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Are We A Stone That Causes Others To Stumble?
Have you ever driven to church and wondered where everybody else on the road was going? How many of your acquaintances would rather sleep in on Sundays, play tennis, or watch the big game rather than sit in a church pew for an hour a week? Have you ever asked a person why they didn’t attend church? If you have, you may have gotten this response: too many hypocrites. That seems to be the standard answer for why people don’t attend services. Some people take it even further than non-attendance and become atheists or anti-theists. Nationwide, church attendance is at an all time low and an increasingly large number of people identify as “spiritual” rather than religious. They don’t want to be associated with the church, religion, or God in any way.
This is a tragedy, but who can blame them? Search the news and you’re bound to find some story of a minister or priest behaving in ways that don’t reflect well on the God they represent. Between the pastor in Florida who publicly burned a Quran, the protests at soldiers’ funerals led by the Westboro Church, or the terrible instances of child abuse and molestation by priests, we Christians are not always doing the best job representing the goodness and love of Christ. Sadly, our historical track record is not much better. Opponents are often eager to point to the Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Crusades as evidence of Christian hypocrisy. Many of those same opponents conveniently ignore the good that the church has done throughout history; fighting poverty, standing at the forefront of abolitionism and other social justice movements, founding schools,universities, and hospitals, etc. but that’s beside the point.
People genuinely believe that Christians are hypocrites and they don’t have to look too far to find evidence to enforce their own beliefs. Now we can’t always help how other Christians act. The Bible instructs us to gently correct others when they go astray. However, we can only do so much to stop others from sinning. At the end of the day everybody is responsible for their own behaviors. Of course, what that means, is that we too, are responsible for our behaviors. We can’t do anything to stop that driver with the ichthys (Jesus Fish) window decal from cutting off other drivers or making rude gestures, but we can make it a point to drive courteously and not engage in road rage. We have little control over the Christian who goes online and spews hate, the ones who are rude to waitstaff, or unkind to animals. But we can make sure we don’t fall into those same traps. Kindness usually costs little more than your time, and even the most busy among us have that to spare.
What about the big sins, you may ask. Rudeness and incivility are bad. Pride, anger, and greed are worse; but what about the truly awful? Members of the Ku Klux Klan sincerely believe that when they burn crosses they’re bringing the light of Jesus into the world. That fact alone should offend sensible Christians. Christians have defended pedophiles, child abusers, wife- beaters, animal abusers, and even the occasional murder. How did we fall so far? Luckily, God’s grace is sufficient. As long as someone is alive, there is still a chance to reach them. It is our duty to reach out to the fallen Christians and guide them back to the path of righteousness. God calls us to love our neighbors, that includes our families, friends, fellow parishioners, atheists, people of different faiths and nationalities, and of course, misguided Christians.
Nationwide, church attendance is at an all time low and an increasingly large number of people identify as “spiritual” rather than religious. They don’t want to be associated with the church, religion, or God in any way.
It’s our duty to reach out to those who have stumbled. We need to help them for the sake of their souls, and we need to help them for the sake of the unbeliever. Whether or not we want to be, all Christians are witnesses of Christ. People see our deeds and they judge us by them. This means that if you’re a Christian and you engage in un-Christlike behavior, people see that and use it to reinforce their own ideas about hypocrisy. On the other hand, if you’re a Christian who gives to charity, prays for healing for the emotionally or physically wounded, or helps a stranger change a tire, then you can influence a person’s opinion about God and Christianity.
We’re all humans, and we all are going to have bad days. By itself, this does not make us bad people. However, our actions do. If your bad days out number the good, and that typically causes you to fall victim to anger, selfishness, greed, envy, or any of the other sins, then it may be time to reevaluate. We will never be as perfect as Jesus, but we are called to be Christlike, to imitate the good nature of God, even as we know we will never achieve His perfection. In all situations, we must ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” And then try to emulate Him. Luckily, we have a written record of how He acted.
If you’re a Christian who gives to charity, prays for healing for the emotionally or physically wounded, or helps a stranger change a tire, then you can influence a person’s opinion about God and Christianity.
Faith and Deeds
One of the things that sets Christianity apart from other religions is our emphasis on faith. By faith, not deeds; by grace, not works, we will be saved. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) this does not mean that we have a free pass to sin. We must always try to do the right thing, but take comfort in God’s forgiveness when we inevitably fall. We will never be as righteous as Jesus but we can strive to be the best Christians we can. We are his representatives, it’s no longer just about us. When we sin that’s a mark against us. When our sins cause others to stumble; watch out! Jesus said that it would be better to have a millstone hung from our necks and be thrown into the sea than to cause another person to sin. (Matthew 18:6)
We are saved by faith, but our faith should make us want to do good. James chapters 4 teaches that anyone who knows the good they ought to do, then doesn’t do it, sins. However, he explains in the second chapter, that good deeds are a byproduct of faith. We do good deeds because we have already been sanctified through Christ Jesus our Lord. The body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:26) Through faith we will want to do better, by wishing to do better, we will be better.
By God, we should want to continually strive to be daily Christian witnesses, and through Him, we will be able to achieve this goal. But what about the scoffers? The unbelievers? Those who stray from the faith because they fail to see the love of God in His followers? We need to reach out to them. The actions (or inaction) of some shouldn’t keep others from the love of Christ. Faith is a personal thing, between a person and God, and we can’t make others believe. Nor should we let others prevent us from walking with God. But we should never be the stumbling block that causes our brothers or sisters to fall. If our sins are responsible for the sins of others we need to acknowledge that, repent, and get back on track. The fate of our brother is in our hands.
Through faith we will want to do better, by wishing to do better, we will be better.
© 2017 Anna Watson