Knowing, experiencing and reflecting the love of God is one of the most beautiful things one can experience. There are plenty of groups of Christians demonstrating that to the world today.
But unfortunately, this thing we call “Christianity” can also be perverted, exploited and abused. We’ve probably all used our identity as a Christian with the wrong motivations at some point—it’s a good thing God’s love doesn’t depend on how good we are at following Him. But it’s important to be able to identify and own up to the times we are misusing Christianity in order to get back to the truth of the Gospel.
Here are a few ways people misuse Christianity:
1. As a Form of Escapism
Some see Christianity as a way to escape from reality, to hide from their problems, ignore conflict and flee from the harsh realities of the world around them. But Christianity was never meant to be a carefree way to avoid stress, pain and suffering. Instead, it’s about embracing truth—no matter how ugly it may be.
Christianity isn’t a make-believe fantasy land full of perpetual happiness, tranquility and joy. Sure, those things do exist, but in the end, Christians are called to fight injustice, poverty, inequality and to help the weak and poor—this demands embracing reality instead of pretending everything is OK.
2. To Get Money
Christianity is filled with opportunities to tithe, donate, fundraise, support missionaries and give to various causes and ministries. Unfortunately, instead of feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless and helping those less fortunate, many take advantage of these platforms in order to increase their own personal wealth—selfishly getting rich off of the generosity of others.
3. To Gain Popularity
Contrary to promoting the Gospel, some use Christianity to promote themselves. It’s easy to use the venues of teaching, preaching and leading to create a culture of celebrity instead of one of humble servanthood.
In a society obsessed with fame, celebrity and viral sensations, Christians sometimes idolize these same distractions—often at the expense of glorifying God.
4. To Avoid Risk and Sacrifice
It’s easy for Christians to be constantly active—but what are we actually doing?
A litany of services, classes, sermons, retreats, bible studies, prayer groups and conferences provide a comfortable way to feel productive and meaningful—even if we’re not. Many use Christianity to rationalize that they’re making a difference in the world when in reality they’re just safely—and comfortably—immersing themselves within their own religious activities without taking any real risks or making any real sacrifices.
Christianity is wonderful, but it’s also demanding, counter-cultural, dangerous and scary. It requires real sacrifice and risk. It’s not for the faint of heart.
5. To Control Others
Some use Christianity as a tool for manipulation, using fear, shame and guilt to control and influence others. Whether it’s to promote a political agenda, rally around a particular cause, support a certain belief or to simply gain power—it’s a tempting trap. But Christianity is about freedom, redemption, grace and empowerment instead of domineering fear.
Instead of domineering over others and seeking worldly power, Jesus humbly and selflessly served, resulting in His own death—if only we could do the same.
6. As a Promotional Tool
Rather than seeing Jesus as a God, many view Him as a promotional gimmick—a sales opportunity. Whether it’s to endorse a political campaign, a particular law change, an organization, institution or form of entertainment, many exploit Christianity as a lucrative way to gain support for their own causes.
Instead of a spiritual journey, Christianity is regarded as a lucrative business opportunity. When this happens, our faith devolves into a business, where believers are seeing as customers, and Jesus is marketed as a product instead of worshipped as divine.
7. To Rationalize Bad Behavior
Christianity has often been used as an excuse to do many horrific things. It’s used to rationalize religious violence, abuse, corruption, ignorance, bigotry, racism, injustice, inequality, sexism, hypocrisy and a litany of other evils—all under the guise of “God told me to do this” or “The Bible says this.”
8. To Explain the Unexplainable, or to Reject “Secular” Truth
Christianity isn’t about having all the answers—it’s about a relationship with Jesus. But Christianity can be turned into a list of right and wrongs and “facts,” and it can mistakenly become a zealous attempt to answer all of the world’s questions—even when it can’t.
When we limit our knowledge strictly to the Bible and refuse to listen to—or dialogue with—others, we’re rejecting the truth of science, logic, experience and the wonderful wisdom of others. All truth is God’s truth, and Christians shouldn’t be afraid to engage with thoughts, ideas and resources beyond just the Bible.
9. To Judge Others
Jesus repeatedly warned against judging others—and yet Christians continue to be known for their accusatory behavior instead of their grace and forgiveness.
We shouldn’t turn Christianity into a religion of hatred, where the worth of others is categorized based on their sins and failures. Additionally, Christians shouldn’t consider themselves morally superior, self-righteous and worth more than others—this is sinful.
Christianity is about loving God and loving others—above all else, try to simply follow Jesus’s example.
10. To Change Cultures
Christianity isn’t meant to erase or change a cultural identity. Christianity is amazingly complex and diverse, and it was never intended to be a uniform religion of ethnocentric beliefs.
Many mistakenly perceive that a “correct” Christianity will exactly mirror all their own traditions, beliefs and lifestyles. Thus, instead of introducing people to Jesus, they attempt to change and conform people to their own cultural preferences. When people inevitably don’t conform, they’re often unfairly accused of being sinners—condemned to hell.
To be a Christian is to be transparent and truthful and vulnerable and brutally honest—it’s not pretending to be someone you aren’t.
Overall, there are many ways we can mistreat Christianity and commit horrible acts in the name of God. It’s easy to manipulate our faith in order to satisfy our own agendas.
But we also need to remember that throughout our faith journey we’ll make mistakes and our experiences will be filled with both highs and lows. Through it all, we need to rely on the grace and forgiveness of God—and hopefully, of each other.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com and you can follow him on Twitter @mikta.