I was sitting in church last Sunday, when a thought crossed my mind. The people in the pews were quite a diverse group. I’m not talking about ethnic diversity, but spiritual diversity.
Remembering back to my pre-Christian days, I wondered if I would have recognized the diversity then.
Joined together on Sunday morning were Christians, fans of Christianity, “seekers” (people wanting to know about Christianity), and probably some atheists and/or agnostics there with friends. But to the casual observer, they would all look the same. Just a large building full of Christians.
That would be like saying all of the people inside the stadium walls on a fall Saturday afternoon would be on the football team. Pretty ridiculous, huh.
Let’s define who is really in the building. We will just be talking about the adults.
The fans of Christianity are like the football fans in the stadium stands. They might even be members of a congregation. Fans like what they think the “team” stands for. The social side of church is very important to this group. Fans usually go to church on Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals. They generally feel awkward when someone mentions a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus. Any relationship can feel awkward at the beginning. Becoming a fan is often the first step someone takes toward becoming a Christian.
Seekers are individuals who want to know more about this “relationship” with God and Jesus, so they are checking things out. They might also be members of a church congregation somewhere. This does not necessarily mean they are Christians. Their interest could be more than a fan’s. The great thing about seekers is that they are asking important questions about tenets of the faith.
Our third group is people who have recently developed a relationship with God by accepting Jesus as their savior. These folks are usually very excited about this new relationship and the new person they have become. All churches are not the same. But if new believers are in the right church, they will want to be at church and among Christian friends. Getting up Sunday morning is no longer a chore, but something to look forward to. Another key difference for the new Christian is that they want to know more about what the Bible says.
Our fourth group is the maturing Christians. These people have been Christians for a while and are engaged in Sunday school, Bible studies, small groups, Wednesday night activities and worship on Sundays. They are growing in their understanding of the faith.
Last but not least are the mature Christians. These people have studied the Bible for years, taught classes, been officers of the church, are usually prepared to pray out loud upon request, and are comfortable leading Bible studies. But above all, their faith is very strong, and ever growing.
The last three groups I described are real Christians. But to the non-Christian, everyone in the building looks the same. So, if someone is going to evaluate the actions of Christians, they should focus on the ones who are new believers as described above (born again), the maturing, and mature followers of Christ. Sure, all will make mistakes, but they will go to God quickly, ask forgiveness, and be relieved of guilt as they change their behavior to avoid the mistake again.
What does this mean to the person questioning the validity of Christianity?
It means that they are experiencing the same thing nearly every other person in the building has experienced. I would venture to say even the most ardent follower of Jesus, at one point, questioned the whole concept of Christianity. There was a man named Paul who hated and persecuted Christians for a living. Once he was convinced Jesus was who He said He was, Paul became a new person, matured in the faith through study, and ended up being one of the strongest promoters of the new church of the first century.
If it could happen to Paul, happiness and fulfillment could happen for anyone.
(John3: 1-15, Acts 9: 1-2; 26:12-18)