I remember being a new Christian and looking down on classmates who also claimed to share my faith, but lived “alternative lifestyles”: ie, drank a lot, had premarital sex, etc. True faith, per the teachings of Campus Crusade for Christ, began in someone’s heart and flowed outward in their actions. You’d know Christians by the way they stood out, especially on a wild, liberal campus like Kent State.
Then you have people like Robert Lewis Dear who shoot up Planned Parenthood clinics and claim they’re doing the work of God. And once again social media blows up (er, pun unintended) with #NotAllChristians posts before you can finish saying the word “hypocrisy.”
Jesus is supposed to sanctify people and enable them to become more like him. So how do you explain, then, the justification of violence by people like Dear? Is he not a real Christian? He thinks he is…and Twitter is full of posts from other self-professed Christians supporting his homicidal religious rhetoric.
The following passage by Gregory Boyd from Across the Spectrum summarizes what I was taught in ministry about sanctification:
Who, exactly, are the real Christians here? Is it really the same Jesus telling people like Mother Theresa to live among the poor while telling others to wage war against people who don’t adhere to their principles? One of these groups has to be wrong, but which one? They all use Scripture to justify their actions, and that’s the biggest problem with the No True Christian line of thinking.
What’s a believer to do when real-world experience doesn’t line up with what Scripture says to expect?
I’ve watched this madness unfold from behind my computer screen, resisting every temptation to share my opinion (which wouldn’t be that original anyway). The more angry tweets I read, the more comfortable I become in the knowledge that no one – not John Piper, not Pat Robertson, not Ken Ham, or any other prominent icon in the theological realm – knows for certain if they’re “doing faith” correctly. Mind you, it’s taken me years to arrive at this still-uncertain place of humility, because I’m just as likely as anyone to get defensive if someone tells me I’m wrong. But I could be – and so could you. With two thousand years distancing us from the early Christians and 40,000 Protestant denominations since, the odds that any of us in the 21st century has it “right” are likely not in our favor.
Some would say that this is the beauty of the body of Christ, that we all have different things to teach and learn from each other. That’s optimistic; I wish I could agree. In my experience, Christianity is not a monolithic thing no matter how much I wish it were, and the “brand” that I practice is the one that speaks the most truth to me. And the Robert Dears of the world will continue to embrace the brand that makes sense to them, even if I and many others believe they’re batnuts crazy.
That is why I no longer feel threatened when “one of my own” does something horrible like this. I no longer feel like I have to apologize for his actions and worry about him making me look bad because I don’t think Robert Dear and I follow the same Jesus, even though it’s his right to call himself Christian. If the Holy Spirit’s job is to sanctify, then I’d say Dear has been thoroughly sanctified in the denomination he embraces: the kind that measures holiness in acts of extremism. And thankfully, it’s not my job to judge if that kind of Christianity is the “true” kind.