Followers or fans?

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

Ghandi said, ‘I like your Christ but I do not like Christians. They are so unlike their Christ.’

In Philip Yancey’s book The Soul Survivor he tells the story of Gandhi and Rev Andrews, a Presbyterian missionary, who were walking together in South Africa when the two suddenly found their way blocked by young thugs.

Rev Andrews took one look at the menacing gangsters and decided to run for it. But Gandhi said, ‘Didn’t your Jesus say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?’ Andrews mumbled that he thought the phrase was used metaphorically. ‘I’m not so sure,’ Gandhi replied. ‘I suspect he meant you must show courage – be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back. 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.’

Now nobody is saying that it’s easy for Christians to be like Christ but surely it would be better to try and admit defeat and then try again rather than interpret the meaning out of a clear injunction, such as the one Rev Andrews did.

Let me tell you about an un-Christian Christian to illustrate the difference between a follower and a fan. A group of leaders from a number of churches in Northern Ireland made a trip to the Ivory Coast, West Africa. They were visiting a rural community in support of the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators who have committed themselves to producing the Bible in every language on earth by the year 2025.

During their visit, deep in the jungle, a group of locals began to sing and dance to greet the white men who had come so far to encourage them in their faith – African people have a wonderful way of making you feel welcome, and the people in the Ivory Coast were no different.

There, it was a group of ladies who offered the traditional welcome, but this community was so rural that the ladies didn’t cover all of their bodies – the term ‘topless’ gives the wrong impression in our culture, but you can imagine the scene and it was a rare sight as they freely danced around on the red earth singing their beautiful songs.

Now, to promote the work of Wycliffe, a DVD recording was made of the highlights of the trip, including the aforementioned traditional welcome. It was shown far and wide in good old Ireland and beyond, to groups with broad minds and some with narrow minds, until one day it got really narrow, and one of the church leaders was taken to the side after the showing. ‘I noticed something about those African women,’ said an observant, deep thinking gentleman. ‘Those women were worshipping God, but they weren’t wearing hats.’

That might sound funny, but it’s profoundly sad. Here was a group of happy, grateful African ladies, selflessly honouring foreign visitors, and if that deep thinking gentleman who wasn’t very deep thinking at all had been there, they most likely would have had a severe telling off by one who claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but who was in reality so unlike his Master as to be unrecognisable.

This man’s world is shaped by requirements and rules whereas the one whose teachings he might claim to promote was guided by only one rule; ‘I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you.’

And remember, when he said, ‘A new commandment...’ he wasn’t giving us another one, it was a replacement for the others that had failed.