It's time to talk to myself again! A couple of weeks ago I posted a note titled "Why I'm not a Christian" in which a hypothetical version of me (a non-Christian Matthew) gave his objections to Christianity. Essentially, his critique was that Christianity has little to no unity, joy, or fruit from his point of view. As a result, that Matt sees no real reason to give Jesus more than a passing glance. Having responded already to his points about unity and joy, I come today to the issue of fruit. Here's what hypo Matthew said:
Third, I can't believe in Christianity because Christianity doesn't seem to be making a difference. The Bible itself says that we will know the truth of something by its fruit. What is the fruit of Christianity? I don't see many churches really making a difference in their local communities. In fact, what difference would it make if churches just disappeared tomorrow? I'm not sure it would make much of difference. It might even help because, at least then, some other institution would build something on their land and pay taxes!
I like it when non-Christians quote Scripture as part of their critique of Christianity (whether it be an apparent contradiction between one verse and another OR ESPECIALLY between the Bible and those who claim to live by it). If the see a contradiction in Scripture, I actually enjoy researching (when necessary) and talking through such issues. If they see a break in the bond between the Bible and believers, it might be an interesting insight (and even a potential sermon!).
It would be hard to argue with the suggestion that the fruit of Christianity looks pretty rotten these days. The USA, for instance, is a nation of professing Christians (is it still over 70%?), but looks very little like Jesus from multiple vantage points. Of course, one COULD rally some support to the claim that American Christianity has been fruitful. You could talk about how many missionaries we send, our charity levels, or the biblical worldview supporting our founding documents. It's not like there's no fruit at all.
But there's also a lot of bad fruit... way too much to ignore. And there's also not enough good fruit... way too little to take pride in. So what is there to say to the objection that Christianity fails by its own standards of evaluation (you will know them by their fruit)? As usual, it's best to go back to take a closer look at the verse being utilized. In this case, we must consider Jesus words in Matthew 7 where He says: "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit... by their fruit you will recognize them."
Jesus is providing a way to RECOGNIZE true and false Christians (specifically in that passage, teachers). You may recognize them by their fruit. Hypothetical Matt's problem is that he is recognizing them by their profession of Christianity... and then judging Jesus' tree accordingly! Jesus is saying we can identify what fruit actually comes from Him by how much like Christ they are. Once you accept Jesus' method of identification... you will find inevitably find fruitful Christianity (who can be Christ-like without making a difference in the world?).
You see, the question really isn't "Why don't professing Christians produce more fruit?"... it's "Why aren't there more true Christians?" It reminds me of a quote from G.K. Chesterton: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." It's not that Christianity has been tried and found fruitless; it's that it has not often been tried at all. Hypothetical Matthew's point is flawed, but also convicting. Real Matthew's response (beyond mere words) is required.