Stop Telling People about Jesus

Saying his name is not the gospel.

Christians host weird parties. It's bad enough we produce "sacred" alternatives to culture so we never have to interact with real people, but the church's idea of community outreach is patronizing.

As Sundays shifted from mighty fortresses to football, Christians knew that fire and brimstone was no longer enough to fill the pews. They had to get creative. So they devised sinister game nights and movie nights under the pretense of love and compassion. Invite your friends, they said. They'll have fun, they said.

It's a trap.

A classic bait-and-switch. The community outreach events of the 80's and 90's were sermons in baseball caps. We lured our victims inside our walls with free food and wouldn't let them leave until they sat through a message that usually had more to do with sex, drugs, and alcohol than Jesus.

Culture is no dummy and got wise to our ploys pretty quick, so it was back to the old drawing board for many churches. Some regressed to publicly damning everyone and everything to hell, but the more enlightened churches tried on a new tactic: no altar call, no gospel presentation (gasp), just free food and fun… and an awkward Jesus-juking benediction, the end.

So close.

Christians are terrified of loving people without mentioning Jesus. Our mission on earth is to make disciples, so loving people without the appropriate spiritual strings attached is poor stewardship of the time God's given us.

In other words, love serves no other purpose than pretense. If we shouldn't show love to people without telling them about Jesus, then God only loves us to possess us. His love isn't genuine because it only exists to get us to serve him. We can say that he knows what's best for us but it doesn't change the fact that God's love is coercive.

The Bible paints a different picture of God's love. Jesus said that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. Indeed, his own sacrifice included the whole world, not just those destined for the kingdom as John testifies. If God's love was only intended to induce conversion, then he wouldn't extend it to those who would never convert.

God's plan is greater than our individual salvation; he desires the redemption of all creation. That's why Jesus told us to make disciples, not converts. Why would he want a kingdom overflowing with self-righteous lemmings when he could have an army of change agents pouring his love into every corner of the world?

Even with the nation of Israel, God never emphasized proselytizing. Foreigners were welcome to join the community and worship with them, but there was no mandate to convert the surrounding nations. Instead, God used Israel to redeem the known world. He sent their law to teach, their armies to cleanse, and their prophets to warn and rebuke. Israel was only one nation, but its influence is indisputable today.

Love was never meant to merely point people to Jesus. Since the beginning, love makes the world a better place. The Jews call this tikkun olam or "world repair". It's the part of the gospel that gets overshadowed by the spectacle of soul-winning and so-called harvest crusades. These things have the appearance of kingdom work but they do little to advance Christ's love into the darkest places.

Jesus needs our witness to be more than talking about him. As John said, we love with our deeds, not our words. Thus, the Christian's witness isn't talking about Jesus but living like Jesus. And if we have to shout his name for others to know we're Christians, our lives aren't loud enough. We must live in such a way that Jesus is unmistakable. Our love must be unmistakable.

Unfortunately, love is often equated today with the passive notion of tolerance. Again, Christians love through action, not the inaction of being tolerant. As the prophet Isaiah said, we feed the hungry, shelter the weary, clothe the naked, and free the oppressed. We sacrifice for the needs of others but we don't stop there.

Christ's love is revealed in all its power and glory through two things that the world abhors: unity and radical forgiveness.

Unity

Your friends are likely complaining about how divisive social media has become, but Facebook and President Trump are only shining a spotlight on what's been true of humanity throughout our history. We hate those who are different. And the best we can muster on our own is segregation, which we call civility.

Churches should look different but they don't. We have white churches, black churches, poor churches, affluent churches, Catholic churches, Protestant churches, conservative churches, and liberal churches. We even have the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod because our own denominations can't get along.

Jesus didn't build his churches with the selfishness of our personal preferences. He built his church, singular, with the unity of the Spirit. And he testifies of his greatness by building that unity through fishermen and scholars, tax collectors and political zealots. When we choose unity through diversity, not homogeneity, we declare God's power over the impossible and we redeem our penchant for pettiness.

If your church lacks diversity and perpetuates civility, the message you're sending is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for people who look like this and think like that. You can say his name as much as you want, but your witness is superficial and your redemption capricious.

Radical Forgiveness

I have to add a qualifier because forgiveness has become what we talk about in church when someone takes our favorite pew or eats the last doughnut. But the power Christ bestows is not so provincial that we're able to perform the simplest tasks with a holy grin. It is a power so scandalous that its supreme goodness enrages those who hate God.

After Dylann Roof shot up an AME church in South Carolina a couple years ago, the bereft chose to forgive him despite his immense hatred and cruelty. Ironically, their forgiveness earned them their own hatred from armchair lobbyists who were thirsty for blood.

I'm convinced that these Christians from Charleston received a standing ovation in heaven. There is no better testimony to the power of the gospel than forgiving the murderer of your loved one. Every fiber of our being screams for vengeance and rages for satisfaction. Only true faith can redeem these feelings and once again declare God sovereign over the impossible.

If your church lacks radical forgiveness, the message you're sending is that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't big enough for all sins. You can beat people over the head with his name all you want, but your witness is inviting them to experience a mediocre savior and an impotent redemption.

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Photo credit: miuenski via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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