By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I hear so many people these days saying, “Christians are the problem,” or “Christians are unloving and judgmental.” Why is having a moral compass and a sense of what is true and right seen as narrow-minded oppression and meanness by so many? In what areas are Christians getting it all wrong? Can you help me know what to say when others tell me that “Christians are the worst offenders?” It's all so confusing.
Thanks so much,
Let me start by sharing a few reasons why Christians often look narrow-minded and unloving.
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Six Reasons Christians Are Seen As Unloving or Judgmental
1. We Are Judgmental
A George Barna poll revealed that 78% of Americans say that the evangelical church is the most judgmental segment of American society. It breaks my heart to say this, but people see Christians as judgmental because we are.
On one hand, we live in a very wicked world that ought to be judged. But for many non-Christians, Christians have become “Ministers of Condemnation.” Rather than reacting to people as God’s creation, treating them with mercy and love, we immediately condemn them because of their behavior or beliefs.
2. We Say 'Don't'
Christians are often pictured as being unloving, judgmental, and narrow-minded because we are known as the ones who often say, “Don’t do this and don’t do that!”
Frankly, the watchword for many Christians could easily be, “Stop It!” Sinful people don’t like to be told, “Stop It.” It’s like Christians are throwing cold water upon them and their behaviors. Now, that doesn’t mean we should let evil slide by without a word. But there is a big difference between acting as judge and acting like Jesus.
3. We Forget to Prioritize Our Love for Jesus and Each Other
Christians were once known as the people who loved God and loved each other.
“A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
I wonder sometimes what happened to our love for one another? Non-Christians are known to look at us and say, “Loving God and loving others! Are you kidding me? I know many Christians who can’t even get along with each other.”
What happened to us?
Obviously, our love for Jesus and for each other has waned. I have in my library a book entitled, Great Church Fights. Imagine that! During college, I pastored in the little town of Penelope, Texas, population 212. Penelope had three different churches functioning and one dead as a doornail.
4. We Travel the 'Narrow Road'
Christians are also seen as judgmental because we travel the “narrow road” while most of our culture follows the “broad road.”
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14
Most people resent being told that Christianity is the only correct religion and that all other religions are wrong. But we follow the Lord Jesus Christ who said:
I am the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except by me. – John 14:6
We need to stand on the truth that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven while still being full of truth and love.
5. We Hold Countercultural Eternal Values
Christians hold to eternal values, while much of our culture does not.
Commandments like “You shall not kill, steal, commit adultery, or covet” transcend time.
For example, our society kills millions of unborn babies every year. Enticing commercials and advertisements depend upon covetousness and materialism to sell products. Not only is adultery now seen as normal, but pornography, LGBTQ acceptance, and all sorts of deviant behaviors are flaunting God’s values.
I believe that the breakdown of our society quickly sped up when the Supreme Court in 1954 took the 10 Commandments out of our schools. Unfortunately, they failed to put anything else in their place.
A society without a shared sense of values has no foundation upon which to stand. It will eventually fall. We no longer have a shared sense of values in America. Christians look narrow-minded when they point out that these values are eternal. The tide is now swinging nearly 180° against us.
But remember, the U.S. Constitution does not give us the freedom to do anything we want. It gives us the freedom to do what is right.
6. Hypocrites Exist among Christians
Finally, Christians are often considered to be judgmental because we have too many hypocrites among us.
Jesus told us to pull the “plank” out of our own eye before we try to tease the sin from someone else’s eye.
Now that we've looked at our own hypocrisy and challenges, here are seven ways Christians can build bridges to improve our image and behavior as we advance the kingdom of God on Earth.
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7 Ways Christians Can Be Loving vs. Judgmental
1. Focus on Hearts
Shoot straight for the heart instead of aiming at the mind.
Too often, we try to change the mind instead of the heart. Jesus targeted the heart.
An intriguing study revealed that 20% of those who come to Christ do so out of a sense of commitment. On the other hand, fully 80% come to Christ because someone loved them into the kingdom. Very few come to Christ based on rational reasoning.
Our goal is not to win an argument. Our goal is to love people into the kingdom. Remember:
A soft answer turns away wrath. – Proverbs 15:1
Jesus didn’t argue religion with the woman at the well in the hot noon sun (see John 4). The rest of the women of her town drew water in the cool evening; but unfortunately, she couldn’t come then because she was ostracized by all. So, she came at noon. She wanted to discuss religion. Jesus wanted to comfort her failed relationships.
Jesus went straight for her heart; “You’ve had five husbands and the man you’re now with now is not your husband.” Her destroyed relationships were ripping her life apart. Jesus knew just what she needed. She needed some friends.
2. Partner with the Holy Spirit
Only with the Holy Spirit is the spiritual battle over someone’s soul won.
Paul writes that Satan has blinded the eyes of non-Christians so they have trouble seeing Christ for who He is.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
Only the Holy Spirit can open blind eyes to see the gospel of Christ. We work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.
When we are sharing the gospel, we must not expect non-Christians to have much understanding of the person of Christ. They cannot see Him!
It’s through prayer, relationship building, expressions of love, sharing the truth, and timely involvement in people’s lives that we help open the eyes of unbelievers so they can see the love of Christ.
3. Stop Yelling at People
I was so disappointed when Jerry Falwell organized the Moral Majority. Their method of advancing the kingdom was by yelling at people to “Stop it!” All that did was dig a deeper chasm between Christians and non-Christians.
Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. – Ephesians 4:15
My father always said, “We catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!” He’s right.
4. Approach People like Jesus Did
Only once did Jesus describe his character. He said:
...for I am gentle and humble of heart... – Matthew 11:29
He loved the unlovable. He spent time with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Jesus tended to look more for a person’s potential than for what they were in the present.
For example, there’s no doubt that Zacchaeus was a thieving, stealing, greedy, cheating, selfish man. Jesus stopped at the base of a sycamore tree and looked up to see him sitting in the branches.
Notice what Jesus did not say: “You are a thieving, stealing, greedy, cheating, selfish man; “Stop it!” Only the ignorant, hardhearted, or beginners start like that.
Instead, let’s imagine what Jesus might have been thinking: “Here’s a man who’s feeling lonely, despised, rejected, and hated. He must need acceptance, forgiveness, comfort, encouragement, and respect.”
So, Jesus said, “Come down from the tree, because I’m going to your house to eat lunch with you today.” Remember, those were the days when people ate with their fingers out of the same bowls!
Several hours later, Zacchaeus stepped out on his front porch and shouted, “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
What brought on the change in Zacchaeus? Jesus yelling, “Stop it” at the bottom of the tree? Or, Jesus gently and humbly ministering to the very depths of Zacchaeus’ soul?
5. Live a Pure and Holy Life
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:2-3
There is no better way to thwart the criticism of non-Christians than to live clean and holy lives, filled with goodness truth, and love.
6. Build Relationships
Sociological studies have revealed that the average dad spends 14 minutes a day with his young children. Christian dads aren't much better. We spend an average of 17 minutes a day.
Then, we wonder why it’s so difficult to get our teenagers to love and obey us. The answer is simple. It’s hard to discipline someone we don’t even know.
In the same way, it’s easier to lead someone to Christ whom we know well than someone we’ve just met.
7. Understand the Law and Prophets Hang on Love
The Old Testament Law dealt with ethics. The Prophets dealt with behaviors. Jesus’ love dealt with relationships.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:37-40
Normally, when we ask someone which is more important: Love, Law, or the Prophets? The response is almost always, “All three are equally important.” However, that’s an incorrect answer.
Love is more important.
Imagine that Love is the hook upon which hangs the Law and the Prophets. The Law tells us what to believe. The Prophets teach us how to behave. Love tells us how to belong to one another.
When love comes first, when it is the motive for our actions and the outpouring of our hearts, we point the world to Jesus Christ.
Well, Jennifer, I hope that you’ll find my answer helpful to you.
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Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].