Monday, 18 November 2013

Christians! Blend In or Stand Out?

I’m here to address one of the questions that Christians who take their faith seriously have all thought at one time or another: Are Christians called to stand out, be different, be counter-cultural, be radical? Or are they called to blend in, be one with the world, stand with the ‘others’, be more identifiable as loving humans than outspoken Christians? Most Christians have strong opinions on this, one way or another.

Camp 1: Stand-Outers 

These guys have read Romans 12:2, and are convinced that they need to be counter-cultural. Like someone I knew once said, “If Christians watch all the same movies and listen to the same music as the rest of the world, they’re not really living as Christians.” The basic premise is that if Jesus has changed you, your values and priorities have shifted, and your choices of how you spend your time, how you dress, and what you talk about (among MANY other things) will reflect that. Such Christians see the harmful patterns of behaviour that have become acceptable to much of the secular world, and they want to take a stand against it. They WANT to stand out, and are willing to be mocked for being ‘different’ (which they often are). There are so many possible pitfalls to an unadulterated stand-outer attitude.

The big danger of Stand-Outers is spiritual pride. Much like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like that sinful tax-collector, it’s easy to categorize oneself and others according to the outward choices and behaviour, without realizing that no one can judge the heart of another human being. Sometimes Stand-Outers don’t seem happy unless there is something to rebel against. In some ways, it probably gives them a feeling of security- which an us vs. them mentality often provides.

 But the worst danger is that Christianity has stopped being relatable to the rest of the world. If you ONLY watch movies that are explicitly Christian, or only listen to ‘Christian’ music, if you automatically assume that everything in the world is evil if it doesn't have a Christian label, if you only talk about ‘ministry’ and your scriptural reflection of that day, only hang out with friends at Christian events, then you've cut yourself off from the world that everyone else is living in. How can you love people that you can’t have a conversation with? How can you build relationships, when you have NOTHING in common?

There is much that is good and beautiful in the world, and Christians don’t need to be scared of that. If it’s really good and really beautiful, it has originated from God, whether or not it has been labelled ‘Christian’. There is also much that is ‘morally neutral’- it isn't good, or bad. Like multiple ear piercings. Or watching White Collar. Or dancing. (Yes, I know, that depends on the kind of dancing.) Or sports. Or eating ice-cream. Or flash mobs.

Camp 2: Blenders-In

Now these guys' favourite bible verse is ‘Jesus ate with sinners!’ Okay, just kidding, that’s not really a bible verse... but it’s in the bible- Jesus really did eat with sinners. Also, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ Blenders-in don’t want people to think that they are judging them.

Quite likely, if you say “I’m not a fan of Twilight”, it sounds like you've just condemned all Twilight-readers to hell. So they read all the books, watch all the movies, laugh at all the jokes, download all the pirated music, and if they are making any ‘different’ choices, try to make them as secretly as possible so as not to offend anyone. These guys won’t mention their personal prayer time in public, and will avoid all controversial topics like the plague. (I don’t mean that the plague is a controversial topic... okay whatever, you get it.) You’ll rarely if ever see them post a religious FB status. They will also be supportive of their friends’ decisions no matter whether they agree with them or not.

SO many downfalls in unadulterated ‘blending-in’. Witness the spread of Nazism. There must have been plenty of people who were a little worried at the beginning, but didn't want to rock the boat, and then it was too late. Sometimes the world needs a few prophets, to say things that people don’t necessarily want to hear.

I've needed a few prophets in my own life, who've shaken me up, and caused me to re-examine my priorities. Disagreeing with your friends can be done in a gentle and loving way. A friend of a drug-addict isn't being much of a friend if his addiction never comes up in their conversation, or worse, if he knows he can come borrow money to feed his addiction. When the desire to blend in comes from a fear of being rejected, or a fear of confrontation, it is not a positive thing. It was people who were not afraid to be different who were able to be agents of change in the world.

Even worse, if blending in is your highest priority, it is very easy to allow the world to change you, instead of allowing God to use you to change it. If you believe in everything, you most probably don’t believe in anything. Christians, we are called to place our minds and hearts in the hands of the Potter, who will form them and change them according to His ways, which sorry to tell you, often looks like foolishness to the world.

So what’s the solution?

Blend in, or stand out?

Well, here’s another famous line referring to another bible verse (what, three bible verses in one blog post?? You, Christian, you!) We are called to be in the world but not of the world. (referring to John 17:14-15)

We are called to do BOTH. We must live our lives IN the world, not in a little Christian bubble cut off from the world. But also we cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by the world. We are NOT ‘of the world’. The world, with its fashions and philosophies is not our god, or our final destination.

Practically speaking, how does a Christian do both? How do I wear my ‘I’m a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?’ t shirt* and my Mumford and Sons t shirt* at the same time**? Do I go out with friends for a movie, or a go out with other friends for Adoration? Do I post FB statuses about how God answered my prayer, or about how ManU won the match?***

Well, to a certain extent I can do both. But here a few tips to help figure it out:

God knows. I think every Christian has to bring their life before God, and ask HIM. Most of us need a kick in one direction or the other. Most people who know me in real life know that I have definitely been a stand-outer, to the point that I either argued with or avoided anyone who didn't believe what I believed. So God had to remind me that I needed to chill out a bit, open my heart to people, and work on the love part of speaking the truth in love.

On the other hand, plenty of Christians I know could afford to stop being undercover. Some people need to be reminded to love, and some need to be reminded to be more outspoken with the truth. Some need a push to go have a beer with their friends****, and some need to explain to their friends why they're Christian. Some people need to start using Whatsapp, and some people need to sell their fancy phones, buy cheap ones, and give the money to the poor.

Examine your motives. Are you standing out because you feel good about being different from those sinners? Are you keeping quiet about your faith because you’re afraid of being mocked? Are you a people-pleaser, or a compulsive debater? Whatever we do should be done out of love for God, and love for neighbour.

Allow the Holy Spirit to prompt you. (Yes, that’s one of those weird Christian things.) Different situations require different responses. Sometimes you need to say something, and sometimes you need to shut up. Sometimes you need to offer to pray with someone, and sometimes you need to nod sympathetically and change the topic.

So here's your spiritual nudge for the day- go forth, and either blend in, or stand out! Whatever the Top Man says. You're very welcome for the clarity.

*I actually don’t have either, but Christmas is coming, right? 
**Actually I could wear both, because it’s a frigid 9.9˚C! Brr! 
***Both those statuses might be combined. (Also, this is me pretending to know anything about football.)
****Or a coffee, because some of us don’t like beer. Sue me. (Pun intended!)

No comments:

Post a Comment