As Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” See, that’s a problem. And it’s not that I expect Christians to be perfect. Far from it. But if we’re ever going to be justified in claiming Jesus as the model for our lives, it might help first if there was more of a resemblance.
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most respected leaders of modern history. A Hindu, Gandhi nevertheless admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, "Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?" Gandhi replied, "Oh, I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Apparently Gandhi's rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practising law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. And so he decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. "Where do you think you're going, kaffir?" the man asked Gandhi in a belligerent tone of voice. Gandhi replied, "I'd like to attend worship here." The church elder snarled at him, "There's no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I'll have my assistants throw you down the steps." From that moment, Gandhi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church. How we treat those others tells the people MORE about what we believe, and what following Jesus means to us than all tracts we pass out, or all the fine sermons we deliver.
At one time Gandhi said: “We must become the change we want to see.” That was brilliantly put! What Gandhi was saying is that we may not ask people to change when we have not ourselves set the example to lead the way of change. Why then didn’t he use the same principle and attitude to become a Christian? Although Hindu, he had a very close connection with Christianity and admired Jesus very much, often quoting from His favourite ‘Sermon on the Mount’ chapter in Mathew 5–7. It was realistic to expect him to be a follower of Christ on that basis, but he was not. When asked why he was not a Christian, he responded: “I will become a Christian when I meet one.”
Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the best example of someone who was discerning enough to reject Christianity not Christ. He was deeply hurt by his experiences with apartheid and “Christians” during his time in South Africa, and it obviously stymied his relationship with Christ. Like Gandhi millions have been unable to see the Christ obscured by Christianity.
A missionary, met with Gandhi and asked him, “Mr Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.” He added: “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”
What did Gandhi imply here? Gandhi was saying in other words that he knew what Christ stood for but he was missing it in His followers. The question then is: Why didn’t Gandhi become the change he wanted to see in Christianity?
How could he possibly fail to understand that if he was to become a Christian, he wasn’t doing so ‘for Christians’ but for Christ whom he confessed to admire? He was not becoming the follower of Christians; he was becoming the follower of Christ.
Phillip Yancey helped me see this in his book The Soul Survivor.
Listen to a story he retells in that book:
Gandhi and Reverend Andrews, a Presbyterian missionary, were walking together in South Africa. “The two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. Reverend Andrews takes one look at the menacing gangsters and decides to run for it. Gandhi stops him. ‘Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?’ Andrews mumbles that he thought the phrase was used metaphorically. ‘I’m not so sure,’ Gandhi replies. ‘I suspect he meant you must show courage – be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it work.’”
This active nonviolence that Gandhi preached and practiced brought freedom to the millions of Indians previously called Untouchables. He began by giving them a new name. Rather than Untouchables, he called them Harijans, or Children of God. He called them brothers and stayed in their homes as much as possible. This was radical because others would not be seen with them and would not dare touch them much less talk to them and fellowship with them. One hundred million people in India now call themselves by a blessing rather than a curse because of the courage of this man. He believed in the dignity of each person, women, lepers, lower caste members, children. The Scriptures make clear that the poor and needy are close to the heart of God, and they were close to Gandhi’s heart as well. Whatever you think about his religious beliefs, and no matter how much you or I may disagree with his beloved religion of Hinduism, he shows us a beautiful picture in a human life lived in humility, peace, and courageous love.
Okay, so why am I writing about Gandhi and asking us to contemplate what he said about “our Christ and our Christians?”
Because I am grieved that we are not showing forth the heart of Christ. I am grieved that someone like Gandhi could like Christ but not see his likeness in those called by his name. I am grieved that when Jesus walked this earth, sinners flocked to him as a safe place, and while they still do so today, often the church is not that place at all. I am grieved that this quote from Gandhi too often reflects the true sentiments of multitudes of people today.
I know there are no perfect churches. But I am talking about humbling ourselves before him and asking him to search our hearts, and to show us ourselves and the real Jesus with spiritual eyes. I am also talking about asking him to make us attractive to “sinners”, for us to be people who “join the rest of the human race.” To become one follower of Christ that gives someone somewhere a taste of the heart of God.
Rather than try harder to be like Christ, we need the real Christ to show himself in our lives, and that begins with brokenness. Letting others see the real us. Letting him shine through the broken places. Stopping the show of perfection, because it repells those outside the church. (and a lot of those within the church as well!) Where did we get the idea that we have to “set a good example” anyway? That usually ends in superficiality at best and hypocrisy at worst. Let us admit that we fall short, that yes, the church has failed, that we often don’t show his love. This type of honesty may be just what it takes to begin to draw others to the perfection of Christ, through our admission of our own imperfection.
The Bottom Line is:
LOOKING FOR LASTING JOY
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy” – Romans 15:13
How often have you found what you were looking for in life, only to realize it didn't bring you the satisfaction you thought it would?
It is life’s ultimate frustration---thinking we will find fulfillment in the things of this world. But they can never bring lasting happiness. As one bumper sticker I saw expressed it, “All I want is a little more than I have now”.
We look for love, security, and happiness through our jobs, our possessions, our relationships---but if they really brought lasting joy, wouldn't we have testimonies to that effect from millions of people all over the world? Instead, we find emptiness, discontent, and hopelessness.
Try putting Christ first and watch how your life is turned around. You will discover that He alone is the source of the love, peace, and joy you have been searching for.
- Billy Graham