Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a woman pull up in the adjacent left turn lane and stop slightly ahead. The light turned before I got a good look, but her stature and the habit she was wearing was a tip-off that this was a Catholic nun on the move. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to completely read her yellow and green bumper sticker but the ‘heart’ symbol and the word “Jesus” confirmed my fleeting conclusion.
At the next stop light we were once again together and imagine my surprise when I was able to read the entire bumper sticker:
Wow, first impressions can be so wrong. Hijab, not a habit. Muslim, not Catholic. But Loving Jesus?
The Simple Catholic Truth
There are of couple of important comments that come to mind when seeing this bumper sticker – one regarding Islam and one of Christianity. This bumper sticker is obviously an outreach tool intended to solicit discussions about Islam with non-Muslims. I’ll discuss Islam in a later post but for now I think there is much we can learn about Christianity.
Imagine for a moment that the bumper sticker read “I Love Jesus…because I’m Christian.” At first glance you might not give it a second thought because, well… it’s just obvious to all that Jesus is at the heart (bad pun) of all Christianity – right? But think about just one word for a moment. Within Christianity, is there a consensus as to what it means to “love” Jesus?
A Real Problem
Let’s face it, modern Christianity is not a doctrinally homogeneous faith even at the basic level. It’s impossible to water down Christianity to a short bumper sticker with a cute heart symbol. However, the simple fact is that the meaning of true love even among devout “Christians” is as varied as the wind.
Some Christians, of the evangelical or fundamentalist variety, hold that loving Christ is an emotional-intellectual response that requires only a “belief” to instantly receive the promise of irrevocable eternal life. Other Christians such as Catholic and Orthodox hold that loving Christ is an life-long personal commitment that includes trials and suffering, successes and failures and even the possibility of rejecting God. These Christians hold that at the end of life, Christ will judge their life of love, including loving actions or lack thereof, and judge accordingly with justice and mercy.
Actually, now that I think of it, if you asked a reformed Calvinist Christian, they might scoff at the bumper sticker altogether. The would explain that choosing to love Christ isn’t even part of the faith. They might explain that if we do love Jesus, they we love because that love was irresistibly forced into our nature. To them, the eternal outcome is predestined! Just another example of how the simple bumper message means something so very different even across Christian denominations.
Some of you might be rolling your eyes claiming I write in hyperbole about the word love. You might say that everyone really knows what love is and the bumper sticker is perfectly valid as is. To those, let me ask a question. What would your reaction be if I said that a person of the Mormon or Jehovah Witness faith had that same bumper sticker on their car? You see, members of those faiths don’t see Jesus as having the same nature as many/most Christians. The Mormon’s call themselves the church of Jesus Christ of the latter day saints. With that in mind, I’m sure many Mormons would be comfortable with a bumper sticker that read “I Love Jesus…because I’m Mormon.” I’m sure they love Jesus but the Jesus they love and the Jesus of Christianity are vastly different.
So you see, to an outsider the bumper sticker “I Love Jesus…because I’m Christian” is practically meaningless. And that my friends is a shameful tragedy. How are we to evangelize a modern doubting world if as Christians we can’t even present a common front of faith? How can we expect the “spiritual but not religious” to come to Christ when those that purport to love Christ can’t even consistently explain what that love means or who Jesus is?
Our modern world is filling with more and more people that march to the drum beat of relativism. Many have turned away from the “Rock” of Christianity. They see to a large extent that Christianity with its thousands of denominations is also marching to its own drum beat of personal interpretation, prosperity Gospels, and feel good theology. It’s not surprising then that people see Christianity as equivalently subjective at best and even hypocritical at worst. Lest you think I’m picking on Protestant Christianity, let me point out something even within my beloved Catholic Church. There are many practitioners of Catholicism that pick and choose their beliefs with the same ease that vegetables are selected in the produce aisle. Subjectivity run amok!
If we are to truly spread the Good News to all nations, then us Christians better start getting our own collective house in order. We must put aside the “us-them” mentality and strive for a common message of Christ. I often see denomination “X” defining themselves primarily as “Not Y” instead of spelling out what they “X” stand for and why. Christianity today appears in many respects like the chaotic forces in American politics. No longer about the health of the body, it’s about winning and losing. This mindset must stop. The world is laughing and losing faith.
For writing in this way, I’ll be labeled by some as a sophomoric idealist. This is inevitable and so be it. But when the name calling dust has settled the fact remains that if we are to be the light of the world we must speak a common faith language. A tall order to be sure but we should not lose hope. Remember, Christ promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. There are some signs of progress such as the Catholic-Lutheran agreement on Justification and the unity between Anglican ordinates and the Catholic Church. That said we have a long way to go.
This journey will take a new open mindedness on everyone’s part. We must listen to others and learn of others. We must all learn the history and rationale behind what we believe. We must challenge the status quo of our own beliefs and measure these beliefs against the Gospel of history and Scripture. We must embrace and hold to the truth of Christ and discard the relativism that has crept into all our own personal “truths.”
The Bible demands our Christian unity. The world now more than ever needs Christian unity. If it is God’s plan, someday, everyone will know what it is to love Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, the true Savior of the world. Someday perhaps the world will see a bumper sticker that says “I Love Jesus” and know exactly what that means. Then we’ll hear those voices say, “I want some of that too!”
I constantly pray to live and see that day.