When I was in college I bought a shirt that said, “Jesus is Not For Everyone, He’s Just for Those who Want to Go to Heaven.”
Yes, I actually paid money for a shirt that said that. I purchased it at Creation Festival, a weekend dedicated to getting thousands of youth fired up about God. It worked on me, I was fired up and wanted to express my passion via shirt and this was the best one, I guess, that I could find.
I think I only wore it a couple of times because even as I bought it, I knew it was kind of an awful message to walk around with on my shirt. The very day I got home I wore it to the movies where I was meeting some of my buddies and they rolled their eyes at me. Another one of the few times I wore it I remember walking past a couple of people and hearing them snicker, no doubt finding humor or offense at the message.
If I wanted to, I could have taken such snickering as persecution of my faith and I could have cited a passage from the Bible such as Matthew 5:11-12 – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” I could have taken solace that people mocking my shirt were persecuting my faith, the sort of persecution true Christians always face.
The thing is, Jesus is speaking of persecution “because of me.” And I was not being mocked because of Jesus, I was laughed at because I wore such an idiotic shirt. No one looked at the shirt and asked about Jesus. Really, the shirt was not about Jesus, it was about me sticking it to other people, callously reminding them they were destined for eternal torment while I smugly looked on from eternal bliss.
Anyway, I bring up that embarrassing story because I was reminded of it after reading this article. Specifically, this section:
Have you ever heard someone say, “I like Christ. I just don’t like Christians.” Jesus says that if you don’t like his disciples—if you reject them—you are rejecting Him. There is no version of Christianity that allows you to follow Christ while mistreating His body. And it won’t matter how much you profess your love for Christ if you reject andmistreat his body. What you do with Christ’s people will tell everything that needs to be told about you at the judgment.
This text is not about poor people generally. It’s about Christians getting the door slammed in their face while sharing the gospel with a neighbor. It’s about the baker/florist/photographer who is being mistreated for bearing faithful witness to Christ. It’s about disciples of Jesus having their heads cut off by Islamic radicals. In other words, it’s about any disciple of Jesus who was ever mistreated in the name of Jesus. This text shows us that Jesus will judge those who show contempt for the gospel by mistreating gospel-bearers.
This seemed a bit too self-aggrandizing to me. It seemed to encourage the kind of mindset I had while wearing my shirt – I can do what I want as a Christian and if anyone gets offended its their problem and if they say anything then they are persecuting me!
But the reality is that if someone slams the door on your face when you are trying to share the gospel with them it is not because they hate Jesus. It could be for any variety of reasons – maybe you’ve been a bad neighbor in the past and never asked forgiveness and they don’t want to hear from you, maybe the kids are crazy and this is not a good time to discuss the depths of spiritual truth. Simply assuming that any opposition = persecution feeds our American evangelical persecution complex. And implying that getting the door slammed in your face or facing opposition for not taking part in a gay wedding is anything close to getting your head cut off by ISIS is wrong.
The issues seems to be whether we are being persecuted/harrassed/mocked on account of Jesus or on account of our own jerkiness.
*For the record, I engaged with the author of this piece on Twitter and it seems clear he’d agree that the key is why people are mocking us.
*A good book that relates is Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution which studies the martyrdom narratives in the early church. This book made me realize that when Christians living in comfort in America claim to be persecuted this actually does damage to our brothers and sisters who truly are facing persecution. Our claims basically tire people out to any claims of Christian persecution.