By Albert Hung
We’re living in an age where Christianity is losing its influence in the Western world. Many would argue it’s already too late for the church. Our presence is no longer welcome. Our voice is no longer relevant. The church is seen as out of touch, behind the times, a cultural dinosaur that will one day fade into oblivion. Truth be told, were that to happen, there are many who would not mourn its passing.
There is a lot of vitriol towards Christians these days, and for good reason. A Barna Poll asked thousands of people across the country what they thought of Christians. Their top responses? Judgmental. Hypocritical. Homophobic.
We’ve earned this reputation, I’m afraid.
Earlier this week I came across a startling statement written by the Apostle Paul: “We have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” (1 Corinthians 4:13)
Paul was writing to a group of early Christians living in a materialistic, hyper-sexualized culture, much like our own. These Corinthian believers gathered regularly to worship and pray and sit under the instruction of their pastors. They broke bread together in one another’s homes. In that sense, they had every appearance of godliness. Yet in other ways, these “Christians” were no different than anyone else. They lived in luxury, comfort, and ease. They freely indulged in various forms of sexual immorality. As a result, they became smug, prideful, and spiritually lazy. “Look at how God is blessing us,” they boasted. “Truly, we are favored more than others.”
In contrast, Paul and the apostles were poor, itinerant preachers, traveling from place to place spreading the gospel, despite the constant threat of imprisonment or death. So he issues a stern rebuke, laced with sarcasm, to the Corinthian church:
“You have all you want! You have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” (1 Corinthians 8-13)
It’s no wonder nobody takes Christians seriously when the only thing different about us is that we go to church, pray before meals, and tend to be more judgmental than the rest of the population. But nobody could accuse Paul and his compatriots of displaying this kind of shallow faith. They were fools for Christ. They were the scum of the earth.
Earlier this year, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made headlines when he warned fellow Republicans that they have to “stop being the stupid party.” “It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”
Christians, we need to stop being the stupid religion. We need to understand what Jesus taught, and what He didn’t. Our message is not one of self-promotion, but one of self-abandonment. We need to stop quoting Scriptures out of context in order to support our own agendas. We need to stop vilifying those who don’t agree with us. We need to love others as Christ loved us. We were sent to preach good news to broken and hurting people, not to mock their beliefs or condemn their lifestyles. We are sent to heal, not to harm. Jesus came to open the gates to heaven, not to close them.
If we are to be viewed as the scum of the earth, let it be for the same reasons that Jesus was. For the same reasons that Paul and those like him were. Because our radical devotion to God seems foolish. May others scoff when our extravagant generosity borders on irresponsibility. May people find our joy in the face of suffering irrational. May they be offended by our refusal to support the culture of consumerism that has become the god of this age. Let our contentment with leading simple, honest, and holy lives be a mirror that exposes the emptiness of life devoid of spirituality. May we be counted as fools because we trust and follow a man who we have never seen with our own eyes, yet has made us come alive in ways we never dreamed possible.
I love my church. I’m proud to be part of a family of believers that is willing to change. A church that is taking a hard, critical look at itself. A church that is acquiring the humility to say, “I’m sorry,” to our unchurched friends for our judgmental, hypocritical, and homophobic attitudes.
God, make us people who are madly, ridiculously devoted to Jesus. Give us the courage to be the scum of the earth once more.