Christians in private, but reprobate in public.
It’s not that rare a phenomenon.
Whenever people claim to be Christian, but it’s kinda obvious they’re following the Christian crowd instead of Jesus—or at least sucking up to the Christian crowd heavily in order to get votes—I call ’em “Christianist.”
It’s a word I learned from Andrew Sullivan, and it’s a godsend. ’Cause too many people don’t know what to call such people. Fake Christians? Cultural Christians? Christians-in-name-only? I don’t wanna call them false Christians, ’cause they may very well have an actual saving relationship with Jesus. Maybe they just suck at religion. Maybe they’re hiding their light. A lot of partisans claim our current president is a “baby Christian,” and the reason his behavior is as filled with bad fruit as a moldy mock apple pie, is because he hasn’t learned any better… but he does know Jesus. Well, “Christianist” gives him the benefit of the doubt.
But people of course assume by “Christianist” I mean you’re not Christian. So I get rebuked from time to time for using the term. How dare I state certain people aren’t Christian… just because I see no evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in these people’s lives: “You don’t know what’s in their heart.”
Precisely right. I don’t know what’s in their heart.
That’s why I’m not saying they’re not Christian. I don’t know how they are in private. I only know what they do in public. And in public they’re just awful. They’re promiscuous, and sometimes proud of it. They’re unethical. They blatantly worship Mammon, and prioritize it over the needy. They’re filled with fear, hatred, and anger. They get envious, jealous, and partisan. Try to pick fights; try to cause division; try to create enemies. Y’know, stuff which indicates they’re not gonna inherit God’s kingdom,
And let’s not forget the “fruit” these miscreants regularly point to. Some claim they read the bible; problem is we’ve no evidence they live by what they read from the scriptures. (Being able to quote ’em doesn’t count.) Or they claim they pray; problem is we’ve no evidence they ever heard God talking back. Which is part of prayer, y’know. Granted, they might be cessationists who believe God doesn’t respond, or only speaks to prophets—even if their churches teach otherwise.
Or they go to church! Fr’instance many politicians claim to be Catholic. Problem is, we all know they’re hardly in lockstep with their church’s teachings. The Roman Catholic Church’s views on abortion and the death penalty are widely known: They’re prolife, and consider both acts murder. Yet political conservatives ignore their church on the death penalty, and progressives ignore their church on abortion. Politicians claim it’s ’cause they heed the public will, and won’t foist their church’s teachings upon the public. Problem is, their every action proves their church’s views aren’t theirs: They publicly, loudly, and vigorously defend their contrary view with legislation, speeches, marches, and rallies. If you claim to be a church’s member, yet reject your church’s interpretation of the fifth commandment, stands to reason you likewise ignore their other teachings.
In sum, their public actions declare for all the world to see, “I don’t give a sloppy wet crap what Jesus teaches.” It’s the passive (in some cases passive-aggressive) form of denying Christ before others. Something Jesus kinda sees as important:
Matthew 10.32-33 KWL
- 32 “Everyone who’ll agree with me before the people: I’ll agree with them before my heavenly Father.
- 33 Those who’ll refuse me before the people: I’ll refuse them before my heavenly Father.”
I can’t say with absolute certainty they belong to Jesus or not. But they really haven’t given me a lot of evidence in favor of such a relationship.
Lots of reason to say they’re not Christian.
If we were to take the public acts of your average Christianist, bring ’em into court, and try to convince a jury, I’m pretty sure we’d regularly get ’em declared non-Christian. Because contrary to popular belief, Christianity isn’t defined by what we believe, but whom we follow. It’s not having all our doctrine straight (though we oughta work on that), but whether what we hold to be true therefore proceeds to how we live our lives, and what we do for others. Once God graciously saves us, he has good works for us to do.
1 John 2.3-5 KWL
- 3 In this way we know we’ve known him: When we keep his commands.
- 4 Saying, “I’ve known him,” and not keeping his commands: It’s a lie, and truth isn’t in this.
- 5 God’s love is truly achieved this way: In whoever can keep God’s word.
- In this way we know they’re in God.
Christianists flagrantly don’t keep Jesus’s commands. I’m not even talking about hypocrites, who pretend to follow him but secretly don’t: I’m talking about unashamed sinners, who have excuses for their every misdeed, who nonetheless figure they’re still in God’s kingdom because cheap grace guarantees ’em a spot. The sort of jerks who assume, “I said the sinner’s prayer, so God promised me heaven,” yet their every behavior indicates not only are they unsuitable for heaven, they’re not even trying. It’s like there’s no Holy Spirit in them at all, and never was.
So why do we keep giving them the benefit of the doubt? Why do some of us even demand we give all of them the benefit of the doubt?
Speaking for myself, most of the time I encounter it, it has to do with partisan politics. If they’re members of the same political party, and claim to be Christian, okay: Take ’em at their word. After all, they’re orthodox—or at least orthodox to the party’s views, even if they’re far from orthodox when it comes to Christianity. I’ve watched a number of Evangelicals who used to be die-hard anti-Mormons, suddenly have a change of heart as soon as a Mormon became their political candidate: “Oh, Mormons aren’t that bad.” True, they’re nice people, but you sure used to think they were that bad; you thought their heresy was gonna be the undoing of the nation. Now you’ll even let ’em preach their heresies in your chapels.
To me, it’s an indication one orthodoxy trumps another: Partisanship over God’s kingdom. If they share our political views, show ’em grace; if they don’t, they’re going to hell. If they vote our way, forgive them all their unrepentant, reprobate behavior; if they don’t… still going to hell. If they support our causes, reject every report of their outrageous acts as “fake news”; if they don’t, believe every evil rumor, including stuff from obvious fake-news outlets, ’cause you already believe they’re headed for hell.
Is there a line they might cross where I’ll stop calling ’em Christian? Sure. When they blatantly quit Jesus. When they’re obvious apostates. When they say, “I know what Jesus said, but screw that; we live in the real world.” Sometimes I’ll just call ’em heretic, but when their heresy takes ’em entirely off the reservation, okay: They’re not Christian. But most Christianists go out of their way to never say anything bad about Jesus, ’cause they know that’s beyond the pale. Instead they just stick to godless actions and cheap grace.
And y’know, I’ve been there. Back in my hypocrite days, I stuck to godless actions and cheap grace. But I still had a relationship with Jesus. It’s why he grabbed me by the ear and dragged me away from that behavior. It’s why I figure he can likewise pull them out of that. I’m not being gracious to Christianists out of blind optimism. It’s out of experience. They may be awful people, but if they really do know Jesus somehow, he’s not gonna let ’em stay that way.
Those who say they’re not Christian.
What provoked this rant was an article by Dr. Benjamin L. Corey, in which he stated there are two kinds of Christian: A member of the religion, and an active follower of Christ. To Corey, the inert “followers” aren’t legitimately Christian. Because Christianity should be observable behavior, and if you can’t see it, ’tain’t there.
There, I largely agree. Where he lost me was where he took this view.
Case in point: Franklin Graham. The other day I stated that he was not Christian (in response to his anti-immigrant/anti-refugee beliefs), and of course, I immediately got the expected push-back to such a statement.
“How do you really know?” (Implication: how do you know his heart? How do you know he hasn’t “accepted Christ into his heart?”)
Or, of course, some will ask rightly, “is it your job to decide who is or is not a Christian?”
Since Christian has come to mean something different in Americanized Christianity, these objections are totally valid. Since we are operating in a culture where Christian is a noun, and where anyone can secretly be one regardless of what they think about what Jesus said, I don’t know who is that type of Christian and who isn’t. Certainly I don’t know if Franklin Graham has ever asked Jesus into his heart, though I would bank on the fact that he has. Neither is it my place to declare who is part of the Christian religion or not—there’s ultimately 40,000 versions of that and I am not the gate keeper for any of them, let alone all 40,000.
But to me, there are only two types of Christian, and the second one—an adjective instead of a noun, is observable. It doesn’t require the ability to judge the individual heart. It is not something that can only be done by a gate-keeper as if they have any power anyway. It is simply the act of returning Christian to an adjective, and being honest in that it does not apply to people [who] don’t want to do what Jesus said to do. Corey, 2/14/17
If you’re reducing “Christian” to mean “someone who overtly follows Jesus in deed as well as word,” well yeah, heavily overpaid evangelist Franklin Graham doesn’t qualify. But honestly, who does qualify? To one degree or another, we all suck at following Jesus. Which sin breaks the Savior’s back?
Graham is stridently anti-Muslim. He doesn’t merely believe Islam is incorrect (same as every Christian obviously will); he believes Muslim immigrants and refugees should be turned away from the United States, for they’re nothing but ruinous to our way of life. It’s religious bigotry, and a number of Christians think it’s the only valid form of bigotry they get to practice… so they do.
But it’s wholly impractical from the viewpoint of God’s kingdom. In some Muslim homelands, evangelism gets us Christians beheaded, which is why our missionaries chicken out and won’t go there. Muslims coming here is a huge opportunity for us to spread God’s kingdom. We get to introduce ’em to Jesus with no fear of religious persecution—same as the Germans have successfully done with Syrian refugees. Keep ’em out because they’re non-Christian? Good thing God never held this view about gentiles!
But does Graham’s Islamophobia kick him out of the kingdom? I doubt it. So I won’t go there. Corey will, ’cause to him Graham’s prejudice and politics are dealbreakers. But as I said, the only dealbreaker I recognize is outright apostasy.
Thing is, Corey’s absolutely right about his central point: “Christian” is defined by whether we follow Jesus. Not whether we declare allegiance to him, or a church, or whether our very favorite book is the bible, with The Art of the Deal a close second. If you don’t follow Jesus, you’re no Christian. And if you only follow Jesus in private, and we’ve no further evidence you’re Christian other than your word… you’ve given us an awful lot to doubt.