Embarrassed by Christ

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
-Matt 25:40

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
-Matt 12:48b-50

When you’re a Christian and you spend a lot of time among other Christians, it’s only natural that you’ll be embarrassed by them from time to time. We’re all sinners, we all make mistakes, and we’ve all been on the wrong side of Scripture at some point or another. I confess that I’ve rolled my eyes at my brothers and sisters in Christ at times. I weakly try to reserve that reaction for the kinds of errors and foolishness that Scripture instructs us to resist, but as in all things, I can only rely on Christ’s mercy.

But there is another kind of embarrassment of Christians. It’s an embarrassment which leads one to set oneself apart from faithful believers. It’s an embarrassment you find in popular phrases like “Lord, save me from your followers!” or famous quotes like “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” In short, it’s an embarrassment that offers lip service to respecting to Christ, but is used primarily to cleave oneself from the very Body of Christ–His Church.

I recently encountered this attitude in a piece by Russ Dean which echoes these popular sentiments, “I’m embarrassed by American Christianity. I’m just not ready to give up on Jesus.” What sets this type of embarrassment apart from others is always a lack of familiarity with the actual Jesus Christ.

After all, much of what Dean complains about are actually Jesus’ teachings.

I hear anti-education views that are dishearteningly narrow. I hear views about women that are shockingly antiquated and reflect distorted interpretations of Scripture. I hear opinions about “homosexuals” that sound as if we’re still living in an Old Testament world (or that we ought to be). I hear evangelistic proclamations that exclude and divide, tone deaf exclusivism in a pluralistic world.

“Narrow,” “anti-education views” could mean just about anything, so I’ll pass over that. But “shockingly antiquated” views about women are essentially belief in America’s most hated Bible verses and the Biblical proscriptions on women preaching. And, of course, his embarrassment over the Old Testament view of homosexuals (which, curiously enough, are taught in the New Testament as well) gives his game away entirely. So does his disdain for the Biblical teaching of exclusivity in favor of the worldly teaching of pluralism.

We also embarrass Dean because we fail to embrace his political program as the Gospel.

I hear support for torture and detention and deportation and preemptive war, and I wonder where the heart of Jesus is in all of that aggression. I hear celebration for The Wall without the slightest irony that the whole movement of God is to unite us, that Jesus showed us that Way “by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us” (Ephesians 2.14).

As to the bloviating about open borders, as I’ve written and spoken about before, Scripture tells us that God established the nations, and the Biblical doctrine of vocation instructs us that we have special responsibilities to our own nation that we do not always have to others. But the most blatant error Dean makes is his contention that the movement of God is to unite us politically rather than uniting us in Christ as the unquoted part of the verse he references makes absolutely explicit.

It is, unfortunately, not the foibles and sins of believers which embarrass Dean–it is the Jesus Christ of Scripture. It is this Jesus who promised his Apostles who wrote the New Testament that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth and tell them only what He hears from Christ. It is this same Jesus who said of the supposedly antiquated Old Testament that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  The Jesus whom Dean has not yet given up on bears little resemblance to the Jesus proclaimed by His own Apostles and given to us through His own inerrant Word. And I fear that it is only an idol designed to be palatable to which he still clings.

All those who finds themselves embarrassed by the teachings of Jesus Christ which are held to by his disciples and would condemn those disciples for their belief would do well to consider Jesus’ warning: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” From whom, therefore, are they trying to distance themselves?

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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