Who Represents Christ?

There is something to be said for saying plainly and clearly that the good we do as disciples of Jesus we do in Christ’s name. That is, we intentionally and lovingly represent Christ and trust in the compassion and power of Christ. But what about the good non-Christians or people of other faith do?

One need not be a Christian to do a good work for others or serve others compassionately and gracefully. One way to understand a good deed, work, or service rendered in the name of Christ is to recognize such work as work that Christ would want done. In other words, a work or service done in the name of Christ is one that is in harmony with what Christ stands for. One could do such a work without any reference to Christ at all.

When I was pastor at First Baptist Church, Greenup, Kentucky, I was active in the ministers association. On one occasion, we were talking about doing some charity work in the community. Someone said that he thought there were other organizations already doing some of the work we had mentioned and maybe we should contact them, find out what they are doing, and then talk about how we could assist them. 

Another minister spoke up, “We need to remember that other organizations and groups do some good things, but the work we do we do in the name of Christ, and so we need to keep ourselves separate from those organizations.”

I can’t remember how that turned out, but the conversation raises a significant question: Does one have to be a Christian, or does one have to mention Christ or be conscious of Christ to do a good work in his name? I believe a person can represent Christ anonymously. That is, one can do a good work in the name of Christ and not be conscious of it.

In the apocalyptic judgment text of Matthew 25, those who were welcomed into the kingdom did not even know Christ. But they were told that when they served God’s little ones (“the least of these”) they were serving Christ (25:37–40).

Some of us need a wider lens through which to see the world. We need a larger view of reality. Jesus’ vision of God’s shalom, of a world healed and made whole, gives us a window through which to see God at work on a much larger scale than most Christians perceive.

I think of Gandhi, who was not a Christian and did not claim to be a follower of Christ, and yet he embodied the way of Jesus better than the rest of us who are Christians. Gandhi was deeply respectful and appreciative of the life of Jesus and his nonviolent lifestyle. He built on that teaching when he proposed a strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience as a peaceful strategy for social change. He laid the foundation for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights marchers in their struggle for civil rights.

When I was pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Waldorf, Maryland I had a conversation about Gandhi with a young man whose mother was a member. He was probably around 20 years old and had been indoctrinated into the faith by a former deacon of the church, who had left our congregation because he thought I and the church were too liberal. This young man was in the worship service that morning and I had referenced Gandhi as an example for Christians in my sermon. He did not think it was appropriate because he believed Gandhi “was not saved” (his language, not mine). I had called Gandhi a child of God in my sermon and he considered that to be a false claim. In our conversation around lunch, I conceded, of course, that Gandhi was not a Christian, but I did not concede that Gandhi was not saved. I argued that Gandhi knew God far better than he or I knew God. I didn’t convince him, but I have no doubt that what I argued is true.

Gandhi said, “I believe in God, not as a theory but as a fact more real than life itself.” I have no doubt that he embodied the truth and compassion of God in a powerful and beautiful way— the very truth and compassion that we Christians have come to know through our experience and knowledge of Christ. Gandhi claimed, “If we have listening ears, God speaks to us in our own language, whatever that language be.”

We need to be very careful what we say about and how we treat those who are doing good work but may not believe what we believe or, for that matter, claim any Christian connection. Let’s join them and work for the healing, reconciliation, and peace of the world and stop squabbling about beliefs.


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