The Christian Caricature
Vol: 80 Issue: 17 Saturday, May 17, 2008
Most of us understand the nature of the Christian character — the New Testament is abundantly clear on the subject.
When one becomes a Christian, one becomes a ‘new creature’ in Christ — the old things pass away, and are replaced by a new heart and a new mind.
The transformation is as unique as one’s relationship with Christ; it takes place in different ways at different speeds — as I noted last week, “each of us is unique — just like everybody else.”
But it is real, and every person who has ever surrendered their lives to Christ has experienced that transformation to some degree. I have been saved for more that thirty years and that transformation is still taking place. It will continue to take place, the Bible assures me, until the day I stand before the Lord:
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
It is that transformed, Christian character that leads us to the understanding that we are each in the process of being transformed — an understanding summed up well by the bumper-sticker slogan; “Christians Aren’t Perfect — Just Forgiven.”
Mature, born-again Christians who understand the individuality of a believer’s relationship with Christ know the difference between a believer who is struggling with the flesh and a hypocrite.
There is no hypocrisy in recognizing something as sin, even if it is a sin that one is still personally struggling with. The hypocrisy comes from pretending it is only sin when somebody else does it.
Hypocrisy comes easily to a Christian — even when on conscious guard against it — even when alone. Especially when alone:
I recall driving down the highway one day and passing a car literally slathered with Christian bumper stickers. As I pulled abreast of it, the lady driving rolled down her window and tossed out a cigarette.
Even though there is nothing in Scripture that makes smoking more a sin than being obese, the first thought that came to my mind was, “hypocrite” — and I know better!
The Lord instructed us to pray that our Father “forgive us our trespasses” as (or, ‘in the same manner’) “we forgive others.”
It is therefore our spiritual character to want to forgive others, almost to the point of being a fault. That is the Christian character. Actually doing it is another story — because Christianity is not of this world.
Jesus said that Christianity is an enemy to the world, and the world is an enemy to it. He went out of His way to remind believers that while they might be in this world, they are not of it.
Which is the reason for the constant internal battle between the character of the world we live in and the character of the Word that lives in us.
The opposite side of the coin is the Christian “caricature”. A ‘caricature’ is “a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.”
The world’s view of Christianity does not reflect its character, but instead is more of a caricature. Non-Christians have no frame of reference against which to judge Christianity except by observing its adherents.
Since, by definition, few non-Christians go to church, what they know of Christianity apart from personal observation is fed to them by the media.
Outrageous, prejudiced, and insensitive statements make for great press, so they are often reported, with the implication that these kinds of things are typical of Christians.
Here is what most non-believers know of Christianity, based on what they learn from the press about it:
Pat Robertson called for Hugo Chavez’ assassination. Jerry Falwell blamed the Christmas tsunami on an angry and vengeful God. Then Pat Robertson blamed Him for Katrina. The Catholic priesthood is shot through with pedophiles that were protected by the Vatican for decades.
Among this morning’s headlines is this one: “Minister Arrested in Internet Sex Sting.” The lead paragraph informs readers that,
“a minister from a mega-church in Plano, Texas is facing charges of online solicitation of sex with a minor after being arrested in Bryan, Texas.”
(I’ll spare you the sordid details. Let me just summarize by saying it didn’t do much to dispel the Christian caricature.)
I Googled “Pastor arrested” and got 1,141 hits from the Google news aggregator just now. Here are a few from the first page:
“Sex Cult Pastor Arrested in Texas” (ABC); “Uganda: Pastor Arrested Over Stolen Car” (AllAfrica.com); “Local Pastor Arrested For Armed Robbery” (Rocktown Weekly, VA); “Pastor of Hindsdale Church Arrested” (Chicago Tribune); “Youth Pastor’s Teen Sex Charges” (Newsday) ; “Ex-Pastor Finds Little Forgiveness From Rape Victims in Court” (Philadelphia Daily News)
(These are all different cases, in different parts of the country, different pastors, different crimes — the stories had just one thing in common. They were all published within the last twenty-four hours.)
I am trying to recall the last positive portrayal of a Christian pastor or of Christianity itself by Hollywood and I am drawing a blank.
If there are any, they are crowded out by mental images of Robert DeNiro’s Scripture-quoting rapist in “Cape Fear” or Homer Simpson’s annoying Christian neighbor Ned Flanders on “the Simpsons.”
The tendency to portray Christianity as the ultimate evil disguised as good infuriates Christians — who know better — but this stuff is produced by unbelievers who don’t.
I’ve often noted that America is the world’s representative standard of Christianity. It is seen as the world’s most Christian country, whether it deserves that honorific or not.
In terms of culture, that is undeniable. Nobody (except the Palestinians) would dispute characterizing Israel as a “Jewish State.”
But according to the CIA World Fact Book, only 76.4% of the citizens of the State of Israel self-identify as Jews, 16% Muslims, 2% Christians and the remainder “other.”
The section on America breaks down as follows: Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Using the CIA definition of ‘Christian’, America is currently estimated to be 78.5% Christian, making America, demographically, more ‘Christian’ than Israel is ‘Jewish’.
It is small wonder that the popular caricature of Christianity is that of rank hypocrisy. Even less wonder that the jihadists have such success in their recruiting efforts.
During the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, Jesus dictates seven letters to the Apostle John, addressed to each of the seven churches of Asia Minor at the time.
Hindsight being 20/20, theologians have looked back through history and discovered that the character of each of those churches corresponded to the main characteristics of the Christian church during various definable periods of its history.
1. Ephesus 33-100 (the Apostolic Age)
2. Smyrna 100-312 (the Persecuted Church)
3. Pergamos 312-590 (the Faithful Church)
4. Thyatira 590-1517 (the Worldly Church)
5. Sardis 1517-1750 (the Dead Church)
6. Philadelphia 1750-1925 (the Missionary Church)
7. Laodicea 1925-Tribulation (the Apostate Church)
Jesus addressed the following letter to the Christian church of the last days:
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:14-19)
The Apostle Paul was writing to the Laodicean Church when he warned, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”
Since God is referencing Israel (76.4% Jews) when He addresses the Jews of the last days, it seems equally reasonable that He is primarily referencing America (78.5% Christian) when He is addressing the caricature of Christianity that is the overall Laodicean Church.
And for the first time in America’s short history, it is perilous to be a Christian in America.
Particularly when one compares Paul’s description of Laodicean society to, oh . . . I dunno . . . . the headlines??
“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (2nd Timothy 3:1-5)
The point is this. For many unbelievers, you may be the only example of the character of Christianity they ever encounter. What they are expecting of you is the caricature of Christianity that they have come to know and consciously reject.
It is up to you to disappoint them.