Why Church? – Why Would Anyone Be a Christian?

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

June 18, 2023



John 3:16-17; I John 4:7-21

Why would anyone want to be a Christian these days?

  • Is not Christianity responsible for many of the armed conflicts throughout history?
  • Is not the Church rife with sexual scandals and financial misappropriations by its leaders,
  • Is the Church not responsible for the abuse of countless children?
  • Is not the Church marred by divisions and internal wranglings, with the tendency to split along partisan lines?
  • On this day before the Juneteenth federal holiday, is not Sunday morning at 11am still the most segregated hour of the week?

Why would anyone want to be a Christian these days?
Does the Church not expect an unreasonably high level of commitment from its members, not only in terms of time and finances, but also in terms of how one is expected to live throughout the week?

Does the Church not have a history of judgmentalism and better-than-thou attitudes?
Is the Church not known for seeking to legislate for everyone else what it has decided for its members, whether regarding socially acceptable mores, like who you can love and marry, and what a woman can or cannot do with her body?

Friends, we are hearing these challenging questions from our community. We hear them from the younger generations who were not raised in church and have no familiarity with what happens in this building. We hear them from those who have been hurt by the church, who left church long ago, bruised and battered and vowing never to come back. We hear them from the secularists who feel like their “do no harm” approach to life is more ethical than what the church has often done, which seems to them as “do unto others what you have decided for them is best”.

Yes, as Churchgoers, we recognize the Church’s failures – the scandals, the abuses, the majoring in the minors. We recognize that the Church has sometimes seemed more concerned about the color of the carpet than the condition of the poor.

We acknowledge that the Church’s history in America is deeply intertwined with our nation’s history of racism and the support of slavery. We are aware that the Church has often shamed people instead of supporting people when they were going through the trials of divorce or the birth of a child out of wedlock. Hard line judgmentalism and better-than-thou mentalities have long been a part of many Christian congregations.

I was visiting with folks on the Terrace Garden last week, letting a young man and an older woman sitting nearby know that they would not be able to sleep here, to live here, that we had decided a few years back that the church property needed to close at 9pm, because of all the problems we were having on the campus. The young man replied: How can you reconcile that with the teachings of Jesus?

I am not sure I can, I answered. The older woman said: This is not right. This is a church.
People in need should be welcomed here. I replied, I know. This is a church. And we are trying to help.
I told them about Threshold Ministry and about some of the illegal activity on our church property over the several past years. But they stuck to their guns. This is a Christian Church, a Church of Jesus.
How can you not care for the homeless poor?

There are no easy answers. The Church is a limited human institution, no doubt. One of the articles I read about the subject, Why Church?, stated that many, or even most, of the Nones, those who claim no religious affiliation, do not have much of a problem with Jesus.
They admire Jesus and his teachings; it is the Church that they struggle with.

Even when Church members are reaching out in love, they can seem to be reaching out in judgment.

John 3:16 is a good example.
Many Christians have called John 3:16 the “gospel in a nutshell.”
But some non-Christians have called it judgmental, or even militaristic.
At least, that is how they have experienced its use within the broader society.

John 3:16 declares:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Those who have heard this on street corners or seen it on signs in stadiums have not always heard this as good news. Rather, some claim that they hear:

Believe like me or perish. Receive salvation on my terms or go to hell.
Many non-Christians have received this verse not as loving, but as judging.
It seems that both Christians and non-Christians have tended to forget the next verse, verse 17: ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus came not to condemn, but to love, to save, to reconcile, to break down barriers, to bring together, not split apart, to heal, not to kill. And Jesus’ followers are called to do the same.

Hear the Word of God from I John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Why would anyone want to be a Christian these days?
Because, at its heart, the Church is a community of love.
The Church, at its best, is where we learn to love our neighbor and we learn to receive love.

Matthew Bates is an associate professor of theology at Quincy University in Illinois, a private Catholic liberal arts university. I teach undergraduates,” writes Bates. Although the picture is partial, the future face of the world—and Christianity within it— stares at me when I stand at my lectern (in the classroom).
I see emerging trends amid my students that frighten me— eyes fixed on screens, apathy, lack of concern for God’s moral standards, and dwindling church attendance. But one thing scares me above all else:
When they first enter my classroom, most of my students seem to believe that even if Christianity happens to be fully true, it doesn’t really matter.”

Let me repeat that, in Bates’ experience, many college students seem to believe that, even if Christianity is true, the Church does not really matter; it is irrelevant to their lives. What is concerning is that apathy is worse than hate, for hate is not far from love. The opposite of love is not hate, but apathy.

While the younger generations may seem apathetic towards the Church, they do not seem apathetic regarding the world. “I also see heartening trends,” claims Bates. “In comparison with a decade prior, my current students show a deep concern for the social well-being of others. They are more welcoming to outcasts, loners, and misfits. That sounds a lot like…Jesus, right?”

They also yearn to connect with others authentically, even as they struggle to learn how to do that through a thousand intervening screens. They are primed…to connect with fellow Christians who want to help them grow in loyalty.”

Noral Pahram with the Indianapolis Recorder, writes that “One explanation for the shift
(of younger generations away from church) may be an increasing displeasure with conventional religious organizations… Constant scandals and mistrust in church politics have steered many away from the pews for quite some time…

Many millennials feel that these institutions are out of touch with their values and beliefs and are more interested in maintaining the status quo as opposed to helping young people connect with their spirituality. 
(Noral Pahram,

None of these opinions are new, of course, though they seem to be more widespread. 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote: “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity… the one immortal blemish on the human race.”

Harsh words. But Neitzsche also wrote: “The word ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding – in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross…. What is wrong with Christianity,” he wrote, “is that it refrains from doing all those things that Christ commanded should be done.”
In short, what Neitzsche claimed is that the world needs Christians to be more Christ-like.

Rev. Cameron Trimble’s grandfather was Rev. Dr. James McCormick, a long term United Methodist Church pastor. (
“He and I would spend hours together in his living room,” she wrote, “talking about the great questions of life…Over time, of his many wise observations, two came up over and over again. First, he would say, “If it looks, acts, talks, and walks like Jesus, then it’s of God.” For him, Jesus was the clearest example we have of God-incarnate. 

That said, he didn’t mean this in an exclusive way. He would also say that throughout history, we have seen people who so beautifully embody the spirit of Love that we sense in our own selves the presence of God within them. Being in their presence inspires us to embody those same qualities – loving kindness, deep compassion, and true empathy.

The second lesson that my grandfather would repeat was this: “The quality of your life depends upon the quality of your relationships.” When we fill our lives with kind, generous, loving people, 
then we develop kindness, generosity and love within ourselves. If we surround ourselves with angry, manipulative, untrustworthy people, then we also risk taking on those characteristics.

Trimble writes that “Properly understood, congregations at their best are “schools of love,” places where we can be with others who make us more compassionate, generous, peace-filled and kind.
They are also places where we practice fairness, justice, and being beloved community.
Over time, if we are deepening in Spirit, we begin to look, act, walk, and talk more like Jesus.”

I am aware that, in this country, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.
Many of them were loving, faithful, honest, genuine Christian people. They were not perfect; neither are we. But many of them held to their ideals. They read their Bible; they practiced their religion.
They were faithful and committed and honest and true, not just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week. They took good care of their families. They welcomed the stranger. They gave generously of the resources entrusted to them. They sacrificially gave their time for their church and community. How many generations will come and go until we lose these values? Are we already beginning to lose these core values in our broader culture?

Young people say that “common sense” is how they determine right and wrong, instead of the Bible or anyone’s religion. But where do they think that they received that common sense?

Who do you think taught them “common sense”, what is accepted as good and right and true? Their parents taught them, who were taught by their grandparents, and earlier generations, who very likely learned right and wrong, good and bad, from the Bible and from the Church. Were there some of those lessons that need to be unlearned? Yes, not all they learned was of God, but much of it was,
and how many generations will come and go before we lose our faith, before we lose the ideals of loving your neighbor as yourself and doing others what you would have them do unto you?

Why would anyone want to be a Christian?

Because living as Christians, seeking to be more Christ-like, can make us all more loving human beings.
Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, loving as Jesus loved us, can make humanity more likely to survive this challenge of life on earth. Loving our brothers and sisters with the unconditional, self-giving, and forgiving love of Jesus could ultimately lead to peace on earth, and peace within our homes and communities.

Why Christian?
Because Christian worship inspires us and reorients our being.
Because Christian fellowship comforts and supports and encourages us.
Because Christian service nurtures our compassion for others and makes a significant difference in the needs of this world.

Why Church? Why be a Christian?

Because this world needs divine instruction, instruction like: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Take care of the widow and the orphan. Love your enemy, not only love your neighbor who is like you, but also love your enemy. Turn the other cheek, because there are better ways to solve disputes than violence, than an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Feed the hungry. Help the afflicted. Support the weak. These are not necessarily common sense. These are Christian values.
And what will become of our world if these become lost in the fog of contemporary mores?

Why Christian?

Because we need each other. On Thursday, we held a beautiful memorial service for Alberta Miller in the chapel. A number of her family members were here, as well as a good number of neighbors from Philips Tower, and a large group from the Friendship Sunday School Class. Cheryl Sullivan sent me an email offering some wonderful reflections on Alberta, mentioning her ready laughter and sweet spirit and how she would take copious notes during Sunday School. And Cheryl ended her comments by saying,
“Alberta blessed us every one.”

I suppose I am a Christian, I participate in worship, because I seek to nurture my relationship with God,
and because I treasure relationships with people like Alberta. Alberta needed this congregation in her final years. She needed the love and encouragement and comfort she found in our worship
and fellowship and in her Sunday School Class. But, truth be told, we needed Alberta.
We needed her encouraging words, her loving heart, and her enthusiastic, child-like spirit that would light up a room.

In a world experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, and a shocking rate of suicide,
and an atrocious amount of gun violence, and deep divisions in our body politic,
the world needs the Church.
This community needs the Church. You and I need the Church.
And yes, the Church, you and I, need to love more, like Christ loved.

The Church, more than any other institution or corporate effort, holds the promise of bringing the world together and healing broken divisions. The Church holds the promise of learning to love our neighbors as we have been loved. The Church, imperfect and human as it is, still serves as the hands and feet
and eyes and ears, and sometimes even, the mouth of Jesus for the sake of the world.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Dr. J. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia

June 18, 2023