Someone once asked Billy Graham “If Christianity is valid, why is there so much evil in the world?” To this the famous preacher replied, “With so much soap, why are there so many dirty people in the world? Christianity, like soap, must be personally applied if it is to make a difference in our lives.”
Earlier this week, I had a discussion with a friend about how Christians act in church, and how we act in the world, and it’s had me thinking.
I personally know many Christians who isolate themselves within a Christian bubble for their entire lives. They only have Christian friends, they listen exclusively to Christian music, they only go to see Christian movies, they read Christian books or the Bible. They’ve created for themselves a Christ-centered life, which is what it’s all about, right? Now, I truly appreciate what artists of all mediums have brought to the Christian world and I think it’s admirable and enjoyable, but in my opinion, isolation of this level within the Christian world is absolutely the opposite of what God called for us.
Picture an ember that gets separated from the fire. It would soon flicker out by itself, but if it’s then put back in a whole group of embers, they keep each other aflame. There is a direct parallel to the Christian faith in that image, and it is my usual remark when a friend says “Oh I don’t need to go to church. I’m Christian, I’m a good person, so church is really superfluous for me.”
But now, I’d like you to picture a large expanse with charcoal pieces scattered randomly throughout. There is one good-sized group of embers crackling merrily together, isolated from the rest in a corner, and amongst the pieces of charcoal all over the ground, there are the occasional few embers flickering, trying to stay lit. If those happily-burning embers in the corner were removed from their isolation and scattered throughout the whole expanse, soon the whole area would be on fire– the slowly-dying embers would have received new life, and the charcoal would soon be caught to light. Christians need the church, both the Sunday services and the church family during the week, to make sure that our little embers don’t flicker out. BUT, we have to be sure that we don’t isolate ourselves to just that group of embers and keep our flame all to ourselves.
Besides, how are we to find God’s influence and grace in the world, in the most unexpected places, if we don’t go out into the world and look for it?
In a contrast to this, many Christians are only Sunday-morning Christians, or twice-a-year Christians, and they find the idea of Christian music, or books, or movies, to be “corny” or “silly”, or somehow not worth even their consideration. They’ve gotten so far into the world that while they can occasionally put on the Christian hat, it’s nearly impossible to wear in their daily lives.
So how do we split the difference between these? I don’t have a good answer. After all, it’s not practical for hardly anyone with a normal job to seriously and actively evangelize to those they know and see on a regular basis, but meanwhile we still strive to stay in the Christian mindset between Sunday services. The embers of our faith need the community of the church, and the focus that Christian music, books, and movies can give. It’s great to relax into the familiar in that sense, but we also need to be actively part of the world, giving our faith-embers the opportunity to light someone else. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk these days.