As I've been looking into the subject of Christian authenticity, I noticed a recent poll regarding the perceptions of Christians in society. The Barna poll was published April 30, 2013 and asks the question, "Are Christians more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees?" The findings? Christians today are more like the Pharisees.
"The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians—using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians—qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.
On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus."
While many Christians today hold correct doctrine as the highest priority in their church and in their personal lives, harping away on the subject of correct doctrine comes across as being a little self righteous for would-be converts who are more interested in seeing authentic attitudes and actions. For Christians who come to a church where people sing about love only to find that there are social cliques that are not very open or welcoming, again, this could be a turn off.
Barna compares a number of factors, including but not limited to compassion and social interaction, in order to formulate the final conclusion. Barna admits that no poll is 100% accurate, but these finding should be a wake up call to pastors and other Christian leaders.
One of the main reasons young people in the Millennial Generation do not want to be involved in today's churches is because they see a tendency wherein Christians are more concerned about being correct than being compassionate and active in society. One quote from the Barna survey seems reminiscent of the Laodicean Church in the book of Revelation:
"It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns."
When churches sink into patterns, it's likely unnoticeable by those who have been attending the churches regularly. However, when new people come to visit it's easier for them to have an objective viewpoint. The people within the church may not even realize, for example, that social cliques have formed that aren't exactly welcoming to newcomers. The more internalized the church becomes, the less likely it is to reach out to the neighborhood and to the world in a meaningful way. The Laodiciean Church is an example of a church that was self-satisfied, as noted in Revelation 3.17-18:
"Because thou say, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;' and knowest not that thou are the wretched, and miserable,and poor,and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy from me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment , that thou mayest clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (KJV).
In contrast to the Laodiciean Church, the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2.8-11) was materially poor and needy, yet Jesus offered no criticism of their attitude or behavior (kind of makes you wonder about the Word of Faith Movement). This church was willing to take a stand for truth, even if it meant extreme persecution and death. The church of the martyrs experienced phenomenal identification with the masses and phenomenal growth because people could see the reality of the people's faith as they were even willing to die for their love of God.
We seem to be entering a phase of history where Christians in western society will increasingly be imprisoned and persecuted for believing in Christ and in scripture. Now that gay marriage has become a civil right in the US, this has far reaching implications. Just this week a court in New Mexico ruled that "the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony." It won't be long until there is jail time in the US for anyone who teaches the scriptural view that homosexuality is immoral. Will Bible-believing Christians be able to stand for both truth and love under these circumstances? We'll see.
Obviously, no one is perfect and exactly like Jesus. However, these types of polls can help us Christians to ask deep questions about ourselves and our churches and question in what ways can we become more representative of Jesus, as represented in scripture. For more information on the Millennial Generation and reasons why they tend to become disconnected from the Church, see article, "Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts"