A church near our home has the following on its marquee:
Don’t Judge Christ by Christians
Now I’ll admit there is a tension here, for I’ve used the equivalent of that line myself and I’ll probably use it again…but:
Jesus says (John 17): I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me…
The world can judge the validity of the Gospel message, of the Father sending the Son, by the unity of Christians. As much as we try to explain away the fractured appearance and nature of the professing church, as much as we may try to emphasize the common ground (which is substantial) of the professing church, we are left with the fact that the general perception is that the church is anything but unified; the testimony of the church is not one of unity. For those of us who think of the church on a daily basis it is easy to forget that the concept of a transcendent church is foreign not only to most professing Christians, but that it is utterly foreign to the average person. Many people consider the various denominations and various nondenominational churches the same way they consider competing restaurants or retail establishments; you have your national chains and then your locally-owned establishments; the church is no more unified than McDonald’s and Burger King; or Wal-Mart and Target. People have justification for judging Christ by Christians.
Then we have the sign by which people can judge whether we are disciples of Jesus Christ, for Jesus says (John 13): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus gives the world another standard of measure by which to judge; the first standard of measure by which the world can judge the Gospel message is our unity, the second standard by which the world can judge whether we are Christians is our love one for another. Our relationship with others is central to both standards, as is Christ. We are to love as Jesus Christ loves, and we are to be in unity as the Father and Son are in unity – we are to live in their unity.
If the world does not see our unity and if the world does not see our love for one another then the Word of God indicts us, our lives are a prima facie case against us. We may think that programs and campaigns will make up for our lack of witness in unity, but Jesus didn’t talk about programs and campaigns as being the witness of the Gospel message. We may think that other things may substitute for our love for one another, but Jesus didn’t talk about other things taking the place of loving even as He loves. For many we are about as attractive as a restaurant chain that only serves liver and onions and about as relevant. Folks that have been “going to church” all their lives often have no sense of a transcendent Body of Christ, and when various churches and denominations do cooperate it is often on the same level as competing firms in the same industry cooperate via trade organizations to accomplish particular aims – they remain competitors.
The marquee about not judging Christ by Christians lets professing Christians off the hook, it lets churches off the hook, and it allows us to climb down from the witness stand. How about a marquee that says, “You have a right to judge the Gospel message and to judge us by our love and unity”?