Have you ever noticed that sometimes you need to say the right password to Christians you might meet out and about? Hopefully I’m not just peeing in the wind here, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there are codewords that are needed to be said to let the other person know where you stand.
I began to realize this when, oddly enough, I told people I went to seminary. And apparently Fuller Seminary is “liberal” for the more conservative factions and “fundy” for people who are not actively involved in a church. Apparently affirming the divinity of Christ, the Nicene Creed, and identifying with the life giving words of Jesus is not enough. I needed to say codewords, to let the other person know that I didn’t go off the deep end. It is true that I am digging critically into my faith at seminary, but I know that Christianity has withstood many challenges. Defenders of the faith, from Augustine to CS Lewis to Tim Keller have helped me in working through questions raised by the “New Atheists” and old established religions as well. Yet, if I didn’t say the right password, I would be labelled as someone who lives in an ivory tower and doesn’t belong within evangelicalism.
When a pair of pastors came to our front door and invited us to their church down the street (a Latino-Pentecostal one next to the Sonic (speaking in tongues and great milkshakes in one convenient location!!)), I informed them that we were also fellow Christians. Yet, I needed to further qualify with them. I was a follower of Jesus, and shared the same faith. They were very kind and I enjoyed speaking with them, but that has not always been the case. I have found that associating oneself with a church is important, as is qualifying where I stood in my own relationship with Christ.
It’s true that no one knows the heart of an individual. Sometimes a person can affirm something on the outside without being transformed on the inside. As James would warn us throughout his letter, claiming to have religion or faith is worthless when there is no accompanying outward action. While an individual is reconciled to God through the redemptive work of Christ alone, we are also told that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2.14-17). To use an analogy, a tree that is in good shape will produce good fruit. I guess how we are able to tell if someone is truly a follower of Christ is that they themselves are rooted in the soil of Life, like the tree described in Psalm 1. This tree is planted by streams of water and will, out of that rooted-ness, do good and be transformed slowly but surely into the image of Christ. So next time I meet someone for the first time, I think I’ll offer a measure of grace and humility toward that person. The reason is because that fruit will come about slowly but surely over time and I might not be able to discern it in a brief conversation on a doorstep or airport.
Do you find yourself being labelled? How do you handle that?