Radical Christians

“I wish you were either hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I will spit you out of my mouth… Behold I stand at the door and knock, the one who hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them.” (Revelations 3:15-16)

Today’s heretical Christianity is a comfortable, easy Christianity. Go to church, follow some commandments, wear a cross and have a few icons, maybe even go to Project Mexico once or twice, but DON”T ALLOW CHRIST TO CHANGE OUR LIVES. Too many follow the wide and easy path, which leads to destruction, and ignore the narrow and difficult path which Christ tells us leads into the kingdom of heaven.

Radical Christianity is not easy, but it is the Christianity of the saints. Not a radical Christianity that is fanatic, or hate-based. Radical Christianity that is based on the radical love of Jesus Christ – to love not only our neighbor but even our enemy. To forgive not only that easy to forgive, but to forgive 70 x 7 those who are difficult to forgive. To show mercy and compassion and kindness and goodness to those for whom it is difficult to show mercy, compassion, and love. I challenge each one of us to reflect on whether we are trying to live such a radical Christianity!

The saints are men and women struggling to live such radical Christianity, and even willing to die for their faith, willing to suffer and endure persecution, and never denying their faith even when it is difficult.

Let me share you some stories of a few people I’ve met who are radical Christians.

NICO SMITH, a white South African I met was a Dutch reformed pastor and theologian who defended the system of apartheid for 20 years while he preached in an all-white Church and taught at a prestigious University.

One day in the 1960s, the famous theologian Karl Barth, asked Nico a challenging question. “Are you free?” When Nico confidently responded that they have religious freedom in South Africa, Barth interrupted, “No no no. I mean are you free – free to live and preach the Gospel, even if your family and friends, and society itself, stand against you? Are you truly free?”

Like a young self-assured man, Nico thought that he was free. But as the years passed, this question kept haunting him. “Am I free to honestly live and preach the Gospel?”

By 1974, Nico finally came to the realization that he wasn’t free. He started to see that the Bible didn’t teach apartheid, and thus, he could no longer accept this unjust system. Uncertain about his future, yet sure about his newfound beliefs, he began to take a confrontational stance against apartheid, preaching a message of reconciliation for whites and blacks.

His parishioners, students, the university administrators, and even his family and friends began seeing his message as a threat to their way of life, and a danger to the overall establishment. By 1981, he was forced to resign from the University, and asked to leave his Church.

Nico told me, I realized that a true Christian cannot stay distant or indifferent to the sufferings of others. Authentic Christianity is not for those who want a comfortable, easy life. True faith costs much! If we follow Christ’s call to bring good news to the poor, the afflicted, the oppressed, and the sufferer, then we must be willing to sacrifice and suffer with them!”

This new understanding of faith led Nico and his wife to become the first white people to move into a Black Township, and begin pastoring an all black Church.

When he did this, his extended family thought that he had gone mad, and his former Church condemned him as a traitor. The government attacked him as a communist, and the secret police tapped his phone, keeping constant surveillance on him, harassing and threatening him and his family.

“For the first time in my life,” he said, “I tasted what it was like to be black. I realized then that we can never truly understand the oppressed until we actually live among them, and try to become one with them. In the end, isn’t this what Jesus Christ did, when he became incarnate as a human being.”

St. Paul tells us to “have the mind of Christ Jesus, who being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8)

Nico came to the point of sacrificing much, in order to reconcile himself with Christ, and in order to try and reconcile enemies with one another.

I met Nico some years ago at a conference which gathered 1700 participants from 125 countries to discuss various ways we can proclaim God’s message throughout the world. My particular group was full of radical Christians who were striving to be peacemakers.

CELESTIN MUSEKURA is a Hutu from Rwanda. His wife is a Tutsi, Remember 20 years ago the genocide in Rwanda where the Hutus killed 800,000 Tutsis within three months, and left three million people as refugees.

Although Rwanda was a country that boasted of a great Christian revival, much of the killing was Christians killing Christians. “The blood of tribalism,” they say now, “ran deeper than the waters of baptism.” From such unbelievable tragedy, many people cried out, “Where is God? Can we believe in a just God? How can we ever forgive? How can we ever be forgiven?”

Celestin told his story about trying to preach the Christian message of repentance and forgiveness several years after the genocide. He brought the Hutu and Tutsi pastors together to discuss how the Church could be an agent of reconciliation for the country. Yet, his own Hutu people accused him of siding with the Tutsis, while the Tutsis distrusted him since he was a Hutu. When he returned to Rwanda, he was arrested by the police and beaten for three hours by the Tutsis.

Later that year, seven members of his family were murdered, along with 70 members of his church. He agonized with God, “Where are you? How did this happen? Why did this happen when I’m trying to do your work, trying to preach a gospel of reconciliation?”

Seven months later, however, he met family members of those who killed his family. It was extremely hard, yet he knew that he had to forgive them if he was going to continue preaching about reconciliation. And God gave him the strength and healing to do exactly that!

And then there was GRACE MORILLO, a young woman from Colombia, who was held captive for 68 days by the guerillas of her country. Yet, she showed no hatred or anger toward those who kidnapped her. In fact, she told moving stories about how the prisoners would pray together every day, and sometimes their kidnappers would even join them, holding hands and praying the Lord’s Prayer. She began to see these fearsome guerillas as human beings. She started to think about how the injustices of her country often pushed the peasants to extreme actions.

After her release, she realized that as a Christian she could no longer stay indifferent to the injustices around her, and remain at a comfortable distance from the sufferings of others. She needed to become an agent of reconciliation in her own country!

The challenge for all Christians is to be aware of those suffering, and to pray for those in need who are in our own country, as well as all parts of the world. Christians are called to leave our comfortable domains and enter into the suffering of others. And we can begin doing this by looking around our own areas and asking how we can be instruments of reconciliation.

How about ARCHBISHOP ANASTASIOS OF ALBANIA, who at the age of 61 years old accepted to go to the poorest country in the world, to the only country in world history that forbade all religion for 23 years, a country that had a history of antagonism with Greeks, and yet he willingly went there to serve and resurrect an ancient church. At the age of 61! And continues there at the age of 88!

What is so hard about being a Radical Christian? And what are ways we can be Radical Christians?

-          How do we live out our Christianity in Secular America?

-          With those who are despised?

-          With those who believe differently politically than we do?

-          With those who seem to reject religion?

-          With those struggling with addictions?

-          With those marginalized by society?

Many people are suffering and are in need. God has made very clear that we, you and I, are His hands, his feet, his love.  Radical Christianity is reaching out, with love, to those in need!

Alexander Papaderos, a lay Orthodox theologian, a peace advocate, and faithful Christian has spent his life promoting forgiveness, reconciliation and the illumination of darkness in human life. He was once asked “What is the meaning of life?” to which Papaderos took out a small mirror from his wallet and shared a story from his childhood. He grew up in a poor, remote village of Crete during World War II. At that time, he found pieces of a broken mirror from a German motorcycle.

“At first, I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible,” he shared. “So I kept only the largest piece. And this one I still keep in my wallet. I began to play with it as a boy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world… This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

Radical Christianity is shining the light of Jesus Christ into the dark places of the world, no matter how difficult or dangerous!

Radical Christianity is seeing the beauty in all people, seeing God’s image in all people, and reaching out to them with love and kindness and goodness.

Meeting people wherever they are on their journey of faith, even with whatever doubts they may struggle with. Fanning whatever sparks of faith we may find, no matter how small it seems. And shining divine light in dark places, no matter how great the darkness. This is what makes life’s journey of faith so exciting, and this is what makes each one of us important instruments in God’s hands. Journeying towards God, and helping and encouraging others on that journey as well.

Radical Christianity means trying to live like Jesus Christ. Trying to see the world like Jesus Christ did. Seeing the beauty in others, and calling out that beauty in all that is broken and seemingly lost.

“I wish you were either hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I will spit you out of my mouth… Behold I stand at the door and knock, the one who hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them.” (Revelations 3:15-16)

Francis of Assisi so beautifully gave a path of “radical Christianity” in his famous prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy. Where there is injury, let me bring pardon. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is darkness, let me bring light.”

Lord, help us to become radical Christians!

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