The world seems to have gone crazy. Right is portrayed as wrong, and wrong as right. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Christian church. As Christians, we claim to serve the One who came to earth to show us God’s love. He called us to a higher standard of love, forgiveness, and abandonment of our rights in favour of our neighbours’ good.

Yet, the Barna Group, a leading research firm dealing with matters important to the Christian church, has recently done some studies that conclude most Christians tend to think and/or behave more like the Pharisees than like Christ. [1]  Doesn’t the word “Christian” mean “one like Christ”? If we affix that title to ourselves, this conclusion should really bother us.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that we’ve become too used to being in the majority. For decades, most people paid lip service to Christian values and ideals. We got complacent. We got lazy. We started to think that having a “Christian” society was “the way things should be”.

But a society that starts out Christian will always move towards not being so. Jesus said, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [2]. More people will always choose not to be Christians than to be so. Though individuals may move towards Christ, society’s drift is mostly away from Him. It’s practically a law of nature—our sin nature, that is.

So how did we end up where we are today, with a society that scorns Christians—often rightly so—for their hypocrisy?

I think the answer has to include the idea of focus. You see, we spend so much time defending against attacks from people and ideals we consider to be “outside” of what we envision as a Christian society that we have no time or energy left for personal godliness.

We spend so much time reminiscing about “the good old days”, and strategizing ways to “win our country back to Christ” that we forget that traditional values don’t necessarily follow the way of Christ, and that our country was never really “Christian” in the first place. Those traditional values said it was okay for someone to beat his wife; to own slaves; to discriminate against those whose skins or creeds were different from ours. Are they really in line with Jesus’ way of love?

In those “good old days”, our churches were full with people, yes. But with whom? What if there were not more Christians in the “good old days”, but more Pharisees—people who liked outward appearances, and who craved the approval of men? [3] Are we craving more Christ-likeness, or more Pharisaism?

It’s interesting to note that the Pharisees, too, longed for “the good old days”, when they had control over their own governance, before the Romans took over their land. They took on the mentality of protecting what they had, rather than living lives of victory and joy regardless of the outward circumstances. That defensive posture was the very reason that they finally killed Jesus:


Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation.

(John 11:47-50)



The Pharisees thought that Jesus was threatening the freedom they did have, and they killed Him for it. Whom do we try to assassinate—whether in word or deed—when we find our own values threatened?

I can’t help coming to the horrible conclusion that if Jesus were living today, we “Christians” would probably have killed Jesus too.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called “loss aversion” which means that people typically find the pain of losses about twice as strong as the pleasure they find in equal gains [4]. As such, we are much more motivated to avoid losses than to actively pursue gains. [5]



“Animals, including people, fight harder to prevent losses than to achieve gains. In the world of territorial animals, this principle explains the success of defenders. A biologist observed that ‘when a territory holder is challenged by a rival, the owner almost always wins the contest—usually within a matter of seconds.’” [6]



Loss aversion leads us to become obsessed with defending “our” property—things we once had that are now slipping away. Essentially, we panic and lash out. I believe this is a main source of the vitriol that the church is currently spewing onto anyone standing nearby. Where we should be bubbling up with love, instead we’re boiling over with fear and bitterness.

Loss aversion has another interesting side product: risk aversion. [7] Essentially, when we’re afraid of losing “our” territory, we batten down the hatches and refuse to take “unnecessary” risks. This stands in polar opposition to Christ’s mandate that we take the fight for souls to the gates of hell, and risk everything for the sake of people who don’t know Jesus, but whom He nevertheless loves.

Instead, we have youth retention programs, and Christian fellowship nights that feel safe because they don’t require us to do anything we haven’t done before. Retention programs will always fail. They only aim to maintain the status quo. Their success means that they remain the same as they are right now. But that is not Christ’s mandate either. We are not to aim to stay the same. Our aim is to grow, to burst at the seams, to have boats sinking because we’ve caught too many fish!

So how do we stop our own obsession over the breakup of society towards chaos?

First, we need to let go of fear. “[F]ear has no place in a Christian’s life; [we cannot] claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit and [be] filled with fear at the same time” [8]. At its core, fear is faith in the enemy. [9] We need to choose this day whom we will have faith in: Satan or Jesus.

If we have faith in Jesus, we can trust that He and His Holy Spirit can take care of themselves. They have a plan, and no one can thwart it. [10] It's not up to us to defend anything.

If we are confident in this, everything else falls into place. We were made to be “little Christs”, living as His representatives and spreading the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness and salvation far and wide. Now, let’s dig deep and show the world that love we say we have.



NOTES
[1] “Christians: More Like Jesus or Pharisees?”, Barna Group, published June 13, 2013, https://www.barna.com/research/christians-more-like-jesus-or-pharisees/
[2] Matthew 7:14, NIV.
[3] Matthew 12:43, NIV.
[4] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast, And Slow (Anchor Canada, 2011), ch 26, p 19 of 33 in ebook.
[5] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast, And Slow (Anchor Canada, 2011), ch 28, p 9 of 28 in ebook.
[6] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast, And Slow (Anchor Canada, 2011), ch 28, p 15-16 of 28 in ebook.
[7] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast, And Slow (Anchor Canada, 2011), ch 26, p 23 of 33 in ebook.
[8] Valerie Limmer, On the Potter's Wheel (Mustang: Tate Publishing, 2016), p 19 of 368 in ebook.
[9] Terry Ciona, various sermons, 2006-2011.
[10] See Job 42:2.


(Picture source)