[This is the English summary of a Chapel talk I gave at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka City, Japan, on October 24, 1972. My wife and I returned to the U.S. for the first time after spending nearly five full years in Japan as Southern Baptist missionaries. During our year of furlough, as it was called then, I spoke often in Missouri churches and in at least six other states–mostly Baptist churches beginning with the First Baptist Church in Anchorage, Alaska. This Chapel talk was given about three months after returning to Japan. For my regular blog article about this Chapel talk, click on this link.]
Last year in America I found myself very critical of Christian as practiced by most churches and Christians that I saw. I was critical of what appeared to be much more concern for self than others. I was critical because there seemed to be too little concern for four of the great problems of our day: war, poverty, racism, and pollution. I was critical because I felt that American Christianity is too often too much a supporter of the status quo.
In reflecting upon these criticisms, I have come to the following conclusions:
(1) I can understand why many Japanese university students have doubts about Christianity. There is not much attractiveness in Christianity as it is demonstrated by many of its adherents.
(2) In spite of the obvious hypocrisy of some Christians and the limited concern of most, I am still convinced that most of the best, the most genuine, the most conscientious people in America are Christian people.
(3) A person does not become perfect upon becoming a Christian. If we expect Christians to be perfect, we expect too much. When a person becomes a Christian, his knowledge, attitudes, and personality traits do not change immediately. Perhaps that is what we expect. Maybe that is why we are often so critical of Christians. What changes when a person becomes a Christian is his direction, his loyalties, his values. These things can and will change other areas in his life if there is Christian growth and development.
Please remember this: becoming a Christian is not like receiving a prize for winning a race. It is merely the first step in the race. Those who have become Christians have started the race, but no one on earth has yet finished the course and achieved the prize. Even the Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest Christian of all times, realized his imperfections and knew that the goal was still out ahead. (Read Philippians 3:12-14.)
It is true that I have become critical of American Christianity. But by realizing that Christianity is the start and not the end of the race, I can be a Christian and a proclaimer of Christianity in spite of the criticism that I have. I am not about to get off the track and start looking for something else.
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to join with me in seeking to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
If you are not a Christian yet, don’t you want to get in the race too? I would be delighted to show you where the starting-line is.
Thanks for your always stimulating and insightful blog. I tend to agree with you with some reservations. I am presently reading through the book of Revelation and observing the sins in the seven churches. Imperfect Christians are not new. Our major collective sin is believing that going to church is the same as doing church. We are obsessed with fighting evil to the neglect of meeting human need as Jesus told us to do. The other thing that troubles me is our constant feuding and fighting in the church. It must break the heart of the Prince of Peace to see how we treat one another in the body of Christ. I am chairman of the Personnel Committee in my church and I want to resign every day. There are some pockets of genuine Christianity but they are few and far between. That’s my take.