Today is April Fool’s Day when traditional pranks are played on and by people before the midday deadline, according to folklore. I could be accused of trying to create an April Fool by suggesting that we Christians need to pay more attention to supporting each other.
Of course we do, I hear you say. But do we really genuinely care for each other, or has our faith become so consumed with condemning, gossiping, back-stabbing and being judgemental that we have forgotten how to help each other.
Oh yes, I know about the need for Christians to reach out to the unsaved or unchurched, but we also have a duty to care for each other in the wider Christian community.
Bearing this need in mind, there is a passage of excellent advice from the New Testament book of Hebrews, which seems to constantly be pushed under the carpet in terms of the outworking of the Christian Gospel.
It’s from Hebrews Chapter 10, verses 23 to 25, and I’m quoting from the King James Version:
Let us hold fast the profession of our hope without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised). And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another and so much more, as ye see the day approaching.
As Christians, we are sometimes to the fore when it comes to helping the less well off in our society, such as the poor, starving, thirsty, poverty-stricken, homeless, or addicts. But what about our fellow Christians who may be facing challenges - how should we support them?
It’s all very well telling our fellow Christian when they have a crisis that we will just remember them in our thoughts and prayers, important as those sentiments are in Christian outreach.
But quite often, Christians can covert into judgemental tub-thumping gossips when they hear that trouble has befallen a fellow Christian.
While the New Testament text of St John Chapter 3 and verse 16 is often quoted as the key to the Salvationist theology …”For God so loved the world …” quite often, too, many Christians ignore the core theme of the next verse, St John Chapter 3 and verse 17.
It states: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
How often have we as Christians resorted to condemning people, especially our fellow Christians, when they find themselves in trouble or have yielded to temptation or sin, especially of a sexual nature.
This statement should not be taken as defending those who have committed clerical sex abuse over the decades, merely explaining that when a Christian does ‘fall from grace’, we Christians are usually the first ‘to cast the first stones’, as Jesus Himself warned about.
Two practical observations from my time in journalism serve to show the dilemma which Christians face. During my time as a religious commentator, I had the opportunity to attend an event in a church.
That day, a single mother had returned to church following the birth of her baby. Put bluntly, the child had been born out of wedlock. But there was no condemnation by the worshippers at that church towards the single mum.
Those Christians rallied around the young mother, extending compassion and support to her, her baby and her family as they came to terms with the situation of the new arrival.
This example of true Christian compassion contrasts radically to another experience I witnessed during my time as Northern Correspondent for the Irish Daily Star.
I happened to be at a church of a different denomination to the one above. In this latter case, a young Christian man had been accused of fathering a child out of wedlock. But there was no compassion, only judgement and condemnation.
A so-called ‘compassionate Christian clique’ in that church reduced the young man to tears with their accusations. There was no support, no help - just criticism.
I made a point of tracking down that young man several months later to see what was the outcome of the condemnation on him spiritually.
He had obviously left that particular church, which I have come to regard as the best example of the modern Pharisee church I have come across in Ireland.
Perhaps the young man had found another church which demonstrated more relevant Biblical compassion? But no, the young man had been so depressed by the Pharisee-style condemnation that he had given up his faith, and even told me he was now an atheist.
The bitter reality which third millennium Christianity must face is that the Biblical hypocrites, known as the Pharisees, are still alive and well - and indulging in their condemnatory tactics.
As a journalist, I often asked myself when I heard of the fate of that young former Christian - I wonder how squeaky clean those who condemned that young man are in their own sex lives?
Modern day Pharisees need to remember that when they point the finger literally at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at them! I wonder are some Pharisee Christians indulging in judgemental condemnation because they are trying to deflect attention from dirty little secrets in their own lives?
Some Pharisee condemnation can be so vicious that the Christians suffering from it walk away from worship altogether, or in practical terms - they never darken a church again.
Perhaps another challenge in the Hebrews Chapter 10 passage is to encourage Christians who have, or are, facing a tough time to return to the fellowship of Christian worship. It is no April fool to turn a blind eye to the crisis which fellow Christians may be facing.
Theologically, we must support each other; that is the only way we can truly eradicate the scourge of Pharisee condemnation in our churches.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s slot, Call Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, as part of the ‘At The Table’ show.