Earlier this year I reread Christ on the Indian Road by E Stanley Jones. This was an intentional choice as I was had been trying to determine my stance on universalism. I recalled him having some declare his later stances to be heretical for universalistic leanings. In this book there are hints at universalism but I digress. What I had forgotten from my initial reading about six years ago (which probably was more skimming for class than reading for comprehension) was his relationship with Gandhi. For me it was unclear if at the point of that book's writing if he and Gandhi considered themselves friends or simply acquaintances. However, they certainly were very open and honest in their conversations. One instance is a sort of expounding on Gandhi's now famous quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These words have been unfortunately echoed by many non-Christians. Even more unfortunately, though, is many of them are right.
As Gandhi and Jones spoke, Gandhi gave four suggestions on how those in the church could better reach those outside the church. This in itself is amazing. An avowed non-Christian advising a Christian missionary how to make non-Christians into Christians. Some may write it off as foolish, but I believe it is near prophetic. To start, “I would suggest, first, that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ.” Countless books (by Christians and non-Christians) have written about Jesus and how to live like Him. Some of my favorites include Red Letter Revolution, The Vision and the Vow, and, of course, the Bible. Throw all that literature in with us having the Spirit as our paraclete (helper) and the community of believers and we should have no excuse to not be like Jesus. However, we humans constantly fail. That is to be expected. But we should be more consistently like Jesus than unlike Him.
This being like Jesus is related to Gandhi's next contention: “Second, I would suggest that you must practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down.” The entire premise of Red Letter Revolution is about this concept, to take Jesus at his word. Now this is not an easy path, but it is the right path. The best part is there are a whole lot less rules than you may have grown up being taught. He summarizes with the commands to love God and love neighbor. Too often we are found to ask to what extent the love goes. Thankfully our gracious King relieves us of our questioning as He gives us the good Samaritan, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and other illustrations.
Again, these commands of Jesus are tied to Gandhi's following point: “Third, I would suggest that you must put your emphasis upon love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity.” While it is true that love can be convoluted and twisted between the lustful eros, the friendly phileo, and the unconditional agape (and I think one other), the verse of “God is love” clearly is the unconditional love of agape. We have the Scriptures to inform us of the love God showed to us His creation, which we in turn show to each other. Then non-believers will know us by our love.
As for non-believers, a way to show love to them is elucidated in Gandhi's final comment: “Fourth, I would suggest that you study the non-Christian religions and cultures more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.” While non-missionaries experience other cultures on a much less frequent basis than missionaries, the possibility of such interactions is exponentially increasing through globalization. What better way to gain someone's trust than by knowing even a little about their religion or culture? The very fact that you know anything can be a door opener, as I can attest through speaking to many international students. While my autism and sense of recall for obscure information may serve me well in such situations, many in international ministry teams can echo this. As the axiom goes, “they won't care what you know until they know that you care.”
These four suggestions from the famed activist are truths we can stands by. We want non-followers to follow Christ because He is the quintessential human. He offers peace despite our warring. He offers rest despite our rushing. He offers love despite our malice. By following Him truly, we can see the vision of heaven on earth realized.