Cost of Discipleship

There is a consequence of being a Christian, a disciple of Christ who believes in Christ and follows His teaching.

One day, I overheard some young college kids on the T who were talking to each other, one guy hanging out with several girls. They were talking about how it would be cool to live in an apartment that was formerly a church, but the guy commented that he did not want to live in a church that has “a haunted spirit of child molesting.” Furthermore, he said that he would never become religious because of these child molesters.

This short exchange highlights a few inconvenient truths about being a Christian.

People judge Christians harshly.

The world tends to see non-Christians with the most favorable light, and Christians the least favorable light. The faults of non-Christians are forgiven. On the other hand, the faults of a Christian are inspected under a magnifying glass.

This is to be expected. Jesus urges his disciples to have salt in them, implying that salt has integrity.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”——Mark 9:49-50.

However, Jesus also warns,

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.——Matthew 5:13

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”——Luke 14:34-35

We need to understand that salt has a valuable quality here, which is lost in the modern sense of the word. Salt as a food preservative used to be an indispensable method for managing food supply, so that excess food produced during times of abundance can be preserved to meet food demand when there is shortage. Salt production also used to be labor intensive which makes it expensive. Nowadays, refrigeration has largely eradicated this use for salt. Salt production is largely industrialized, so salt is cheap and readily accessible ($1 per 26oz. bought at Walgreens).

To appreciate the value of salt at the time of the teaching, consider that the word salary is derived from the latin word for salt, paid to Roman solders who guarded the salt roads that transport salt from salt mines of rock salts to places that need salt, typically the northern climate where there is a shortage of sunlight and therefore more difficult to extract salt by evaporation. Salt was rare and therefore a valuable commodity, giving rise to the expressions “below the salt” (someone who cannot afford to buy salt) and “worth one’s salt” (someone who deserves his pay). When the sodium chloride content of rock salt is depleted, it becomes just coarse sand. However, the residual salt content is still high enough to make it difficult for plants to extract water from the sodium affected soil, making it unfit for agricultural use.

Something like child molestation is merely an example where salt loses its flavor, becomes good for nothing, and gets thrown out to be trampled. Evangelical Church has its share of drug abuse and homosexual prostitution. However, it is not useful to point finger at a certain church. Every church either has had a problem, or is going to have a problem at some point. Even if you successfully distance yourself from any churches that has had a blemish, as a Christian, people will find fault with you that has nothing to do with what you have done. For example, they will accuse you for being illiterate in science (there are many acclaimed Christian scientists), and obstructing scientific progress (many research institutions were established Christian). This is for the Catholic Church prosecuting martyrs to science, which actually happened for a political reason, not for a religious reason.

When it comes to non-Christian, the standard is more lenient. For example, the mainstream media holds an apologetic view of Islamic terrorism, emphasizing that they are committed by a minority of Muslim, the majority of which are peaceful; or that the terrorism is a response to American Imperialism. On the other hand, various hate groups that have nothing to do with the teaching of Christ are commonly regarded as Christian-affiliated, and are seen collectively as Christian terrorism. Unfortunately, their violent conducts are regarded as stereotypical Christian.

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. ——Matthew 24:3-5

How likely, then, can a Christian redeem his or his church’s alleged bad deeds with an actual good deed?

People overlook good deeds by Christians.

The good deeds of Christians are supposed to be overlooked. Jesus said,

1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. ——Matthew 6:1-4

Some people hate Christians for no reason.

Again, this is not a surprise. Jesus said to his disciples,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.——John 15:19

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. ——Matthew 24:9-11

What now?

It is really a miracle that someone would ever want to become a Christian, and then stay firm in their faith. I cannot blame the college kid who remarked that he would never want to become religious. I understand that young people nowadays want to be affiliated with a group they think is hip. This is how they boost their self-value. Christian institution failed many of the coolness criteria. Nowadays, there are many secular philanthropic, environmental, and civil rights organizations that visionary young people can choose to participate in order to be part of a good cause.

However, Christianity is not about reputation, and it has more to do with your personal relationship with Christ. Christianity is not really about good cause; these are side-effects as a result of following Christ's teaching. But what should the rest of the Christians do?

12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. ——Matthew 24:12-13