What makes an organization a Christian organization? It's a question that needs to be explored, because there are a lot of organizations out there claiming the Christian title, and it's natural for Christians to want to support such organizations. But is the support always warranted? And are there other organizations that don't carry the Christian label that are worthy of the support of Christians?
What makes anything "Christian"? Somebody once said, "There are no such things as Christian books, only Christian authors." There's some truth to that. Only people can be Christians. Originally the word was a noun only, signifying a person. It was not an adjective to be used for things that were not people. Someone else said that "Christian" makes a great noun but a lousy adjective. As a noun, "Christian" can only be a person, but as an adjective, it covers a lot of ground. There are Christian books, Christian songs, Christian bands, Christian stores, Christian businesses, Christian plays, Christian t-shirts, Christian greeting cards, Christian websites, Christian paintings, Christian movies, Christian television shows, Christian cookbooks, ad infinitum, all competing in a Christian market segment for Christian dollars.
Who gets to decide whether something deserves the Christian label? Is there a Christian clearinghouse where things have to meet certain criteria before being allowed to use the Christian label, like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval? No, there isn't, so anyone can call their thing "Christian" and so it is.
Does slapping the label on something make it so? Obviously not, but how does one decide whether it really is or not? Clearly if an organization is composed exclusively of Christians engaged in acknowledged Christian activities...well, that's not so clear, is it? What's an acknowledged Christian activity? Evangelism, ok. Humanitarian aid, yes.
But wait. Humanitarian aid isn't an exclusively Christian activity. Is Jesus pleased only when Christians render aid to others, or is he cool with any aid offered by anyone? If an organization without any religious affiliation engages in humanitarian aid, is that good in Jesus' eyes but not quite as good as if it were a Christian organization? If it's a Muslim organization, does Jesus look askance at it? If it's a Muslim organization that not only feeds the hungry but also seeks to convert people to Islam, is that bad in Jesus' eyes?
If an organization is composed of Christians and operates in a moral, responsible manner but is not engaged in an explicitly Christian enterprise, is it a Christian business? If an organization is composed of Christians and is engaged in a Christian enterprise, but it's ethics are questionable, is it Christian?
It's getting pretty mucky, isn't it? Yeah, good noun, lousy adjective.
Here's what I know: a starving child doesn't care if the hand giving him bread is Christian, Muslim, atheist, or none of the above. And it seems to me that giving a starving child bread is always a good thing, regardless of who baked the bread.
I write this because someone asked me, legitimately, why we didn't go with a Christian organization for Water4Christmas.
Charity:Water does not claim to be a Christian organization. The founder, Scott Harrison, in telling his story on the Charity:Water website, quotes the New Testament a number of times, leading one to think that he probably is a Christian. And in fact he is. You can hear his testimony here. He is leading an organization that is doing work that pleases Jesus. That his organization is not explicitly Christian allows it to work in areas of the world that are closed off to Christians, and allows him to go to places and talk about Charity:Water that would be closed off to him if his was an exclusively Christian organization.
My daughter Angela works in a child development center. She was allowed to send home with each child a Water For Christmas flyer and set up a WFC jar to receive donations. She undoubtedly wouldn't have been to do so if she were soliciting donations to a Christian organization.
Pam's hair dresser allowed her to set up a Water For Christmas jar in her salon. Her hairdresser is a Christian, but as a business woman who has customers of all faiths she might have been leery of asking for donations for an explicitly Christian organization.
But just because Charity:Water does not have an explicitly evangelistic component--defined as Christians sharing their faith to win converts--does not mean that it is not evangelistic i.e. that it doesn't have an influence that would lead people toward Jesus.
This was made clear to me in the article, "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs missionaries," by Matthew Parris. Parris noted that just the presence of Christians serving Africans in humanitarian but not missionary (or religious) organizations is making a needed difference in the lives of African villagers.
The presence of Christians doing God's work, even if it's not in an organization that we would recognize as Christian, even if it's not work we would necessarily call Christian--the presence of Christians doing God's work makes a difference--a spiritual difference--in people's lives.
The Bible calls all people--Christian and otherwise--to care for the widow, the orphan, the infirm, the lonely, the stranger. It wasn't called being a Christian; it was called being human. And anyone can and should do that. And when they do, it is good. Christians don't have a monopoly on doing work that pleases God.
There's an old joke about a guy who dies and goes to heaven, and Peter is showing him around. They pass by one room and there's a bunch of people in there whooping it up and having a good time. "Pentecostals," Peter says. In other room there people standing around eating cheese and drinking wine. "Episcopalians," says Peter. They come to another room and the guy says, "Who's in there?" "Shhhh," says Peter. "Those are the Baptists. They think they're the only ones up here."
God's work is occurring all around the world, some of it by Christian organizations, some of it in secular organizations with Christians in it. And probably some of it done by people and organizations that are not Christian.
A kind deed is a godly deed and pleases God, always. No matter who does it.
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