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.