Come to Jesus
I was part of a conference call yesterday with a number of young-ish pastors in our denomination where we were talking about Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the his followers would be “one.” Anyone with even the most cursory understanding of church history will know that, well, we haven’t exactly done so well with this little ideal of Jesus’.
Indeed, we might be forgiven for laughing out loud at the idea that there could be such a thing as a unified church—especially from where we sit, five hundred or so years downstream of the Protestant Reformation, swimming in the murky seas of the postmodern, post-Christian, post-everything, hyper-individualist, ultra-consumerist West where the (individual) customer determines what they prefer, where oneness is often thought to be not only impossible, but even immoral. How could we dream of imposing a single ideal upon all our wonderful, and deeply cherished individuality?!
And even leaving aside the reality of the existence of different denominations, what do we make of the bewildering variety of views within this or that individual group. The Mennonite Church that I am a part of, for example, is not very large in the grand scheme of things. Yet even within our little expression of the church there is a full range of positions on every hot-button issue out there, whether it’s human sexuality, climate, change, controversial theological topics like the nature of the atonement, universalism, etc.
What, in the midst of all this mess, could possibly make us one?
The answer, of course—the only answer there could ever be, the Sunday School answer to every important question—is Jesus.
But that sounds a little too easy, doesn’t it? Which Jesus? Whose understanding of Jesus? Which interpretation of Jesus’ teaching? Saying “Jesus is what makes us one” doesn’t really solve much, does it?
Well, yes, actually. I think it does.
A question I have been thinking about over the last few days is this: Can we allow people to come to Jesus for their own reasons? Reasons that we do not necessarily admire or embrace?
Can I allow former evangelical superstar pastor (and current Oprah acolyte) Rob Bell to come to Jesus with his confused (and confusing) amalgam of pop-psychology and weirdly irritating “who can really say what the word ‘Christian’ means?” faux-intellectual humility?
Can I allow the guy who walked in the door the other day and invited me to an uber-masculine Mark Driscoll-ish type local event aimed at manly men to come to Jesus? Can I shut my mouth while he talks endlessly about spiritual warfare and how Satan is at work behind every negative thing in his life? Can I be ok with his understanding of Jesus as a mighty warrior against the forces of darkness in his life?
Can I allow people to come to Jesus primarily to reinforce their own political or moral views, to justify their own preferred sins and self-understandings? Can I allow people to focus endlessly on a selectively accessed portion of his teachings while pretty much ignoring some of the harder things he says, some of the more “otherworldly” things he says? Can I allow people to squeeze Jesus into agendas that they embraced elsewhere?
Can I allow people to come to Jesus because they are looking for a social club? Because they are needy and relationally dysfunctional? Because they’re obsessed with various end-times scenarios? Because they have a need to be right in every area of their life? Because they like four part harmony? Because they don’t know what else to do? Because they like church potlucks?
Can I allow people to come to Jesus selectively, partially, inconsistently, stupidly, pitifully, half-heartedly, self-interestedly, consumeristically, individualistically, desperately, lamely, liberally, conservatively, selfishly, sinfully?
Can I allow people to come to Jesus for the wrong reasons? Reasons that I don’t like or agree with?
Can I accept that I come to Jesus for the wrong reasons? Reasons that others don’t like or agree with?
Can I realize that whatever oneness in Christ might entail, whatever it might demand, wherever it might lead us, it cannot require that everyone who comes to Jesus must do it in exactly the same way and with exactly the same motivations and the same cognitive content in their brains as I do? Can I realize that Jesus invites us and deals with each of us exactly as we are and as we come? Can I accept that the ways in which Jesus moves and shapes us after and as we come might look different for different people at different times and different places?
I think that I can. And that I must.
If I can’t—or, more accurately, if I don’t or I won’t—then “oneness in Christ” will inevitably degenerate into “oneness in my particular understanding of Christ.” And that’s not a terribly reliable foundation for oneness.
Come to Jesus. Yes, for this is the One who holds his church together. This is the only One who can, the only One who ever could.
Yes, yes, yes!!
We don’t always have to have the last word, or the first, to be effective for Christ. A Sun. Sch. teacher asked that after prayer, give a little silence for the Spirit to work. And a good discussion can be open-ended. Higher Hands may be leading.
Wise teacher! 🙂
Well spoken, Ryan. You cover the spectrum very nicely.
Excellent. Reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 1, giving a little different angle: “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.”
Thank you, Michael. I like the connection you make to Philippians 1 and the simple fact that mixed motives have always been among the means through which God makes himself known in the world.
A very Powerful contemplation, one of the best I ever read on letting go of outcomes in a Christian context. I think we often forget that the Holy Spirit is fully capable of guiding people into truth without our help/advice. Truly hard to accept when your an imagined religious Super Hero type like me.
“Can I allow people to come to Jesus for the wrong reasons?”– My wife and I were thrilled recently to hear (from her Romanian daughter-in-law) that her son had attended a function at an Orthodox church. We both laughed at the fact that he most likely only went along for the diverse food being offered, but we both agreed: “Well, whatever it takes” 🙂
Sorry for the “anonymous” listing
Food is a powerful draw. 🙂
God keeps opening my eyes and challenging my heart through people like you.
Thanks for sharing the Christ like wisdom and views you have been given.
Thank you, Cheryl.
We all come as we are. Jesus will meet us there if we invite Him. That being said, the journey is all about reconciliation. With God, self and one another. Oneness with the creator and creation IS heaven, however else it would be described. The church then, the true Church must reflect this same unity. This same oneness. Not an identical sameness but rather a myriad of varieties and types bound through a unifying presence. His presence….”unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no eternal life in you”…
Yes. Well said, Paul.
“….the journey is all about reconciliation. With God, self and one another. Oneness with the creator and creation IS heaven…” (Paul Johnson)
Great sentiment, Paul. Great comment.
Through AA I’ve learned that reconciliation, in an all-encompassing sense of the word(God-self-family), is the fruit of a rightly worked program of recovery. When’s the last time any of us heard a well done teaching on being reconciled with those whom we have fallen out of favor with for various reasons?…Leo Buscaglia was the best I’ve ever heard on the topic but that was back in the 80’s.
Which is to say: Preach it Brother!
Another timely post, Ryan!
I actually got rebuked by a friend concerning something very similar this past week. It was painful, humbling, but good. I suddenly saw how the pursuit of having the “right” Gospel was causing me to close off the Lord and box-in, if you will, the Holy Spirit, and to not show love to people.
“That night, after Richard Wurmbrand preached, he had a time of questions and answers. Someone from the congregation asked, ‘Brother Wurmbrand, when you were in prison, did you have the joy of the Lord like Paul and Silas in Acts 16?
“Brother Wurmbrand answered, ‘Now, I hope my answer doesn’t offend anybody, but I must tell you this. When I was in prison, they put all of us Christians in the same cell block. We were all bound with chains, but our chains were to us as musical instruments. Sometimes in the middle of the night, we would all awake and be so full of the joy of the Lord that we would dance around our prison cells and we would all clang our chains together for musical accompaniment.”
(Related by someone after listening to Wurmbrand speak at a church.)
I was deeply struck by this, by how suffering unites us in Him. Granted, I realize speaking truth in a fallen and increasingly dark culture is what we must do. But I think it’s easy to get in our little churches and stay comfortable without having to love.