Church Views · On Being Christian

A Higher Standard

In a conversation the other day, a friend made the statement, “It seems like Christians are held to a higher standard.” She referred to someone at work who criticized the behavior of a purported Christian. But it got me thinking about that statement, and I wondered – is it wrong?

First I have to admit I’m provoked by recently reading Bill Lobdell’s book, Losing My Religion. If you’re not familiar, Bill became a believer in the early 90’s. He was a journalist who wrote a regular Religion column, but ultimately gave up his faith after covering stories of corruption in Christian institutions, including the child molestation cases in the Catholic Church. (You can read his Times’ story here.) In short, he observed that most Christian institutions were not set up to function with higher ethical standards, and that Christian leaders were frequently unwilling to do the right thing, preferring to protect their jobs, careers, reputation, and position.

Yeah, I know. We’re all just sinners and screw-ups. But that’s not really true. Shouldn’t it be that we’re all sinners who used to be screw-ups? If we’re still continually screwing up, it seems to me we may not be doing it right. Because the Bible is pretty clear: As Christians, we’re to be more generous, loving, caring for others, honest, truthful, content, self-disciplined and willing to take a stand. We’re supposed to be a light that shines, a living sacrifice, a new creation, rooted and growing, fleeing temptation and pursuing righteousness. That doesn’t mean we do it perfectly, but it also doesn’t mean we dumb down the standard as an excuse to live like everybody else.

Dallas Willard explains the disparity between “the standard” and the average Christian life as The Great Omission. He argues that the Church has become focused on creating believers and members rather than disciples as specified in the Great Commission.

“This causes two great omissions… Most important, we start by omitting the making of disciples and enrolling people as Christ’s students… Then we also omit, of necessity, the step of taking our converts through the training that will bring them ever-increasingly to do what Jesus directed… Not having made our converts disciples, it is impossible for us to teach them how to live as Christ lived and taught (Luke 14:26). This was not a part of the package, not what they converted to.”

There is a different standard for Christians. And it’s not unattainable, though it does require training and effort. I have to wonder if there’s any correlation between the nominal, name-only “believers” and the unethical, corrupt “Christians” who give us all a bad name. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable stretch. Though it would be a dreadful realization for the Church.

5 thoughts on “A Higher Standard

  1. So what’s the training course then? Is having new converts in a regular bible study group sufficient?

    I think it would need to be an easy and natural progression to discipling, otherwise it’s just one more rigid training exercise that we can become legalistic about. So how do we make it work?

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    1. You know, I think Willard’s point is that we try to make the decision step so easy it’s almost meaningless. (I say that very generally, because obviously many people have come to know Christ that way.) But I think he means we’re not clear/honest up front about what they’re actually signing up for. Then when they’ve made the decision, yes – I think Bible study, mentoring, serving, etc.

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  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently. While I do think some of this falls on the church for making the step almost meaningless, as mentioned, I think a fair amount of it falls on the individual believer for not investing in their own relationship with God. The Holy Spirit would never encourage us to remain stagnant, but I don’t think many stop to listen to His prompting – or perhaps don’t know how to listen. If anything the church should focus on, in my opinion, it would be understanding how to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    It seems a bit ironic to me that one of the biggest breakthroughs in church history was the understanding that individuals can have a personal relationship with their savior directly, rather than having to go through a priest. Yet now, for some odd reason, we see a slew of lazy Christians who aren’t interested in putting in the work it takes for a healthy relationship with God. Perhaps that is due to the ‘ease of the decision’, or perhaps it comes from a general lack of understanding as to what a healthy relationship even looks like.

    I know for me, I need to be more intentional about my relationship with my savior.

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  3. I’m kinda bouncing between the ideas. On the one hand, I love seeing the searching finally find; the hungering finally fed; the blind finally with sight. On the other hand, I ‘get’ it when we urge those who have found to keep finding, those who have fed to keep eating, those who have seen to keep seeing.

    A friend recently wrote: There is a difference between training and transformation, and never confuse the two.

    I’m not smart enough to fully engage in that thought, but I dig the effect it has on my brain.

    A caution to add is to make sure messy spiritual journey–ing is allowed; that is, let mistakes happen, doubt occur and questions be asked. Jesus gave space for the disciples to face-plant (or sink in water). It is the bobbing in the water, at times, that really fast forwards the disciple-making process.

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  4. I attended a service in which sin and repentance weren’t mentioned, but those in attendance were invited to stand and say, “I believe” to become a Christian (and then congratulated for their courage). I was told that the need for repentance, etc., would be explained to them later in follow-up.

    Of course there’s a higher standard for Christians. Would you call a non-Christian a hypocrite if she were living with her boyfriend? I think that a Christian who did so would be a hypocrite, or at least out of touch with her sin.

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