Debunking ‘I can’t have non-Christian friends’ arguments

Here are five common arguments I often get about why Christians shouldn’t be friends with non-Christians, along with my regular responses (from now on I’m going to just send arguers to my blog and save my energy). You might find this useful if you think this – or if your lifestyle makes it look as if you do. (Btw, I just love the word debunking. Favorite word. Favorite past time.)

I can’t be friends with non-Christians, I don’t have anything in common with them.

You do have something in common with them. You were both created by the same God for the same purpose – to love God and love each other. There is no human being on the face of the earth that we don’t have this in common with. Besides that basic commonality, once you get to know someone – really take the time and care to get to know them – you find that you have many things in common. You both likely have parents and/or siblings and/or a spouse and/or children. That creates a lot of commonality as well. Parents can always find things to commiserate about as raising children raises the same issues for all of us. You may also find shared interests in music, literature, love of nature, food, etc. None of us is nearly as different as we often like to think, and no difference can trump the love Jesus calls us to – the love He commands his followers to show to everyone. We cannot obey Jesus without very actively loving all the people He sends across our path in this life.

If I am friends with unbelievers it will lead to me compromising what I believe.

I don’t see why we would have to compromise our beliefs to be friends with anyone. I think Jesus’ instructions to his followers were clear – we are to follow Jesus’ example and do what He did, teach what He taught, live as He lived. Jesus spent his time hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars, and those generally rejected and disenfranchised by the religious establishment. He did not condemn these people or spend his time correcting their thinking. He healed them, forgave them, loved them, and encouraged them to trust and follow Him. The only people Jesus witnessed to with regard to their beliefs were the religious leaders, those people who thought they understood what God wanted and were so dreadfully wrong because they had focused on all the minor details of religious life and missed the whole point – love. Loving God and loving people is all that matters, according to Jesus. These are the only commandments He gave us. And yet we persist in refusing to hear those commands for what they are, convinced that can’t be what Jesus meant since loving some people seems like such a risky thing. The thing is, those are precisely the people Jesus went out of His way to love. His true followers will do the same.

But Prov. 12.26 says, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” This means if I am friends with wicked people they will lead me astray.

I agree that we have to be careful and I take that to be what Prov. 12.26 means, not to avoid being friends with such people, but to be wise enough to know where their counsel will lead you – astray. I have close friends whom I take advice from, I have other close friends I share advice back and forth with, and I have still other close friends whom I share advice with only. Those in the first group are so far ahead of me I would be presumptuous to advise them, those in the second group are on the same level as me generally (though this would vary based on area of concern), and those in the third group are not where I am in my development. I love them and care about them and want to see them grow, but they are no more ready to counsel me than I am the first group. This isn’t about being arrogant or thinking too highly of myself, it is doing what Proverbs instructs, knowing who the godly are and who the wicked are, who the wise are and who the foolish are. Some are far wiser and more than me, some just as wise, some less so. It is the beginning of wisdom to understand where I am in terms of gaining wisdom and walking in righteousness and where those around me are. I can love and be close to them all (regardless of their wisdom or godliness) but I can only grow (and help others grow) to the extent that I understand this and act accordingly.

But their influences on me would just be too negative and Jesus can’t possibly want me to be so negatively influenced.

Why do we only think of the influences flowing in one direction, as if only the non-Christian person influences the Christian person? Couldn’t you, the Christian person, be both good and strong willed and thus exert a positive influence on your unbelieving friend? Should a person drop all their friends when they come to Christ and make all new friends? Or should they shine their light into the darkness? Jesus always seemed to hang out with the roughest crowd, but these days Christians tend to only hang out with each other (I do this too, so don’t feel like I’m coming down on you). I do think there needs to be balance and caution. If you are weak morally you don’t need exposure to things that will exploit your weakness. But you also need to do the hard work of growing strong so you can shine your light into the darkest places and show Jesus to the people who need Him most – those who haven’t come to Him yet.

But it’s just too hard. If I don’t say anything about their wrong beliefs and behaviors, it’s like I’m condoning them. If I do say something, it comes off all preachy and condescending.

I understand what you are saying and I know (firsthand) how difficult this can be, but I have to ask, as a Christian, how can we do anything other than love and be friends with people – all people, no matter their worldview or habits? Jesus specifically instructed his followers (us) that we must love our neighbors as much as we love our selves. He went further and made sure we couldn’t qualify what “neighbor” meant and thus exclude some people. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear that “neighbor” doesn’t define the other person: it defines us and our actions. If this weren’t enough, Jesus went even further and specifically told us we had to love our enemies. Our enemies. Love them. So how can we be his followers and not do what he told us to do? Other people might be able to get away with this, with ignoring people who disagree with them, or do things they don’t like or think are good, but Jesus has not left his followers this option. We must love them. We must love them. We have been commanded to love first and foremost.

And this really is the difference maker. If you aren’t preaching or witnessing from love you need to shut up. If when you think “preach” you think “condescending” – you need to find a new church. One that practices the Gospel instead of dead religion. If you focus on being a friend, really being a friend and loving all the people that God brings across your path, the rest will take care of itself. Jesus knew this. Jesus practiced this. Jesus thinks this way works. Funny how we believe Jesus is God and yet take so much convincing that His teaching really means just what He said and that it actually works.