The church’s most pressing need these days is not more members, but instead, more disciples. The church has long since surpassed its quota of inert, self-satisfied, don’t-rock-the-boat Christians who support the status quo and are far more concerned with what to bring to the Wednesday night potluck than the family with four young children that just got evicted from their home, only a block down the street from the church. The church has far too many passive pew-warmers whose idea of servant evangelism is uttering a few pious phrases about helping “those people” while tossing a five-dollar check in the offering plate.
If the church is to be renewed, revitalized, restored, and resurrected, the last thing it needs is more complacent Christians, content to sit on their hands while 14,000 children die each day from largely preventable diseases. Lastly, the church has no need for those who quiver before positive change as if it was a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.
What the church needs now, desperately needs now, is Jesus and a cadre of committed disciples, hell-bent on bringing about a spiritual revolution.
In the somewhat detailed notes below, taken from Richard Stearns The Hole in Our Gospel, the author describes how anemic and superficial Christianity has become. He also looks at some of the causes of this situation and how a return to a more complete gospel, based more solidly on the actual teachings and life of Jesus provides a way for the church to heal.
More and more our gospel has been narrowed to a simple transaction, marked by checking a box on a bingo card at some prayer breakfast, registering a decision for Christ, or coming forward during an altar call………..It was about saving as many people from hell as possible – for the next life. It minimized any concern for those same people in this life. It wasn’t as important that they were poor or hungry or persecuted, or perhaps rich, greedy, and arrogant; we just had to get them to pray the “sinner’s prayer” and then move on to the next potential convert. In our evangelistic efforts to make the good news accessible and simple to understand, we seem to have boiled it down to a kind of “fire insurance” that one can buy. Then, once the policy is in effect, the sinner can go back to whatever life he was living – of wealth and success or poverty and suffering. As long as the policy was in the drawer, the other things don’t matter as much. We’ve got our “ticket” to the next life.
There is a real problem with this limited view of the kingdom of God; it is not the whole gospel. Instead, it is a gospel with a gaping hole. First, focusing almost exclusively on the afterlife reduces the importance of what God expects of us in this life. The kingdom of God, which Christ said is “within you” (Luke 17:21 NKJV), was intended to change and challenge everything in our fallen world in the here and now. It was not meant to be a way to leave the world but rather the means to actually redeem it. /17/
Jesus’ view of the gospel went beyond a bingo card transaction; it embraced a revolutionary new view of the world, an earth transformed by transformed people, His “disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19 NKJV), who would usher in the revolutionary kingdom of God. Those words from the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, you will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” were and are a clarion call to Jesus’ followers not just to proclaim the good news but to be the good news, here and now (Matt. 6:10). This gospel – the whole gospel – means much more than the personal salvation of individuals. It means a social revolution.
For those of us steeped in Western culture and raised within the walls of the church, it is hard to fully grasp the true revolutionary, radical nature of Jesus’ teachings. Yet when compared to the general religious worldview of his day, as well as the practices that went along with that worldview, the Master’s approach to the spiritual life was a complete anachronism.
We get the first hint of this on the occasion of Jesus’ first public miracle – the turning of water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana. The magnificence of the miracle itself, the changing of water into wine, often overshadows a more subtle, symbolic aspect to the events of that day. The water Jesus changed into wine was not just any water – and the vessels holding the water were no common containers. Instead, Jesus told the servants to fill six stone jars to the very top with water. These stone jars were the ones used for people to wash themselves in compliance with the dictates of their religion. By this act, Jesus used his first public miracle to deliver a symbolic yet very real message.
Rather than ritualistic cleansing, rules, and regulations, through Jesus God was bringing something totally new into life on this planet, something much more intimate and celebratory. Through Jesus, God was indeed bringing joy, good news to the people. As the Master said when he quoted the prophet Isaiah, he had come “to set the captives free.” And the irony of all ironies is that his people were not enslaved by the Egyptians as in the time of Moses. No, and the enemy was not just the Romans, either. Instead, I am convinced that Jesus saw his mission as intricately tied up with subverting the existing religious order, which had turned what was intended as a vital, dynamic, and intimate relationship with God into a burdensome shackle of trivial religious laws. Bruxy Cavey, in his excellent work entitled, The End of Religion, describes the subversive, radical nature of the Master’s mission:
I was faced with an unexpected but undeniable fact: Through his first miracle, Jesus intentionally desecrates a religious icon. He purposely chooses these sacred jars to challenge the religious system by converting them from icons of personal purification into symbols of relational celebration. Jesus takes us from holy water to wedding wine. From legalism to life. From religion to relationship……Jesus seems to be saying that his message of love – a radically accepting love – is too great to be contained by the old ways of religious tradition. His new wine demands new wineskins (see Matt. 9:17).
As Cavey later points out, and as any astute reader of the four gospels will soon discover, Jesus did not come as the meek and mild savior with a flower in one hand and a white dove in the other. No my friends, Jesus made it quite clear from the outset that he came to shake things up. If you have any doubts about this, go back and carefully read through the gospels. Pay particular attention to the Master’s words in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount. See how often he prefaces his teaching by saying, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” Jesus challenges the old teaching and then replaces it with a new one.
Jonathan and Jennifer Campbell, in their remarkable, insightful book entitled, The Way of Jesus, make the timely observation that:
God is bringing forth new wineskins for a fresh outpouring of wine, and it does not look like anything we’ve ever seen. So we must focus on Jesus and the wine he is pouring out, and not on the wineskin. Remember, the purpose of the wineskin is to furnish the appropriate environment for the juice of the choice grapes to ferment and season at just the right time. We should be open and flexible, like new wineskins, in order to have Jesus fill our hearts and communities. This new wineskin must be very simple and able to expand and grow with the new wine.
Renewal is not enough. We all need to go through a conversion something like what the apostle Peter experienced in Acts 10 and 11. Peter’s conversion from an ethnocentric Jew to an advocate for Gentile missions was one of the most significant paradigm shifts in the history of the church. Likewise today, the church must repent of any cultural tradition that hinders the movement of the gospel across cultures. The current spiritual-cultural crisis calls for nothing less than complete repentance, what the Greeks called metatonia, a transformation of the mind, a change of heart, and a new way of living. Just as Gentiles received salvation free of Jewish tradition, so all people have the right to follow Jesus without having to become Western or institutionalized…………Jesus calls his followers to undergo a systemic shift that goes to the root of our identity – one that questions all the assumptions of the Christendom model. What we really need are people living the life of Jesus in community, drinking the new wine of the Spirit and living as fresh wineskins in the world.
Social researcher George Barna has identified and studied a growing segment in the Christian landscape – a dynamic element he calls “revolutionaries.” It is this very type of committed Christian we have been discussing in this article. Barna states:
The United States is home to an increasing number of Revolutionaries. These people are devout followers of Jesus Christ who are serious about their faith, who are constantly worshipping and interacting with God, and whose lives are centered on their belief in Christ. Some of them are aligned with a congregational church, but many of them are not. The key to understanding Revolutionaries is not what church they attend, or even if they attend. Instead, it’s their complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day through every thought, word, and deed in their lives.
If you sense a strong affinity for the principles and commitment exhibited by these revolutionaries, it may very well be that God is calling you to become a part of this groundswell in today’s church. Barna elaborates on this very theme:
So if you are a Revolutionary it is because you have sensed and responded to God’s calling to be such an imitator of Christ…….The choice to become a Revolutionary – and it is a choice – is a covenant you make with God alone. The commands and admonitions provided by Jesus to all who would listen were designed to facilitate self-governance that makes each disciple a revolution in progress.
As a long-time student of church history, I can think of few times the church was at a juncture as complex and as critical as the point it finds itself today. Going back to the “Good old days” is not an option and, if the truth be known, those days were not all that good for many folks. If the church is to survive, we must clearly understand to nature and the complexity of the task before us. I firmly believe we stand on the threshold of a new Reformation and that Reformation will in large part be brought about by the Revolutionaries we have been discussing. If you are in any way sensing that God may be calling you to step into the breach and become a part of the vanguard of a new and exciting chapter in Christian history, then I encourage you to spend significant time with God in prayer, seeking to discern if in fact this calling is for you.
© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved
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