Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Watched Closely

There’s an age-old question that goes like this: “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I thought of this recently while reading a short news item in the Houston Chronicle (“Honduran ex-gangsters live with misery, danger;” Alexandre Meneghini, AP, 5/14/06).

It seems that the previous president of Honduras, Ricardo Maduro, facing a monumental street-gang problem, instituted a “no-tolerance” campaign in which police arrested anyone who appeared even likely to be part of a gang – whether they had committed a crime or not (this resulted in overcrowding and violence in Honduras’ prisons, so that the next president, Manuel Zelaya, rescinded the policy and has employed more conciliatory means). Gangs are serious business in Honduras. One man profiled in the article fled his gang when he was ordered to kill his wife. The gang eventually killed her themselves.

But here is what caught my interest and why I share this with you. According to the article, “Honduras’ gangs recognize only lifetime membership; trying to drop out is considered a death sentence. The only exception is if a gang member proves he has become a churchgoing Christian. The former gang will keep watch to ensure that the dropout is not drinking, using drugs or hanging out on the streets and that he is always carrying a Bible.”

Now this is fascinating, isn’t it? Obviously, if being a Christian is the only way to get out of a gang, it would be tempting for departing gangsters to claim dramatic conversions and feign Christian faith. So the gangs adhere to an informal list of criteria: “church-going,” “clean-living” and “Bible-toting.” In other words, you better walk the talk.

Now don’t expect me to suggest that American Christians formulate a list of “evidences” that determine the legitimacy of peoples’ faith. That always leads to Spirit-deadening legalism. But let’s face it, our lifestyles “testify” in some way to our faith convictions: they either perjure our faith, offer tepid confirmation of our faith, or declare resounding evidence of our faith. Which is the case for you?

For us it’s not a life or death issue. And I wouldn’t want to suggest that we should conduct our lives as if we are being “graded.” But there is something very refreshing to me about the contrast of the past and present lives of these former gang members who are now Christ-followers. The New Testament is full of the language of “once you were, but now you are.” The apostle Paul says “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22).

This is a life-long journey but the point is clear: Christ-followers are called to a different kind of life.

So, what kind of testimony are you living?


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