Campus Ministry and Campus Life
There is a misconception that Christian communities are collections of self-proclaimed sinless individuals who separate themselves from the cruel ways of the outside world; and this misconception reinforces the distance between these communities and non-believers. But this perception is being debunked by students in Columbia Faith and Action—also known as CFA—a Christian leadership ministry serving all four undergraduate colleges of Columbia University with Christian students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations that immerse them in the secular world of Columbia and New York City. While these students try to balance their faith and college experience, they are disproving the notion that Christians separate themselves and look down upon others. Unlike the Pharisees who look down upon sinners in the Gospel of Luke, these students are breaking away from an attitude of superiority. As I have witnessed strong bonds develop within CFA, I have increasingly realized the significance of our student’s involvement within the secular community at Columbia and the bonds we develop outside of the CFA family.
To find guidance on how CFA should interact with the rest of campus, we should look nowhere else but to scripture. Jesus is questioned for many of His actions in the Gospels, and His loving outreach for nonbelievers and sinners is one of them. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ followers are confused by His decision to associate with those who refuse to accept Him or have failed to follow His words. In response to the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus utilizes three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son—to illustrate why He “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” While ‘sinners’ is a term which applies to all people, including Christians, the phrase is understood here to refer to those looked down upon by the rest of the world, specifically tax collectors. Nonetheless, ‘sinners’ applies to not only tax collectors but everyone. In truth, we are all sinners regardless of our commitment to Christ but why would Christ welcome sinners and eat with them? These parables and the questions they tackle help in understanding the Christian community at Columbia, and appreciating the bonds created between both Christian and non-Christian students.
In the first parable Jesus speaks of the lost sheep: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” 1 It seems that by leaving to find the sheep in the ‘wilderness’ the shepherd is choosing one over the ninety-nine, but Jesus actually uses this parable to challenge the Pharisees’ view of the ‘lost,’ a view of exclusion and separation. The truth is, regardless of where we stand in our faith, we are all ‘lost’ and in an endless pursuit to replicate Jesus’ words, actions, and image. Those who are faithful—the ninety-nine sheep—are good, but Jesus is willing to walk away from them for those who are sinners, the tax collectors, the lost sheep in need of saving. Jesus challenges the easy path of isolation and neglect towards non-believers. Such effort is the Christian way, which helps us spread the word and has helped the CFA family grow. The fact that we are ordinary people, walking different paths, and in different places in our faith, doesn’t divide us but brings us closer. We welcome all listeners no matter where they stand with Christ, just as Christ welcomed all regardless of who they were.
Continuing His parables, Jesus then depicts the emotions of a woman who finds her lost coin. She values the coin greatly enough to “light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it.” 2 While she still has nine other coins, she goes out of her way to find one single coin, showing the remarkable value of every coin, each invaluable to her. Jesus explains that just like this woman’s joy over finding her one coin, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner.” 3 This emphasis on the priceless value of each individual human translates to show the great worth God places on those that are ‘lost’ and reinforces the point that there will be “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent.” 4
In the third and last parable of the chapter, Jesus speaks of a disobedient and lavish son who betrays his father and ‘squanders his property’ only to returns in repentance. Here, the father-son relationship is very literal, paralleling the relationship between humans and Jesus. The father’s elation that, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again,” shows God’s endless love for his ‘children.’ The father reacts to his son’s return with extravagance and praise: “Bring out a robe—put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” 5 From the robe to the sandals, the father gives his lost son a position of authority, respect, and comfort regardless of his betrayal. Like the father who “ran and put his arms around [his son] and kissed him,” the shepherd who went “after the one that is lost,” and the woman who “searched carefully” for a lost coin, members of Christian communities—and especially communities like CFA at Columbia—are to be overjoyed to spend time with those who question or challenge our Christian views.
I, too, am searching carefully. I see the day to day impact I have on my non-Christian friends, and more importantly, the impact they have on me. When a friend asks me what my Thursday night plans are my response is already set. Every Thursday I take part in a leadership lecture series called ‘Illumina,’ where CFA takes part in fellowship, worship, and sermons leading to fruitful conversations about religion and community. Such conversations leave me with new ideas and even more questions at times. While I value the amazing friendships I have created at CFA, in order to truly live in the image of God, I must equally value the bonds I have created outside of my “Christian universe.” I hope to follow the word of Jesus Christ and value my non-Christian friendships as He preaches them to be valued. It can become easy to only associate with those who share our beliefs, but the true power of Christ’s Word is rooted in spreading His message to the ears that have not heard it. The lost sheep, the coin, and the prodigal son are all of us. Regardless of our commitment to our faith, we are all lost sinners who should constantly be reaching for the almighty power of Christ to cover us in His pure love and forgiveness. By immersing myself in Columbia’s many non-religious spheres I have been challenged to see new ways of thinking and influence the view of others. I am simply blessed and thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a community like CFA and on a campus like Columbia.