Do you remember the puzzle books titled Where's Waldo? I enjoyed them a great deal as a kid. I remember there was one board that was particularly difficult. The pages consisted of hundreds of individuals dressed up just like Waldo, but with minuet differences. This made it almost impossible to find our dear Waldo. But eventually we would spot him, through some difficulty and confusion.
In the same way, as one looks around the Christian world it can be hard to distinguish that which is true Christianity from that which is something altogether different. This is one of the many reasons that people, especially the young often outright reject the Christian faith. I'd like to offer my assistance in this struggle. Because it is particularly difficult.
I recall an instance in which I was watching television, this was several years before I became a Christian. I don't recall exactly what I was watching, it was probably on one of the Christian channels. But there was this religious fellow, and he gave the most rousing message I had ever heard. I was truly enthralled with what he was saying about God, and life, and truth and all these things. I was amazed, and dumbfounded by the message I heard. In fact, I found myself in quite a stir internally. But a sinking feeling slipped into my gut as I realized something, as the phone number formed at the bottom of the screen, and insisted that if we were touched by all these things we must buy his product, buy his book, and send in our money as soon as possible! I was flabbergasted. I felt tricked and betrayed. I was thoroughly disgusted. And I switched off the channel immediately, back to Comedy Central or whatever I had been watching prior.
This is the story for many, many people like you and me. They see Westboro Baptist church, a sum of about 10 people picketing another soldier's funeral. The media loves to cover Westboro Baptist church, but one should literally twist their arm to get them to cover a pro-life march (and they'll always call it an "anti-abortion" march). CNN will interview militant Christian.com, but getting them to interview William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias, quite impossible.
There is so much out there masquerading as Christianity. And we shouldn't be surprised at this, we really shouldn't. Entrepreneurs will discover that they can make great profits by pretending religion, right? They see that it is a fundamental hunger of the human soul. So there will be many false Christs, and there will be many money-makers out there. And there will be militants and there will be folks who picket funerals and hold up signs that say "God hates fags." Rest assured, God loves the least of these and wants all to come to Christ and change their ways. Don't let the dummies dissuade you from the true message, hidden beyond all the headlines, news articles, broadcasts and secular internet trolls.
Even if all the money-makers weren't enough or the radical militants, you also have the Christians who get it wrong. Many of the mega-church pastors won't address certainly controversial issues like marriage, abortion and other issues in fear of losing church members. They fail to remain relevant, and address important issues. Many churches and church movements will put so much pressure on pastors to perform and bring in new church members that pastors burn out and leave the ministry. If you look at many of these charismatic movements, you see people vibrating on the floor, shaking, throwing themselves all over the place, screaming, babbling, laughing and going generally insane. There are documentaries on this phenomenon, rest assured it is not Christian! You'll see Benny Hinn on TV slapping people with his jacket as they fall over and vibrate and scream and babble. There are so many bizarre affairs in this small subgroup. Yet of course it gets so much attention, because it's bizarre and interesting, I suppose.
In addition, there is something called progressive Christianity. And essentially this is a view that tends to strip Jesus of his divinity. In many cases it's almost a completely secular form of Christianity. They often will reject most, if not all the bible as "culturally bound" or outright false or inaccurate. In other cases, it just changes certain core truths of the faith, like that marriage is between man and woman, and changes the view regarding the sanctity of life (pro-abortion). This progressive view is often behind many of the people who slam believers with "don't judge me" whenever they bring up Bible verses that state some truth they disagree with like natural marriage, two genders, or not bringing in millions of refugees from terrorist nations.
I'd like to assure you that the true biblical Christian message has always resided with a small minority of people, generally not in the limelight, who serve week in and week out, quietly, doing their duty, serving the lost, carrying the gospel and loving the least of these. They are out there right now. They don't get covered on CNN, or in the New York Times. They don't end up on 60 minutes. They don't get brought up by Bill Maher, or the Amazing Atheist or Secular Talk or the Young Turks. They don't get covered in media. They are just out there day in and day out, unnoticed by society, unremembered by history, loving people, in small towns across the United States, and indeed across the whole world. Think of the dozens of small churches even in your own community. I try to remember that, whenever I see something bizarre in the media regarding supposed Christians and the nonsense they are engaged in. Remember that truth is often surrounded by a body-guard of lies. I know if I was the evil one I would make sure there were so many caricatures and false messages out there that young people would throw up their arms in disgust and refuse any mention of Jesus. We are after all called to follow Jesus, not other Christians. If I look the books of the Bible, I find the true message. If I make it my highest goal to obey what the Bible says, to live the way Jesus taught me to live, and seek to know the actual truth above all else, then I won't have a problem amidst all the chaos of the world.
But I want to encourage you, when you see all those poor examples and poor witnesses for Christ out there just remind yourself that Jesus said it would be like this.
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them." -Matthew 7:15-16a
What did Jesus mean when he said, 'By their fruit you'll recognize them?' Essentially he means that we'll be able to tell what someone is really about by what their actions are, and what their words and actions result in. Does their message result in biblical Christians who follow Jesus?
Don't expect Christianity in the world to be perfect. It isn't. It isn't ever going to be, until the world is remade. The world is a messy place as it is now. The church is a messy, often annoying place. We shouldn't expect a bed of roses in this life. It's going to be tough. But if we focus on Jesus and not the world, then we can't go wrong on this journey. Look to Christ, not the church.