I’m dating myself a little, but it is no secret. I was very interested in the early Emerging/Emergent Church movements in the early 2000’s. In 2007, Dan Kimball released a book titled They Like Jesus but Not the Church. Within the cover, we learn that some of our younger generations are leaving the church because they see it as an institutional nightmare that does not act as the body it was intended to be. I liked Kimball’s book because of his desire to connect people on the outside with those on the inside. But we know that this isn’t a new concept. From the beginning of the church there have been critics of her. There is nothing new under the sun.
During his life, Gandhi is often quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are nothing like your Christ.” and more and more of my Christian friends are adopting this quote as one of their favorites. Gandhi is someone to be admired in the way he handled civil rights and those leaders who would seek to dominate and dictate the people through tyrannical and oppressive methods. His view was that Christ acted differently than Christians do. And perhaps he is correct in some of his assessment based on the things he witnessed in his life.
I bring these two things up because while on the surface, these might sound like realities we must enforce and absorb into the teaching of the Gospel, but I see some of this as misleading. I do not believe that the “They” in Kimball’s book or Gandhi’s Christ really like Jesus the true Christ. I think “They” like the diluted picture of Christ that has manifested itself in this world. It is a caricature or exaggerated view of who Christ was and is.
Unfortunately, this Jesus isn’t the one we read in Scripture. If it is true that “They” like Jesus, they are an anomaly because even the people who lived at the time of Jesus did not like him. The people Jesus came to give Good News were quite angry at him because he expected a lot from them and upended the expectations of what God would have us be as His followers. They so hated and reviled Jesus that they killed him. The way of Jesus is so counter-cultural, that it is difficult to accept him.
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. — Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
Jesus–the one we must follow–the true Christ–is not easy to accept and he calls us to a difficult life…one that may lead to death.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? — Luke 9:23-25 (ESV)
“They” and Gandhi don’t really reject Christians and the church because of some sickness or symptom of oppression. “They” don’t reject the church because she isn’t living into the righteous idol we’ve created in our minds. Not really. They are upset that Christians aren’t perfect and that the call to follow Jesus is so radical, it expects people to repent of a sinful past. It isn’t easy. This is what I suspect people really reject because, like the rich man, they are happy with their life and don’t really want to take up their cross to follow him. The Jesus that “They” want to believe in never existed. This has been the mistake from the time Jesus actually walked the earth. It was mistaken enough that even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t quite understand why Jesus was here. They kept waiting for the battle against flesh and blood to begin and to create his earthly Kingdom when his purpose was of eternal significance.
We are all sinful people and should not be ashamed that we don’t get it perfectly. Our sin should cause us some shame, for that is what the law was set up to do (Rom. 3:20) but being imperfect should not. We cannot do it on our own. This is why we needed the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is why we (“They”) need the church and fellow believers. He alone is the reason we can have any hope in salvation and that is Good News.