Thursday, October 30, 2014

Category is my name

We live in a world full of labels and categorization. This post actually has a label to sort things in order. It is for me (and you, the reader) to easily view all posts under the same label having related topics. Most of the time, as Christians, we view others with a label, and in this post we will see the dangers of categorizing people.

This is part of the "C" Series where I tackle some problems I observe with the church and individual Christians. This is NOT to discredit the Christian Faith, but to renew it. To learn from our mistakes and move forward.

The problem with Categorization

When we categorize people, we can either see them with respect or contempt, with favoritism or dislike. James talks about Christians who takes favoritism in the church.

1. My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? 
2. For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 
3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 
4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? 
6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? 
7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?
8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. 
10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. 
11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law. 
12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
- James 2:1-12 
The main message of this passage is not to choose the poor over the rich, but for Christians not to take favorites. If a person is in need of grace and mercy, give grace and mercy. Categorizing people is dangerous. It tends to make us think less of others. Belittling them, and often times, pride goes in - "I am better than them" or "you are not worthy of this."

Categorizing people distorts evangelizing

The thing with categorization, it not only distorts our mind into making us prideful, it also destroys our witness and hinders us in evangelizing. We view people based on our categorization of them, and will either go away from them or introduce the gospel to them. "Oh, they seem to be good people" and then go near them. "Oh, they look dangerous" and go away from them.

When a "sinner" (an ex-convict for example, or an unruly and barbaric kid next-door) enters and joins our church, we categorize them as unrighteous people not worthy of God's grace. We may go away from them "to protect" ourselves, shun them for the sin they committed despite their repentant heart and attitude. You know what, Moses was a murderer and God still used him.

If we have a mentality that says "He might not be saved [ever] because his lifestyle now is so sinful, so disgusting, so wrong in so many levels," then, my friend, you [might] be wrong. You are limiting God's grace, mercy and forgiveness. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a thief but Jesus forgave him. Paul was the chief of sinners, persecutor of Christians, but that did not stop God from forgiving and using him.

Instead of showing love, care, grace, mercy and forgiveness to non-Christians, we pick who to love, who to serve and who to ignore.

Categorizing people brings expectations

We can label other Christians (and even fellow church members) into people we think (and know) they are. But then, we either expect them to be somebody they are not, or expect too much from them. A song leader? He must have an awesome voice, powerful leadership and when he fails, all eyes are on him. Those youth group in your church? They must be obedient, always respectful and always active. Those old people and adults in your church? They must be attentive, or good people and mature Christians. Those inactive and not-so mature Christians? They must be worldly, and love themselves too much to depend on God, and they must not have understood the gospel well. Oh! And, those PK's? They must be perfect and holy.

Life lesson on expectations ]

We could say "They are not Christian" based on our church environment, and most dangerously, based on ourselves instead of basing it on his Christ-likeness (identity in Christ) and his relationship with God. We expect the church, or our students to believe while ignoring that they are merely agreeing with what you said. And then call them as not a Christian because they did not believe you, yet ignoring their situation, their doubts or their struggles. 

Do you believe? ]

Categorizing boosts our ego over Christ's identity

I think it would be safe to say that all Christians believe that Salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. But when we hold on too much on our denomination's identity, our ego now tells us "Oh, they are not Christians, because of this.. that, and they don't do this and that." 
It is good to have doctrine, be part of a church, denomination but building our identity to our denomination and not on Christ is dangerous. We will judge others as not Christians, even saying about a person "I don't think he is saved," without actually taking the time to know them and their identity in Christ. 

I remember this one unruly kid in elementary school. He's wild, naughty and loves to fight. So anyway, he was kicked out of school ( a Christian school) and I never saw him again. This year (or last year) I added him on facebook and I saw that he attends a Christian fellowship. Now, I told my sister about it and added "but he [only] attends a Christian fellowship" insinuating that he might not be really saved because of the church he attends. My sister replied with "You should not limit God's grace." And, she's right. 

When we categorize Christians based on denomination, sometimes the thought comes into mind "We are better than them." "We are holier than them." "We obey the bible more than them."

Enough said, no to categorization! I am forming a rally, anybody care to join? I will march and create signs that says NO TO CATEGORIZATION. And I will categorize everyone who disagrees with me as non-Christians, or proud Christians. But of course, I will not do this :)

Everybody needs grace, mercy and forgiveness and through this we can have genuine love for each one. We can be a light to everyone when we don't pick favorites by categorizing people. We can't show Christ's love that way. But when we do show grace, mercy and forgiveness without categorization, people will see Christ in us, and believe in Him.

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