“I like Christ, it’s Christians I can’t stand.”
This cliché has bounced around for years. Various forms can be heard in casual conversation and heated debates, in parishes and on bar stools. The accepted rumor is that it was initially said by Gandhi, which is understandable given 100-some years of occupation by a “Christian” Great Britain, accompanied by unjust rule, perpetuation of vicious racism and woeful events such as the Salt March. Now, it is bounced around by atheists, Christians, Buddhists, and everyone who has had an unpleasant experience with the church per se.
There is indeed an unfortunate truth behind the phrase: Christians are often not the most effective ambassadors of a risen Christ. Christian men and women slip and fall along the straight and narrow path, and as a result, we get the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and folks like the Westboro Baptists. Indeed, Christ is a wonderful person—His human representatives frequently fall short.
That said, it is time for the Body of Christ to stop using this phrase. Let it be said by those who have encountered those witnesses of Christ who have stumbled in their walk and who choose to judge the church based on their limited experience. Let those who have been burned by the Christian community use it to justify their separation from the church. But do not let it be heard amongst the Christian body. Paul says to believers in Corinth that “the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free.”
To an unbelieving world, Christ and his church cannot be separated. Every Christian—every believer who professes the name of the Jesus Christ—is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Every member of the church—no matter how nominal—is a witness to the resurrected Lord. When said by one who hasn’t experienced the grace of Jesus, the statement “I like Christ, I do not like Christians” is a tragic statement. When the same phrase is repeated by a member of the church, it is utterly insane. It would make as much sense to say, “I like my head, but I simply cannot tolerate anything below it.”
Christ is the head of the church. His followers are the body, and we are called to be a family. A family may argue; a family may fight. A family may even need to cut ties with a member who is toxic to its unity. All these things are acceptable and beneficial, if occasionally grievous. But no matter what happens, a family is still a family. No matter how dysfunctional, a family must love each other. In his book The Church, Matt Jenson states that “the church’s catholicity commands our commitment to her unity.” As the Body of Christ, we should be known by our love and unity. If we do not love each other, how can we love our neighbor? If we do not love our neighbor, will anyone know our Christ?
We don’t get to choose our family. As individuals, we don’t even have the right to prune the family tree—the crazy uncle is still a part of it, no matter what personal opinion says; Jesus is the Gardner, and when he prunes, he works through the church. The role of the church—and of every member therein—is to strengthen the community of Christ. We are to come to the aid of those in need, to reproach those who gone astray, and to walk a difficult and winding path together. Whether or not we like each other is irrelevant, although with a family reunion every Sunday, it would certainly be more manageable if we learned how to.
If there is anything that Christ loves, it is His church. And Christ does not love in a dispassionate, reserved manner. Christ does not look on His Body and say with a neutral indifference, “I love you, but I don’t always like you.” No, Christ loves His church with a raging fury, and as members of that church, we are given the freedom and responsibility to be a manifestation of that love to others. In this system, we are allowed, with the blessing of our Heavenly Father, to declare, “I like Christ, and I am crazy about His people, no matter how crazy they may be.”