Seven Deadly Mistakes in Christianity
This post is the translation and compilation of my two columns in Dutch Christian magazine de Nieuwe Koers October and November 2020
#1 Christianity without Jesus
In his book Sand and Foam Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese poet and philosopher wrote, “Once every hundred years Jesus of Nazareth meets Jesus of the Christians in a garden among the hills of Lebanon. And they talk long; and each time Jesus of Nazareth goes away saying to Jesus of the Christians, "My friend, I fear we shall never, never agree."[i]
In the twenty-first century, Jesus Christ has been turned into a religious-political and commercial product. We used to say humans are made in God’s image, but these days, we have turned God in our own image. Especially in the United States of America, Jesus' name is used with selfish political agendas, with, xenophobia, homophobia, with justifications of wars, with racism and finally with a theology of fear for the otherness! Recall that Christ said: “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 6:21). How much of today’s “Christianity” indeed accords with Jesus’ message? When I read the gospels, I noticed that 28 times in 4 gospels, Jesus said: “follow me.” Jesus did not even once mention “worship me.” Some people think “worship” means to perform the right ceremonies, sing the right songs, say the proper prayers, believe in the right doctrines…" However, when Jesus came, He constantly repeated “follow me” … “follow me.” “follow me” and not “worship me.” Following Jesus means being on a journey with Him and to walk in His footsteps. What are these footsteps? Are creeds, dogmas, theology, doctrines, charisma, religious legalism, or judgmentalism? I think the steps of Jesus are always taken in love, a love that includes all, unconditional and pure: a neighborly love in the path of life.
We have now two-thousand years of organized Christianity, churches, denominations and ministries, and I often ask myself, did (do) these "systems" really represent Jesus Christ? People were / are excluded in the name of God; Bible is used to accuse and judge others. Holiness is being preached throughout centuries and yet thousands of innocent children have been sexually and emotionally abused by clergies who suppose to represent Christ.
#2 Leadership Without Character
After Christianity without Jesus, comes what I call Leadership Without Character.
Character is more important than charisma and head knowledge. In Evangelical and Pentecostal churches often time, the pastor's charisma attracts many people, rather than the character of the leader. In some other church denominations, the emphasis of who can be a leader is based on theological knowledge, which is very important indeed. In the end, it is not our energetic sermons or deep theological exegesis that will testify about our leadership, but the virtue of character and how we spread the fragrance of Christ to others. The growing news of scandals concerning clergies and pastors, regardless of church or denomination, is alarming. I write this with full humility and compassion.
#3 Evangelism Without Love
The next is Evangelism Without Love! When we talk about evangelism, we often think in terms of systems and programs. They mean distributing flyers in the streets, singing on a boulevard, or having a music program in a park — or thousands of other types of events. I emphasize all of these are good indeed. However, evangelism, to me a lifestyle. For me, evangelism is genuinely and honestly involving and sharing my life with others in the love and the light of Christ. It's not about how many souls we have so-called saved. It's about every individual we have shared our lives with, through the love of Christ Jesus.
We have now two-thousand years of organized Christianity, churches, denominations and ministries, and I often ask myself, did these "systems" really represent Jesus Christ?
#4 Church Without Significance
Church Without Significance is my next point of concern. Jesus builds His church that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt.16:17-19). What are these gates? These gates are the institutions of injustice in our world that causes poverty, wars, corruption, racism, etc., that lead people to live miserable lives today. Systems that cause mothers to sell their bodies as prostitutes in order to feed her children, or teenage refugee boy in the camps somewhere in Lesbos who sells his body, for a pair of shoes or children who get abused there just for an ice cream. The church must play a significant role in society. The church should make a difference in people's lives and in the community.
#5 Prayer Without Purpose & Action
This brings me to the next deadly sin or error: Prayer Without Purpose & Action! Prayer is not uttering or repeating words to God, prayer is also not a formula or a specific positioning of the body, hands, or head. No! prayer is to be in a relationship with God, knowing that you are always connected to the Creator, even when you don't say a word or don't bow ahead. Prayer consists of are deeds; let us not talk the prayer but walk the prayer. Prayer must have a purpose, which will help the church be involved with others and society. Prayer motivates us to get involved with the world around us through praying for them.
#6 Bible Without Compassion
There are times that I notice some Christians quoting the verses the Bible Without Compassion. This is to be the sixth error or sin. The Bible should be read and understood through Christ's eyes and interpreted based on the principles He taught. Often, some Christians use the Bible to simply judge others, without showing mercy and compassion.
7# Love without Neighbors
Finally, the seventh deadly error or sin we may fall into is what I call to Love Without Neighbors: A neighbor-less love is a selfish love! Jesus Christ summarized the law in "love your God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” means trying to genuinely get involved with the other: the other could be literary your neighbor, but it also can be the lonely man or woman who lives in our neighborhood, the refugee far away and the Jew, the Muslim, the atheist or the one with a different gender orientation as ours.
Some Christians use the Bible to simply judge others, without showing mercy and compassion
I think the time has come for us to make a serious decision by genuinely, and willingly to "Follow Jesus" and stop worshipping our traditions, dogmas, and doctrines more than loving Jesus. I think only then we may have a chance to convince others to "follow Jesus." It is a hard way, but the best way.
I hope during these times of pandemic, we as Christians, individually as well as collectively, begin to address these seven deadly "sins" or "errors" within our religion and hope to rise again with a refreshed, restored and revised message of Christ. Christianity without Christ is a dead religion, which will eventually lead many to desert it. However, I am hopeful and I do believe things are changing, especially young generation Christians are choosing to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
[i] Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1954) p27.