Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Radical Christianity

In a talk show exchange, Rosie O’Donnell stated that “Radical Christianity is just as dangerous as radical Islam.” Unfortunately Rosie, along with many Christians in America, does not have a clear conception of what is a radical Christian. Webster’s dictionary defines radical in a couple of different ways. One is someone who departs from the usual or traditional way of doing things. A second definition relates to the root of origin. This definition has more to do with something’s inherent nature. Radical Christianity looks to its origins. It acknowledges one’s accepting the lordship of Jesus Christ in his or her life and following Him in obedience.

We might ask what characterizes a radical Christian. The New Testament gives us many examples. Radical Christianity demonstrates love, even to its enemies. Radical Christians love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. They pray for those who persecute them. They esteem others better than themselves. They seek to serve others. They care for the downtrodden, the poor and the suffering. They do not seek to glorify themselves, but to exhibit true humility. They willingly give to others. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of others. They avoid “looking out for number one”. They practice “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is what radical Christianity looks like.

As we look down through the centuries, we see several examples of individuals who have clearly demonstrated radical Christianity. The twentieth century person who most exemplified radical Christianity was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. There was no person whom she did not love. There was no one she would not help. She accepted everyone. She believed that every person, no matter their station in life, their status, or their health, was created in the image of God. In loving them she gave them dignity.

During the 1870s and 80s, Father Damien, known as the leper priest, worked with the isolated leper colony in Hawaii. He was introduced to the 600 lepers in the colony as one “who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you." He willingly tended the lepers, full well knowing that he was endangering his own life. He served as both priest and doctor, caring for the sick and dressing their wounds. Sixteen years later he died from leprosy. He also lived radical Christianity.

Another example can be seen during the time when the Bubonic plague decimated Europe. Many people fled their homes when they discovered that one of their family members had contacted the plague. Their sick family members were left behind to die. But many Christians stayed behind, caring for all the sick and dying, whether they were family or not.. They were willing to risk exposure to the plague in order to serve those who were ill and couldn’t care for themselves. These Christians also exhibited radical Christianity.

It is difficult to see how this picture of radical Christianity is dangerous. Yet in one aspect Rosie is right. It is dangerous – It is dangerous to us! If we begin to experience radical Christianity at this level we will be changed. We can not remain the same. We will be forced to get out of our comfort zone. We each must ask the questions “How radical am I?” “Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone to help and serve others?” As I look at my own life, I find myself not particularly radical. I am far too comfortable with things the way they are. How about you?

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