Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Isn't Jesus Too Easy?

I'm finding myself a little frustrated by how much difficulty the Christian world has actually emulating Jesus in both their personal lives and in the organizations they build. I often see people pulling some scripture out of Revelation or the Old Testament as scriptural justification for their actions (actions that rarely would be out of step with accepted behavior in society at large or in church culture...why are those things so similar?), and when I inevitably ask, "Let's look at this through the lens of Jesus....can you imagine Jesus doing that?", they look annoyed and hold strongly onto their proof-text from Leviticus.

I consistently teach that the Gospels hold priority for us as we shape our theology and ethics, and that Jesus must always be the first place we look for when we want answers. It's so tempting to want to run to Paul, whose messages are so much more conveniently structured and rational. And frankly, Jesus never taught about church elders. But he did teach about shepherding and how a shepherd treats his sheep. He was very clear about what leaders shouldn't look like. And Jesus never taught about the theological implications of baptism...but he was baptized. I recently preached 20 lessons walking through the Gospel of John, emphasizing how I think we can glean a complete ecclesiology (understanding of the church) from the life of Jesus. He's subtly teaching us how to "do" church. And when we ask who we should be as the church, the first thing that should shape us is the life of Jesus. But oddly, enough, that's a radical message to much of Christianity. As I finished up the lessons from John, a church member came to me privately and we had the following conversation:

HIM: "You've just deconstructed virtually the entire church."
ME: "Do you mean the church Jesus is looking for, our particular congregation, or the current popular understanding of church?"
H: "You've just deconstructed virtually our entire understanding of the church."
M: "Well...yes."
H: "If we do what you're saying, nearly everything will have to change."
M: "Do you think that what I've said inaccurately depicts what Jesus would have the church to be...am I just making it up?"
H: "If we do this, nearly everything will have to change."
M: "Well...yes."

Have we become more afraid of change than of being separated from Christ? Somehow we've managed to admire Jesus, to talk about him a lot, to invoke his name, to call upon his power to fix our problems, but not be transformed by him. It happens in our personal lives, in how we treat people, which I talked about in the last post. It happens in the way we structure our churches (impersonal, hierarchical, Sunday-focused, maintenance mindset, self-focused, counting success by looking only at the 3 B's: budget, buildings, & butts). We unintentionally betray the Gospel when we tell people "You need to come to church." No, you need to get to know Jesus. It happens in the discourse of the larger Christian world. If you ask me, using any of the popular labels Christians use today to identify themselves(conservative/liberal, right vs. left, Democrat/Republican, mainline/evangelical) is an admission that our viewpoint skews heavily in one direction, that we are more concerned with being in a certain camp than aligning ourselves with Jesus (Yes, labels are necessary for convenience's sake, but they help little in pointing toward truth). See Volf's article here:


Maybe we need to get rid of all our agendas that we try to accomplish in Jesus' name, in order to please him, and insist that our entire agenda simply be Jesus himself.

Another person approached me and asked me if I was serious that just Jesus was the answer to everything. I told her that he wouldn't help her learn to change the oil in her car or perform surgery, but spiritually, yes. Our lives and behavior must be formed first and foremost by him. Our churches must be formed first and foremost by him. She asked, "Isn't that just too easy?"


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