If you’re a Christian, will you overflow with love for everyone, all the time? If you’re a Christian, will you obey God all the time? If you’re a Christian, do you sin less than other people in the world?
Many say the church is at a crossroads. (When isn’t it?) Many claim it’s ceased to be what it was meant to be. However, what it has stopped being, and what it has become, depends on who is talking. The emergent church movement says we need “A new kind of Christianity” (Brian McLaren, 2009). The missional movement says “we have a master who demands radical obedience” (David Platt, 2010). Both say we must have a “Transformational Church” (Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer, 2010). Obedience is crucial.
Missional guru Francis Chan is also adamant: “We can’t just have thousands of people in a room and we’re not showing that intense love where people walk in and say, ‘Wow, there’s something different about your love for one another!’ That’s just not right when we’re not living like a body, like a family… How can we have rooms of people who claim to have the Holy Spirit of God Almighty inside their bodies? God Almighty inside of you? And your life looks just like everyone else? No wonder they’re shutting down the churches.” http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/12/28/francis-chan-what-is-wrong-with-the-american-church-video/
Each offers a critique. Each provides a perspective on what Christians have to do to make the church (and themselves) right. At times they do have some thoughtful things to consider. However, I think they’re missing the mark.
With each of them there is a constant return to the demands of what Christians must do, what the church must do, if we are to take the Gospel seriously. But the problem, at least for me, is that all of these demands for a “new kind of Christian,” a “radical obedience,” and a “transformational church,” place impossible and unrealistic demands on fallen and wretched sinners.
No, I’m not looking for an excuse to ignore the lost. No, I’m not looking for an excuse to hang onto my sinfulness. Rather, my point is that the focus of all these demands is on us and not on Christ. Yes, I believe in sanctified living. Yes, I believe in witnessing to the lost. But I think there is a failure by some to be realistic about our sinful condition. And therefore, ironically, there is the failure to understand the fullness and role of the Gospel.
Tullian Tchividjian sums it up well in his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. (The book title alone is a profound formula for the church to consider.) He writes: “Since the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, rules and regulations are never the solution. Jesus is. Behavior modification cannot change the human heart. You and I need this reminder all the time. And that’s why we turn to the gospel.” (p.119).
So indulge me for a moment. Has there ever been, in all of history, a congregation where all of its members simply swooned over one another “showing that intense love?” How about the first century Christians at Corinth? Nope. They were full of divisions (1 Cor. 11:18) How about the Galatians? Ah-uh. They were too busy biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15). The Philippians? Close. But they had to watch out for the “evil doers” among them who “mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3:2). How about Philemon? Sorry. He was at odds with Onesimus. Can’t we find even one person full of intense love for everyone? Yes. His name is Jesus.
So how about we let Him be the Lord of the church? How about we let Him fulfill every demand? How about we let Jesus be the leader of doing all things impossible? After all, He obeyed the law perfectly. He resisted all temptation. He died as a sacrifice for the whole world. He even rose from the dead! So why not let Him be the solution to all our woes?
Demands for transformation, imperatives for radical obedience, requiring one become a new kind of Christian; they’re all rooted in the law. But the law offers no peace. It provides no solace. It transforms nothing. It simply tethers us to a relentless oppression of impossible demands. The solution to the church’s (and the world’s) woes is nothing new. It can be found in Jesus and only Jesus.
Bo Giertz, in his must read classic novel, The Hammer of God, writes it beautifully:
“The conscience, our own anxiety, and all slaves of the law bid us go the way of obedience to the very end in order to find peace with God. But the way of obedience has no end. It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constantly growing indebtedness. If you seek peace on that road, you will not find peace, but the debt of ten thousands talents instead. But now Christ is the end of the law; the road ends at His feet, and here His righteousness is offered to everyone who believes. It is to that place, to Jesus only, that God has wanted to drive you with all your unrest and anguish of soul.” (p.204).
When Jesus, and only Jesus, is put at the center, the mission of the church becomes clear.
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.