Strange. The term Christian ghetto seems awkward and uneven. It doesn’t roll off the tongue like the Jewish Ghetto or Gypsy ghetto. I suppose it is because there are no particular Christian ghettos of historical note such as the Warsaw Ghetto or stereotypical depressed urban areas like Harlem or Watts that we came to associate with the term ghetto. But there is a shockingly enormous Christian ghetto and it is worldwide.
Let us first define the term.
The name ghetto refers to an area where people from a given ethnic background or united in a given culture or religion live as a group, voluntarily or involuntarily, in milder or stricter seclusion. The word historically referred to restricted housing zones for Jews; however, it now commonly labels any poverty-stricken urban area.
The first ghettos appeared in Germany, Spain and Portugal, in the 13th century, but some authors use the same word to indicate the destination towns to which the Roman Empire deported Jews from the first to the fourth centuries CE.
The term ghetto comes from Venice's Ghetto in the 14th century. Before the designation of this part of the city for the Jews it was an iron foundry (getto), hence the name. Other etymologies suggested for the word include the Italian borghetto for "small neighborhood" or the Hebrew word get, literally a "bill of divorce." 1
The spiritual tragedy here is that the Christian ghetto is voluntary; it is a self imposed segregation. I am not referring to monastic movements begun by The Desert Fathers of early Christianity or established later by Gregory, Benedict and Francis. For in such communities, kinship with and compassionate connection to the world around them are precious revelations and honored tradition. I am speaking of the spiritual segregation endorsed by many “practicing” Christians who engage in a conspiracy of complacency under the cloak of Christian community. (Perhaps the term “practicing” is appropriate here in that they sure have not mastered Christian living to any noticeable degree).
These are Christians who have few non-Christian friends and tend to leave evangelism to the evangelists – often people who look and sound good on TV. They are active in their respective churches to the point of excluding non-churched seekers. They enjoy the warmth, strength and safety of the flock too much to risk going after lost sheep. Such aspects of shepherding are “not their calling”. In their eyes, their “practice” of their faith sets them apart from mere “cultural” Christians who are Christian in name only. They are members of the “elect”. They invite comparison with the political connotation of “elect” in that they are selected based on a promise they usually do not deliver on!
That promise is what we commit to when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” and when we agree to obey the command, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you …” (Matthew 28:19-20). It is also the fulfillment of His promise; "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19)
What I am aiming at here is captured eloquently by Sheldon Vanauken;
“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty,
Their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also
Christians. When they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous
and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive,
then Christianity dies a thousand deaths...” 2
I am not proposing that all “real practicing” Christians should be identified by their presence on street corners shouting out scripture. Rather, I am suggesting that we reexamine our prayer life and our walk in The Spirit, IN THE WORLD. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying the exact pray of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are praying for the desire, the opportunity and the power to bring his Kingdom to earth, to have His will be done here as it is in heaven! Do we suppose He will not answer the very prayer He told us to pray?
Let us also reexamine The Master’s Word, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”(John 17:18) Yes, Christians must be IN THE WORLD and not of it and certainly we must strive to be more Christlike. Yet in doing so, we are fulfilling a greater purpose. Otherwise, why did He bring us into the world? More pointedly, why did He leave us in it after we were saved? Was it to test us? He is our all knowing and loving God, He has no need to test. He has the desire to love and protect us. He knows that, by His design, we can only know the fullness of His love by choosing to of our own free will. In His infinite wisdom, He also knows that the best way for us to come to that point of saving surrender is through one another.
That is why He came. He died in our place so we could come to live with, in and through Him. He wants us to tell each other this in truth and in love. It is His way … “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). He just wants us to show one another how to do it His way.
Who are these Christian ghetto dwellers? My brothers and sisters, are they not you and I?
1 Campus Resource.com
2 Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) p.85.
Read more articles by Robert Drury or search for articles on the same topic or others.