more often than not, they are the ones working quietly behind the scenes, while (as with any group) the loud-mouthed abuse-hurling zealots get all the publicity. (See Section on Cults)
11. Christianity is really only a crutch.
What is implied by this trite little phrase is that a faith in God is just an artificial means of making it through this life, used by people too weak to face up to the hardships of reality. On the contrary, bowing down in service to the Almighty and being reconciled to Him as His child is the ultimate Reality. Facing the fact that one cannot make it through this life alone, that one needs to surrender to the Great Physician and have Him show us our spiritual sickness and then heal us from it; that is not a Crutch, but a deliverance from one. The real artificial means of support belong to a person under the illusion that he/she can do just fine, thank you, without "divine interference," an interference intended to save. This is the height of folly that leads, regretfully, to the depths of Hell.
12. Christians believe in three Gods!
The doctrine of the Trinity, as it’s known, is a part of Christianity which is admittedly very difficult to understand. The facts are these: Christians for the last two thousand years and Jews for thousands of years before that have believed in a single God. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible are so clear on that doctrine that it is unarguable. Then along comes our Messiah, Jesus Christ. He makes constant references to His "Father," the God of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of the Jewish people. But Jesus also claims to be God. He does not claim to be the Father, but He claims to be a second "person" of the Godhead—equal to the Father in divinity. On top of that, the same Jewish authors of the New Testament, all staunch monotheists, refer to a third distinct person of the Godhead whom Christians call the Holy Spirit. The dilemma is this; that while remaining strict monotheists, these writers and Jesus claim that there is more than one distinct personality in "God." This leaves for Christians the unenviable task of trying to reason something which is beyond human reasoning. An imperfect analogy to the Trinity doctrine might be this: Something simple for us to describe is a can. It is cylindrical in shape; from the top it appears circular, from the side it appears rectangular. Now imagine having to describe this simple geometric shape to some imaginary being living in only two dimensions; someone with height and width, but without depth—a flat person living in a flat land. Our can cannot be described. The being will never be able to see how something—the can—can be a circle and a rectangle at the same time. "The two cannot be one," he might exclaim. Now for us living in three dimensions, we see and believe. For our flat friend, however, the best he can do in his present condition is believe. So it is with us and the extradimensional God of the Bible Who claims to be three persons yet one God. Our three spatial dimensions severely limit us in our comprehensions of an extradimensional Trinity. Belief in three persons in one God is not illogical or irrational but, in the truest sense, it is beyond reason. (See Understanding The Trinity)
13. Christianity is just like all the other faiths in the world. They are all equally correct.
Christianity is not atheistic (belief there is no God) or polytheistic (belief in many gods) or pantheistic (everything is God). Therefore, it is not like Hinduism or Buddhism. And, therefore, neither can those three be equally correct because they contradict each other at their very foundations. Of the major monotheistic faiths (belief in one God), Judaism and Islam teach that Jesus of Nazareth was a mere mortal prophet; Christianity teaches that He is God. Clearly and concisely then, not all faiths are alike and not all can logically be correct. And if you’re deciding about the truth of Christianity versus other faiths, then you need ask yourself the fundamental question, Who then was Jesus of Nazareth? If He is God, if He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" as He claimed to be, then all other religions fall short. If you can prove that He is not God, that He was either a liar or insane, then you have an obligation to enlighten Christians of this new-found discovery and deliver them from their darkness. (Please see our other tracts, Do You Believe Jesus of Nazareth was ONLY a Great Moral Teacher? and But Who Do You Say That I Am?) (See Section on Religious Pluralism’ and several articles on This Page)
14. There are so many types of Christianity. No one agrees on anything.
This is an understandable misunderstanding of Christianity. There are the two main bodies in Christendom, Catholicism and Protestantism, and there are many factions even within those bodies. But there is only one Christian faith. The fact is that imperfect human beings disagree, and the Church is made up of imperfect human beings; disagreements, therefore, are inevitable. However, although the structures and various minor beliefs of the denominations may differ, their Foundation is the same—namely, all true Christians believe the following:
God created the heavens and the earth; humankind was a special creation made in His image and meant to live and grow and walk with Him; they rebelled instead, desiring to be their own masters; God, in His love, sought to reconcile this man-made estrangement (which means inevitable death for humans); this reconciliation was completely accomplished by the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, on the cross at Calvary, who died in man’s place because of their sins and rose again from the dead; as a result, we can either choose to remain in rebellion or be "born again" into a relationship with our true Father and know peace and forgiveness and everlasting life unknown outside of that relationship. God has revealed all of this through His Word, the Bible.
InPlainsite.org Note: However some of the variations on Christian beliefs are so profound that they bear little resemblance to the faith handed down to us by the apostles. Catholicism is a prime example of this and can very well be labeled a cult, which is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity on many cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. See section on Catholicism]
15. Christians actually believe Jesus is coming back.
Old Testament prophets, New Testament writers and prophets, angelic messengers, and Jesus Himself all tell of the Day when the Messiah will return in Glory. It is this promise which gives Christians hope when they see the world collapsing around them. With wars and murder, strife and starvation, abortion and infanticide, drugs and greed, all running rampant on this planet (of which we are the alleged caretakers), it is encouraging to know that the God of Love will be victorious in the End. The job of the Christian until that Day is not to wait on the rooftop for Him to return, but to hit the streets with the message of Hope and Salvation—the "Good News"—that He offers to all who will accept it, turn from their rebellion, and follow Him. marana qa! [See Section The Future]
16. Someone becoming a Christian might as well plan on packing up and going to China as a missionary.
Someone becoming a Christian might as well plan on doing whatever God has planned for them. That’s part of what being a Christian is all about; obeying the Loving Creator God even to the point of death. Of course, the likelihood of being called as a missionary is not great. God may continue to use a person at exactly the place they were before Christ—as a cashier at an Alpha Beta or as a probation officer or as a school teacher. A Christian’s duty is to follow where He leads and to have the faith that wherever one ends up, on the mission field or working a 7-11, that one can serve Him according to His perfect plan.
17. Christians aren’t allowed to think for themselves.
People who make this statement can probably show what seems to be some evidence to support it. It may appear that followers of some TV evangelists just sort of sit there, doe-eyed, absorbing everything without questioning. It may appear that a group of people listening intently to a particular preacher must really be mindless. It may appear in conversation with some Christians that they seem to parrot whatever their pastor or priest says without suffering the burden of critical examination. When this is true, it is not much different then when one accepts everything in a newspaper or on the 6 o’clock news or in a TV commercial, or when throngs of people go to hear their favorite candidate at a rally, or when any of us listen to gossip and believe it. Humans, by nature, are often mentally out of shape; they don’t often "exercise their little grey cells."
But the Bible encourages Christians to question and investigate; it commands them to love God with all their mind. Christians are told to examine and critically critique, without arrogance, in order to discover the Truth about God and themselves. If Christianity is true, Christians have nothing to fear in investigating the length, width, and depth of their faith. Human logic and reasoning, although imperfect and limited, are part of what makes us "in the image of God." [Also See Judge Not?]
18. Conversion to Christianity is only the result of a weak mind experiencing an emotional high.
Fallacious argument alert! Implicit in this statement are several assumptions: 1) that all conversions are based purely on emotion, and 2) that emotional experiences are always invalid. One would have a lot of explaining to do to prove this right. What about the multitudes who have come to Jesus with nary an emotion at all? What of those who have given their lives to Jesus in an emotional high, but then, after the "high" is gone, continue in their new life in Christ? What of those masses throughout the ages who actually inspected the claims of the faith, realized that they were the Truth, and then committed their lives to Christ?
There have been, no doubt, people who have given their lives to God at a highly emotional time, but this does not necessarily negate the validity of a conversion. One might as well say that because high emotions often accompany "falling in love" that all those people in that situation are really mindless, emotional idiots and not really in love—but it just doesn’t follow.
A Christian pastor says, rightly, that it is not so important how high a person flies when the moment of conversion comes, but how straight he or she walks once they’ve come back down. (See Born Again)
19. Jesus never really said he was God; He was just a swell guy (or teacher or guru or religious leader or prophet or alien(!) or...)
Those who believe this have never read the New Testament; they may have read this elsewhere or seen it on TV or thought it up or heard it from their teachers or gurus or aliens… Jesus said He was God; his followers taught He is God; orthodox Christians for the last two millenia have written, taught, believed Jesus is God. Whether or not He is God may require further investigation by you and a little more room for inspection than we have here. (See our tracts Do You Believe Jesus of Nazareth was ONLY a Great Moral Teacher? and Who Do You Believe That I Am?) (See The Deity of Jesus Christ. Was He Lord, Liar Or Lunatic?)
20. Christians watch only Christian television.
21. Christians actually have the nerve to believe theirs is the only true faith!
Today’s society in America is very "tolerant" and pluralistic. There are many faiths, creeds, beliefs, "sexual preferences," races, ethnic groups, cultures, etc., etc.. It is becoming more and more unacceptable to claim a single right way or answer for anything—that would lead to "intolerance" and "intolerance" is heresy in America today. Many people believe that all people are right "in their own way," that we should "live and let live."
Well... Jesus, the Founder of the Christian faith, begs to differ.
Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Bible says that there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we are saved. Paul writes that if any other creature gives another gospel from that given in the Bible that he is accursed. Jesus also says that no man goes to the Father except through Him. He commanded His followers to go out and "teach all nations" about the Way. This doesn’t sound so very tolerant. You see then that Christians are in a socially awkward position; their Leader tells them to actually go out and tell people they’re on a path to Destruction unless they follow Him only. (The audacity!) He tells them that all other attempts to find the Meaning to Life are off the mark. (How un-American!)
Christians have the nerve to believe theirs is the only true faith because Jesus of Nazareth, their God, says it is so. Perhaps those who consider themselves tolerant by today’s definition should be more tolerant of the "intolerance" of Jesus’ statements. (See Jesus.. The Only Way?)
22. Christians must believe that the world was created 6000-10000 years ago in six 24-hour days.
Oh no they don’t. There are Christians who believe this. There are also many Christians who don’t. Some believe the world has been around for billions of years and the six "days" of creation were six indefinite periods of time, not six 24-hour days. They believe their interpretation in no way contradicts the Bible. Both groups claim to have evidence to support their beliefs. But salvation is not based on one’s interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. A high priority of a Christian’s walk is not the details of how God created the world—much of which is a matter of interpretation—but that He did; that it was no cosmic accident born of countless random events, but a designed, deliberate act of the Creator. One of the most important parts of the Creation account for any Christian is Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." There is now purpose and meaning to our existence; there is a Sovereign in charge. It is a tragic fact that some have rejected Jesus and his Grace and Mercy because they were told that "real" Christians must believe in the absolutely literal 24–hour day interpretation of Genesis. [See Evidence for a Young Earth and Age of The Earth]
23. Christians actually believe in the virgin birth and that Jesus fed five thousand people with two fish and five loaves of bread and that he raised people from the dead, and, oh yeah, that he...
In short, what is being said is that Christians believe in miracles—supernatural interventions into history. What appears to irk a lot of people is that in the New Testament Jesus says a lot of wonderful things like "love your neighbor," but then He is reported as doing "impossible" things like giving sight to a blind man or stopping a storm—those miracles again. For some, that makes the Bible invalid. But these people start off with the premise, "There are no such things as miracles." Why not? Do they mean there is no God to cause miracles? Or do they mean there might be a God but that He doesn’t interfere with His creation? But, if there is a God, what prevents Him from interfering with His own work whenever He so chooses?
Christians believe—and it is no mighty leap of faith—that the Creator God has set up certain laws which govern our Universe (like Gravity and Motion, etc.) but that He is free to intervene whenever He wants. They believe that miracles have been a part of human history since Adam, that they have been used to bring glory to God, and that even now they occur. Apart from Judaism, there is no other world faith which believes miracles to be such an intricate, interwoven component in the fabric of cosmic and human history. It has been said that if one takes the miracles out of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. that nothing will be changed; they will remain the same. Take the miracles out of Christianity and there is no Incarnation, no atoning Sacrifice, no Resurrection—no Christianity. (See Miracles)
24. Christians are not allowed to enjoy sex! Ever!
Christians believe that God is the Creator of all things, material and immaterial. Therefore, His creation also includes our desires; our desires to satisfy hunger and thirst, for fellowship, love, knowledge, affection, and, dare it be said, the pleasures of s-e-x. None of these are evil in themselves, but they can be used in ways God does not allow. The glutton, the drunkard, the sufficatingly affectionate mother; all of these are examples of desires gone bad. The human being who was intended to be Master of these desires has become their slave. The same thing happens with sex. God has reserved sex for the sanctified partnership called marriage. It is intended both for pleasure and as the miraculous means by which we can "create" life, and He will bless this act of becoming one physically only for a couple who are now one spiritually. But He chooses not to bless sex before or outside marriage. Obviously, the correct fulfillment of any desire, including sex, is important to God. And what is important to God should be important to His sons and daughters.
25. Christians are commanded to hate homosexuals.
Maybe they are commanded to, but not by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t say "For God so loved the world (except for them hell-bound homosexuals) that He gave His only begotten Son"? The command of Jesus to His followers in this situation is the same response for any group which is diametrically opposed to God’s will: Hate the sin, show the sinner the Truth in love. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is wrong; that it draws the person away from God rather than towards Him. But trying to get a lost soul back to God and thus healed is not accomplished by name-calling. Jesus ate and drank with sinners; so ought Christians who want to be like Him. In His manner, believers may win some to Christ. [See Section on Homosexuality]
Two Popular Misconceptions About Christianity
It is not unusual to find a variety of misconceptions within the church. Like the little girl who declared to her Sunday school class that her favorite character in the whole Bible was King Solomon because he was so kind to ladies and animals. The startled teacher demanded, "Who told you that?" "Nobody told me," the little girl replied, "I read it for myself in the Bible. It says Solomon kept seven hundred wives and three hundred porcupines." Of course, she got the words "concubine" and "porcupine" confused.
Let me ask you some true/false questions to test your Biblical knowledge. True or False: Angels in the Bible are never described as having halos? True...contrary to the way they are nearly always pictured, angels in the Bible are never described as having halos nor are the portrayed with harps. True or False: The forbidden fruit eaten by Eve in the Garden of Eden was an apple? False...although from medieval paintings to modern billboards, Eve is nearly always portrayed reaching for an all-too-tempting apple, the forbidden fruit is never identified in the Bible as an apple or any other kind of actual fruit. True or False: When Jesus was born, three Wise Men from the East came to worship the child bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. False...although we sing, "We three kings of Orient are", the Bible never tells us how many Wise Men there were. Sometimes what we have come to believe or understand is not necessarily so.
I read the results of an informal poll taken recently on the streets of a major American city. People were stopped at random and asked simple, basic questions about Jesus and the Christian faith. The answers of the majority of those questioned were packed full of misinformation. This morning I want to look at three of the top misconceptions about Christ and the Christian faith that were expressed in this poll.
The first misconception is that the Christian life is a sad and gloomy way of life. When asked what he thought God was like, one person interviewed answered that as far as he could make out, "God is the kind of person who is always snooping about to see if anyone is enjoying themselves so he can put a stop to it." A lot of people seem to have this idea that God is some kind of cosmic killjoy. But Christ did not come to darken our lives and to steal from them all that is interesting and fun. Indeed, the message that heralded his birth was, "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy…!" Did you know that there are more references in the New Testament to joy than there are to weeping, mourning, anger, sadness, and distress all put together?
For too long the Christian message has been identified with gloom. The music that burst through the heavens was not a dirge but an anthem. It was the birth of a baby not the funeral of good times. Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Reformation, wrote, "God is not a God of sadness. Christ is a God of joy." John Wesley, the Father of United Methodism said, "Sour godliness is the devil's religion." In his book: And God Created Laughter, Conrad Hayes writes, "If the Gospel really is good news, when do we get to shout, 'Whoopee!'?" We should come to worship with the enthusiasm of one invited to a party, not the reluctance of one going to the dentist.
How many of you have been to a professional baseball game...raise your hands. A couple of weeks ago we had about 50 people from our church attended a Houston Astros game at Minute Maid park. I wish we could have the same spirit…the same enthusiasm…in our worship service that we have at places like that. I'm not suggesting we need to be screaming and shouting. Nor do I think that it is appropriate during the middle of the sermon to begin doing the "wave" or to "boo" the preacher if he says or does something we don't like. But I have noticed that when they do the seventh stretch, everyone stands and sings "Take Me Out To the Ball Game", even those persons who won't sing the hymns at all on Sunday.
The Christian faith is a happy faith. It is a joyful faith. The Christian is happy because he or she knows that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. They are joyful because they remember the promise given by Jesus in our scripture reading for this morning, "I came that you might have life and have it abundantly." In the words of St. Augustine written back in 430 AD, "The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot."
Now it must be pointed out that the Christian does know that in this world there will be tribulation. He or she is a realist and is not surprised to come upon evil and ugliness. Yet, at the same time, he or she knows the promise given in Scripture that "in everything God works for good with those who love him." Even if the world were to come tumbling down about us, as it may well do in this nuclear age, he or she remembers that God holds the future in his hands. Therefore, the Christian is not sad or gloomy. He or she doesn't go around looking like they have been sucking on sour lemons all day but with a smile on their lips, a light in their eyes, and joy in their hearts. Let us rid our minds once and for all of this notion that Christianity is a sad and sorrowful way of life. It is, as Jesus said it would be, "abundant living."
The second misconception is that Christianity is a drab and unchallenging way of life. When questioned about the Christian faith, one young person responded, "Become a Christian? I should say not. Who wants to spend their life carrying around a big black Bible and sitting in a sparse audience---mostly women and elderly people---discussing ancient tales about the Hittites, the Amorites and the whatchamacallites. I want a challenge for my life. Christianity is too tame and too dull." To this I would respond, "I don't blame you. You're right. If Christianity is what you have pictured it to be I would not want any part of it either. The trouble is, we are talking about two different things. You are thinking of a counterfeit that is too often passed off in the name of Christianity and I am talking about the kind of life that Jesus reveled when he was here on earth."
Jesus' life was anything but dull. He challenged that status quo of the day. He challenged the establishment and their way of life and religion. His life was in constant danger every day from both the Jews and the Romans. Likewise, the early Church was anything but dull. Back then it was the center of attraction for the courageous and to belong to it was to take your life into your own hands everyday. They had something that was changing the world. They followed behind the most heroic leader in history. They marched under the noblest banner of all time. And it is to this that the Church calls us today…young and old alike.
No challenge in Christianity today? Whether you realize it or not there is a war going on---a war against sin---and too many people are standing apart from it. Perhaps if we could see the way it is destroying American homes and wrecking young lives in a hundred ways, we would not be apathetic. Is this mere ministerial mumbo jumbo? No, it is stark, grim reality, as a trip through an AIDS clinic, or through a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, or through the deep slums of any city or through our court system would convince you. There is a war on---a bitter, desperate, long-lived, relentless war! A war between right and wrong, between good and evil.
Talk about a challenge. Where is there another challenge like it? To stand for the right. To align oneself with almighty God. To march under the command of Christ. To be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. To build up rather than tear down. To bring peace, encouragement and strength to a hurting and needy people. To share the glad good news that God has come to redeem and make life over again. To make a positive difference in this world. There is no more challenging life than the life of a Christian.
I remember reading the story about a young boy who had a lemonade stand in his front yard. He was selling glasses of lemonade for $.25 each. A woman passing by on her daily walk stopped and bought a glass. As she sipped her cold lemonade she asked the young boy what he was going to do with the money. The little boy answered, "I'm raising a million dollars to help feed the starving people in Africa!" The lady smiled and said, "Are you going to raise this money all by yourself?" "Of course not," answered the little boy. My sister is selling homemade cookies door-to-door."
The challenges that confront us are awesome. But as the popular song affirms, "Our God is an awesome God." Let's get rid of this wrong idea that Christianity is a drab and unchallenging way of life. There is no greater challenge like it.
The final misconception that I want to talk about this morning is that church membership is about the easiest and cheapest thing a person can have. When questioned about her membership in the church, one person interviewed said, "No, I don't attend church regularly. No, I am not really involved in any of its ministries. No, I don't really give any money. But, I've been an active member of such-an-such church for the last ten years." Obviously her definition and my definition of what makes a person an active member in the church would differ drastically.
It's not hard to see how someone might get the idea that church membership is easy and doesn't cost anything. For one thing, no personal references are necessary for church membership. No one has to vouch for your family background. And no aptitude or scholastic tests are required for admission. Nor does the church require any financial statement. You can get in without giving a dime and there is no dismissal for failure to support it. One can even belong to the church without ever attending it. Rotary Club, Lion's Club, Kiwanas Club, and other social organizations may have attendants requirements, but you can retain your church membership even if you attend church only once a year at Easter or Christmas.
Yes, it seems that nothing else demands and costs so little as being a member of the church. But, the truth is, anything worthwhile always costs something, and the more valuable it is, the higher the costs. Someone once said to a mother who had seen one son enter the ministry and one son enter into the mission field, "I'd give everything for a family like yours." And the mother replied, "I did."
There is a price tag on anything worth having and if church membership is not costing us anything, then we can be sure the church means nothing compared to what it is supposed to mean and could mean in our lives. What is the price of church membership? What is the price to have our names written alongside of those who gave their lives, their blood, their all for the sake of the church? I think Isaac Watts powerfully answered this question in his hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross". This hymn is #298 in our red hymnals. Open your hymnals to #298 and let's read out loud together verse 4: "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering, far too small; love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
When we become a member of Christ's church, we do more than promise to uphold it with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. We make the commitment to put God first in our lives...to seek God and his righteousness. We make the commitment to let our light shine for Christ at all times and in all places. We make the commitment to be a redeeming and forgiving person even to those who have hurt us or wronged us. We make the commitment to do what's necessary to grow God's church. Christ's command is to: "Go and make disciples!" I read a sermon on Friday by Jeremy Houck, pastor of Atlanta Road Church of Christ, entitled: "I Want the Church to Grow, but Do I Really Want Any More People?" The answer must be: "Yes!" When it comes to following Christ, we must be willing to put aside our own comfort zones...our own wants and desires...and put the focus on what God wants and desires for our lives, for our families, and for our church. Yes, the costs can be high, but a love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all. And the reward? The reward is abundant life both now and forevermore.
In our scripture reading for this morning, Jesus declared that he was the gate and that those who entered through him would find abundant life. In Palestine, when the sheep were out on the hills during the warm season, they did not return at night to the village at all. Instead, they were collected into sheepfolds on the hillside. These hillside sheepfolds were just open spaces enclosed by four walls. In one wall there was an opening by which the sheep came in and went out, but there was no gate of any kind. What happened was that at night the shepherd himself would lay down across the opening and no sheep could get out or in except over his body. In the most literal sense the shepherd was the gate.
This is what Jesus was thinking of when he said, "I am the gate." Through him and him alone, people find access to God. Through him and him alone, people find purpose for life. Through him and him alone, people find joy and happiness. Others come only to steal and destroy…to rob us from the best that life has to offer. But he comes to offer abundant life.
We need to shake-off the misconceptions that put a damper on the Christian faith. We need to show the world---both Christians and non-Christians everywhere---that the Christian life is not a sad and gloomy way of life, that the Christian life is not a drab and unchallenging way of life, that there is no such thing as cheap church membership. The Christian life…lived as Jesus Christ showed us how...is the most satisfying, the most fulfilling, and the most challenging life there is---and the rewards are "out-of-this-world". The rewards are abundant life both now and forevermore. Jesus is the gate to abundant life. Will you enter today? [See Sin and Salvation]