(Orange, Texas)

March 9, 2014

What Does a Christian Look Like?

Dr. Andy Pate
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — We moderns are obsessed with appearances. Anyone who doubts this, i would suggest, needs only to keep in mind the Academy Awards televised last Sunday evening.

The Big Draw was to find out who the winners would be. But almost equally compelling for the millions of us who tuned in was our desire to see how the stars would be dressed and coiffed

What will Sandy Bullock be wearing this year? And Julie Roberts? Who'll get raves for being Best Dressed and who'll receive put-downs for being Worst Dressed? So forth and so on, we asked in anticipation.

Our viewing judgments change with time, just as do the looks of our motion picture stars. Some years we ooh and ah over bling and zing. This year, the stylists seemed to agree that we of the gawking public wanted a more subdued look.

As a well-seasoned preacher I've been unable to ignore how our opinions about proper churchly attire have changed. In the beginning years of my ministry, suits and ties were the order of the day for men and hats and dresses for women. Then, about 40 years ago there began a relatively short period when ceremonial and liturgical attire and practices dominated. But these quickly gave way to our present-day yearning for the "casual" look and feel.

What has not changed, however, is the passionate attention we pay to "appearances," within and without the church. Casual is also in today at the bank and on the beech. Yet at the same time we possess a strong desire for others to notice how unique each of us really is.  So we conform in our wanting to be "different," which is self-contradictory of course. Whether it's a tattoo, a Bible verse or a pair of jeans, many among us rush mob-like to express our individuality.

But now, the really tough question: Amid all our "looks" compulsion, how can we identify a Christian when we see one? This we know, I think: He or she may or may not be identifiable in a worship service out of a sparse crowd of, say, a few dozen or among a praising throng of several thousand. There's no way of knowing solely by bold "appearances" which of Sunday's saints will, when exposed, become known as every day's big sinners.

Well, surely, some might say, a person seen praying in Jesus' name or carrying a Bible at church or on main street is a Christian. Maybe not. Such could be simply one more deceptive pose. Racial bigots and murderers have been known to carry Bibles and wear crosses.

Jesus himself was asked by his followers "what the signs would be" of his coming again and for identifying his true followers?

Don't go by some of the most glaring outward signs, he indicated. Before he would come again, he said, many prophets would appear who would look right and utter the right words but in the end, be revealed as "wolves in sheep's clothing."

Also, Jesus foretold that there would be many ominous signs and disasters before his return.

All that acknowledged, Jesus clearly taught his followers they would recognize him and his true followers.

"In as much as you have done it unto the least of these," he once said, "ye have done it unto me."

In other woods, now as always since the first century, "You will know a Christian by His love, by His love."