How many times have you come across this quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi? "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." I must have read it a hundred times in books, magazines, articles, tweets. It is used by believers and unbelievers to point to the hypocrisy of Christians and to call us to more and to better. Our inability to live what we preach is driving the multitudes away. Or so we are told. After all, that's what Gandhi said.
We need to stop using this quote and I'm going to give you two good reasons to do so. In the first place, Gandhi was hardly an authority on Jesus. When he says, "I like your Christ" he is referring to a Jesus of his own making, a Jesus plucked haphazardly from the pages of Scripture, a Jeffersonian kind of Jesus, picked and chosen from the accounts of his life. He certainly was not referring to the Jesus—the true and complete Jesus—revealed from the first page of Scripture to the last. He did not refer to the Jesus who stands reading with a sword of judgment, the Jesus who made unwavering claims of his own deity and eternality, who declared that he was and is the only way to be made right with God. Jesus the good man, Jesus the teacher, Jesus the moralist, perhaps, but never Jesus who was and is and is to come.
Whatever Jesus Gandhi liked was certainly not the Jesus of the Bible. Why then should we care if we do not attain to this falsified version of Jesus? I would be ashamed to have any appearance to the kind of Jesus that Gandhi would deem good and acceptable and worthy of emulation. That Jesus would, of course, have to look an awful lot like Gandhi. So there is one good reason to stop using this quote: because Gandhi fabricated a Jesus of his own making and declared his affection only for this fictional character. He never liked the real thing.
Here's a second reason. Gandhi had a fundamental misunderstanding of himself and of the rest of humanity.
Gandhi no doubt loved the way that Jesus related to the downtrodden and disadvantages and assumed that he himself was a leper or Samaritan, when really he was a Pharisee. He assumed that he was the woman with the never-ending discharge of blood who had spent all of her money on every crazy and painful medical treatment or the blind man who followed behind Jesus crying out "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Perhaps he might even have deigned to put himself in the place of the Prodigal Son, a man who had gone astray but then found hope and redemption. Whatever the case, the Jesus he liked must have been a Jesus who would love and accept him just as he was and not a Jesus who declared that even a man as good as he was an enemy of God.
Jesus spoke kind words and did great deeds; he comforted and healed and gave hope and a future. But not to everyone. Jesus reserved the harshest of words for the religious elite, those who declared that they were holy, that they understood the nature of God, that they had achieved some kind of enlightenment. Jesus had no love for such people. It was such people who received the sharpest of his rebukes and the most brutal of his "Woes!" They were the whitewashed tombs, the broods of vipers, the blind guides.
Such men did not love Jesus. They may have loved Gandhi's fabricated Christ but they hated the real one. This Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, would have rebuked Gandhi as he rebuked the Jewish leaders of his day, the people who led people walking behind them on the road to hell. Like them, he was convinced of his own goodness, his own worthiness.
There are two good reasons to stop using this quote: Gandhi liked only the Christ of his own making and he believed that he was worthy of the favor of this Christ. On both accounts he was wrong; dead wrong.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.