I’m not one to wear Christian t-shirts. Let me move past the fact that t-shirts can’t be Christians. (“Would you like to be clean of the dirt and filth that makes up your life?”) That is another subject altogether. And I’m also going to move past the fact that messages of many Christian-themed t-shirts are boastful, self-aggrandizing, and subtle put-downs to those who aren’t Christians. Actually, I’m not going to move past it too quickly, for it is a big reason why I don’t wear Christian-themed t-shirts.
But the main reason I don’t wear Christian-themed t-shirts was captured by the one Christian-themed t-shirt I might actually wear. I saw it on the youth pastor at the Church at Severn Run, and it said, “They will know we are Christians by our t-shirts.” I love it. I would actually wear that shirt.
Of course this is a take-off on the old 70’s era youth group song, “They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love.” At issue here is the difference between our identification as Christians and our influence as Christians.
Christianity is not a membership-only society in which, after you join, you get to wear the secret decoder ring, funny hat, and other exterior signs of membership, and that is what identifies you as being a part of this elite group of “not-perfect-just-forgiven people” (to use another “Christian” slogan I detest).
I believe our identification as Christians needs to be linked to our influence as Christians, and people are not influenced by our t-shirts, our bumper stickers, or our jewelry.
As the song says, they are influenced by our love. An early Christian writer named Tertullian quoted a pagan official who said about the Christians: "look at how much they love each other!" Jesus said: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unfortunately, I think people are more influenced by the lack of love that Christians often show toward one another than they are by our unity. They expect the latter, but the former says to people that there is something seriously wrong with our faith. Love for one another is the bottom line for the Christian; if we don’t have that, nothing else we say or do will have much influence.
I would argue that a more powerful influence is our love for those who are not followers of Jesus. In fact, our love for people should be so strong that there is not any appreciable difference between our love for other Christians and our love for anyone else. The categories should disappear. No more “Christian” and “non-Christian,” not in regard of our love for and treatment of people. There are just people, and we are to love people just as Christ, who was no respecter of persons, loved them. Inasmuch as we show love, respect and care for those who are outside of our faith—even those whom we would consider hostile to our faith—then we show the character of our God who loved us while we were yet sinners—while we were in fact hostile to the ways of God. (
There is one more thing that is needed if we are going to be a positive influence on people. It’s possible to remain in our holy enclaves and love people, and as long as we remain in our church buildings, we’ll have no influence. Influence requires our presence. Love isn’t a feeling or an abstract concept; love must be demonstrated, and that requires presence. We can’t remain in here and expect to be an influence, we have to be out there, being the presence of Christ in people’s lives.
In a way, I really don't care if they know I am a Christian. I really just care that they know that God loves them.