As the Body of Christ we are now in a similar cultural milieu as existed at the time Jesus walked the earth. Granted, times are different, but the themes are much the same. Like it or not, the Church now lives in a post-Christian culture. America is Christian in name only, certainly not in practice. Over the past 50 years the dominant worldview and subsequent value system has undergone marked change. Post-modernism and situational ethics now hold sway. It is within this mix that the Church must now carry out the essentials of its mission. The question at hand is: How will we reintroduce Jesus to the world, given the realities of the culture we now live in?
Answering this overriding question is a complicated affair, certainly beyond the scope of this short article. Additionally, we, as the Body of Christ, need to reflect deeply on how we may best go about meeting this aspect of our calling. Much prayer is called for. One thing is certain, however. We must present a more realistic portrait of who this man Jesus was, and still is. When he enters a person’s life, things are not always meek and mild. In fact, taking on Christ often results in an inner revolution. The Revolutionaries fully understand this and also understand that Jesus calls for a radical change that fuses the personal with the social and the spiritual with the political.
As we take Jesus on board we must recognize we are giving accommodation to what can be a dangerous entity; one capable of challenging our conventions, our preferences, our habits, and ultimately, our character. Jesus does not come into a person’s life in order to affirm the status quo. Quite the opposite, this dangerous being takes up residence within your inner kingdom with the stated aim of fomenting revolution. Yet for most of us this inner revolt is sorely needed. It can, in fact, change us from wandering, confused, and empty vessels into vibrant, vital, world changers. David Foster gives us a glimpse of just what Jesus is up to:
Jesus is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you, doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!
If you decide that you are fully ready to commit to this deep calling deep brand of Christian spirituality, recognize that you may very well experience responses that are less than positive. These negative reactions to your commitment to Christ may come from people important to you, like your friends, your family, and especially from other believers. It is for this reason that each of us must individually and prayerfully follow the advice of the Master who told us to simply “count the costs.”
I think one of the reasons that Christians as a whole are at best lukewarm in their commitment to following Christ stems from the church’s long-standing efforts to tame the Master. Instead of the subversive revolutionary that he was, Jesus has long been presented as a non-threatening cardboard figurine on burlap bulletin boards, either holding a lamb in his lap or rubbing children on the head. Rarely have we seen him for the rebel that he really was and as a result, the church has given a false impression of Jesus “meek and mild” and by proxy, turned God the Father into a distant and kindly Daddy who expects little from us other than a modicum of worship and a check in the collection plate.
David Platt, in his remarkable book Follow Me, describes how we in this country have slowly but slowly but inexorably transformed the Jesus of scripture into a being that, at least in some cases, barely recognizable:
Almost unknowingly, we all have a tendency to redefine Christianity according to our own tastes, preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable. We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.
These words may be hard to hear for many of us, yet they still ring true in you think about it. This has been especially true since the rise of the Religious Right on one end of the political spectrum, and Liberation Theology on the other. Whenever we wed the faith with a political movement or join at the hip with a political party, we usually wind up with a distorted Jesus that bears little resemblance to the real deal. On a more personal level, many of us tend to mold Jesus into a more palatable commodity, one that doesn’t create too much change or stress in our lives. In essence, we seek to serve a Jesus that affirms our status quo and many of us whittle away at his true character until he becomes what we need him to be.
Although many of us are guilty of doing this very sort of thing (I include myself in this statement), I believe that it must be said that this is heresy in one of its most insidious forms. Again, David Platt cuts straight to the point:
But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has spoken clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. He transforms our minds through his truth. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And as we take Jesus at his Word, we proclaim Jesus to the world, for we realize that he is not merely a personal Lord and Savior who is worthy of our individual approval. Ultimately, Jesus is the cosmic Lord and Savior who is worthy of everyone’s eternal praise.
Annie Dillard, one of my very favorite writers, talks about how Christians ought to be a bit more reverent in the presence of God. In her provocative yet compelling style she says:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have any idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.
Dillard’s point is clear and to a large extent, irrefutable. Far too many of us who claim to follow Christ either don’t really believe what we profess or we have never taken the time to truly consider what it is we signed on for. I personally think it is high time that we became more honest with ourselves. Here is a diagnostic indicator: If you faith has yet to make you very uncomfortable, you might want to spend some time in prayer and reflection trying to discover what is amiss.
When we fail to understand what the Christian faith is all about, we wind up with a church that misses the boat in terms of its vital functions of worship and teaching. Pastor Robin Meyers gives this biting but wholly accurate assessment of what we often find in sanctuaries today:
Worship consists of high-tech, high-volume, effusive praise and tearful thanksgiving for what God has done on behalf of each and every one of us – followed by preaching that circles the wagons of what is falsely assumed to be a besieged and righteous minority doing battle against the forces of secular humanism. The rhetoric is that of a western movie, the “last stand” between the chosen but misunderstood and legions of depraved liberal heathens whose worldly logic has led them to worship false gods (mostly in the temple of the flesh) and who are out to destroy the only true religion by removing it from the public square……For those who would never think to raise their hands in worship (because they sit on them), mainline and liberal churches offer something as tedious as many evangelical services are self-centered: a dull and droning list of politically correct announcements that go on interminably. No detail is too minor and no story too trivial to escape the sentimental displays of communal therapy. The hymns are often contorted by a preoccupation with inclusion at the expense of meter and particular power, and the sermon continues in the same vein – offering enlightened ways to cope with the aches and pains of daily life, instead of submitting to a vision so compelling as to redeem suffering and death itself.
No matter which side of the theological aisle you find your pew, you ought to be sweating bullets by now. In case you are among the especially insensitive, however, rest assured that Meyers is not quite finished:
In a world that is desperate for something real, many mega-churches today are like Disney World plus God, while too many mainline churches are serving up bits and pieces of the Great Books Club. One wonders which fiction is most cruel, that all your dreams come true if you pray the “Prayer of Jabez” or that discipleship is the same thing as enlightenment. Odd as it may sound, we need to recover something as old and dangerous as it is transformative: following Jesus.
For many Christians, whether Evangelical or Mainline, such a shrill indictment is hard to swallow. Surely there are exceptions, but what Meyers is describing here is not those few. Instead, he is taking direct aim at those of us who find way too much comfort in the status quo; those of us who start accumulating sweat on our upper lips at just the mention of thinking out of the box. Meyers, in very direct terms, is talking about the frozen chosen.
In juxtaposition to these lukewarm pew-fillers stand the renegades, rascals, and revolutionaries mentioned earlier. These sincere Christ-followers understand that if the church is not only to survive, but thrive, it must get back to its roots in obedience to Jesus. We need to imitate Christ, not “believe in” him. With the aid of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we need to push forward with every effort to become more like the one we profess to serve. Many of this new breed of Christ-followers understand this and apply this wisdom to their daily living. Robin Meyers speaks clearly about what we must rediscover if we, as a faith tradition, hope to survive:
If the church is to survive as a place where head and heart are equal partners in faith, then we will need to commit ourselves once again not to the worship of Christ, but to the imitation of Jesus. His invitation was not believe, but to follow. Since it was once dangerous to be a follower of The Way, the church can rightly assume that it will never be on the right track again until the risks associated with being a follower of Jesus outnumber the comforts of being a fan of Christ. Until we experience Jesus as a “radically disturbing presence,” instead of a cosmic comforter, we will not experience him as true disciples.
Meyers concludes by stating that churchgoers need to answer one basic question before all else:
What am I willing to give up to follow Jesus?
Sociologist and researcher George Barna speaks at length about the movement of committed Christ followers that he calls “Revolutionaries.” Barna speaks particularly well to the issue of sacrifice that is so often part of the life of the “Deep Calling Deep Christian.” If you are seriously considering this path of consecrated endeavor, then pay attention to Barna’s words:
Know this: just as the prophets of old were unwelcome in their own hometown, so are Revolutionaries looked at askance by even their closest friends and family members. The skepticism of those who lead conventional spiritual lives is a palpable reminder that growth always comes with a price tag.
Be forewarned: just as Jesus Christ, the ultimate lover of humanity, was scorned, misunderstood, persecuted, and eventually murdered for His extreme love, goodness, compassion, humility, wisdom, and grace, so are Revolutionaries abused by a culture in crisis. The mere presence of Revolutionaries makes the typical American citizen – yes, even the typical churchgoer – uncomfortable. It is not uncommon for Revolutionaries to meet with rejection – verbal, intellectual, relational, or experiential – simply because of their determination to honor the God they love…..Like their role model, Jesus Christ, they ignite fierce resistance merely by being present and holy. It is perhaps that holy presence that will get Revolutionaries in the deepest trouble they will face – and that will bring lasting healing to a culture that has rebelled for too long against its loving Creator. These Christian zealots are radically reshaping both American society and the Christian Church. Their legacy is likely to be a spiritual reformation of unprecedented proportions in the United States and perhaps the world.
These ideas that Barna discusses and more cogently, that are lived out in the daily lives of countless “Revolutionaries,” bring to mind the spiritual philosophy and practical tactics used by Doctor Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement. Basing his own methods on those of Gandhi, Dr. King used radical non-violence to expose the injustice, brutality, and prejudice of the existing social order. The more the powers that be reacted to those involved in the movement, the deeper the darkness of their hearts appeared to all whom witnessed what was happening. Perhaps in a similar way, the commitment, sincerity, and Christian love exhibited by these Revolutionaries may well shed light on how far many in the status quo church are from the true example set by the Master.
Describing David, an example of this new breed of Revolutionary Christian, Barna writes:
His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advance the Kingdom of God – despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being a part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom. They are people who want more of God – much more – in their lives. And they are doing whatever it takes to get it.
Two questions are immediately relevant, my friend. Do you want more – much more – of God in your life? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get it?
Listen closely. In your inner sanctuary, your heart of hearts, can you hear him calling you? Will you go with him, even if it means breaking free of convention? Will you follow him, even if it means you stop going to church and start being the church? Are you ready to be counted among the Jesus people? Are you ready to join the revolution?
If so, welcome aboard!
© L.D. Turner 2014/All Rights Reserved