The advent of social media brought a new twist on the subject of following. Some make a science out of it. Others obsess about gaining more and more followers. But when it comes to the Christian faith, it should mean one simple thing.
A while back, I read an article by a well-known pastor in a Christian online magazine for leaders. What he says is certainly not heresy, but I do take exception with a few things. Actually, one thing in particular.
I want to make it clear—this is not a knock against this pastor—otherwise, I’d make it more personal and name him. I’m sure he’s a fine pastor, and I know he’s a sought-after speaker.
In fairness to him, I get the point of what he says about how people perceive the church in a general sense, especially the unchurched. But even in this, I believe he and many of us are missing the primary issue. Here’s the paragraph I take issue with—
“The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the temple model,” he continued. “The Church really should be … nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God to explain God and to clear the path to God. You don’t have to agree but you shouldn’t dislike it unless there’s more to it.”
There is more to it. My concern is the sentence, “nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God….”
When I became a believer, I chose to follow Jesus, not just His teaching. Yes, of course, I study what He taught and am committed to walking in that truth, but I follow Him.
Over the centuries, schisms and splits have come because of differences in doctrine and practice, and various theological viewpoints. This birthed thousands of church denominations and variations of denominations. But the identity of the church is not about doctrine or theology, it’s about Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, doctrine and practice matter, and good theology is to be valued. This is where we and the rest of the world get sidetracked. It’s not about religion, but relationship, and that relationship is with Jesus.
I’m reminded of my conversation with our guide as we toured the Heidelberg castle in Germany. He told me that we (American) evangelicals seem to focus on Jesus more than they (European Protestants) do. He’s right, but not as right as we’d like to believe.
Our natural bent as humans drives us to justify ourselves. It started in the garden when Eve, then Adam, made their fateful choice (Gen 3:4-6). Since then, we all try to cover our nakedness with fig leaves of some kind to cover our guilt, shame, inadequacy, or whatever (Gen 3:7).
This effort at self-justification takes on all sorts of forms and is popularized by the expression, “We’re saved by grace, not by works” (Eph 2:8). We can say that, and believe it, but do we live our lives in agreement with this truth?
Over the years, I’ve seen and heard many people conclude one person or another is not “saved” because of what they believe. I’ve also heard plenty of people claim spiritual rightness based on what they believe.
But the Christian faith is grounded upon a relationship with God through Jesus His Son. Here are a few of the many places this is made clear—
- Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23 — Jesus calls “whoever” to follow Him
- John 14:6-11 — Jesus makes it clear that He is the only Way to the Father
- 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17 — the apostle Paul makes it clear who he is following to his followers (disciples)
- Hebrews 8:7-13 (especially verses 10 and 11) — the basis of Christianity—the New Covenant—is relationally based, not performance-based
Does the church need rebranding or revival?
Back to the article’s content. The pastor contends the church has become “unnecessarily resistible” and needs rebranding. Is this our responsibility? Does the church need rebranding or revival?
It seems to me we need revival. Rebranding is a marketing tool. Revival is the fruit of God’s Spirit moving in God’s people.
Whenever there has been revival the church didn’t shape itself—it exalted Jesus. The revival was the work of God, not the followers who experienced it.
My only experience with revival was during the Jesus Movement. I suppose you could say the church was rebranded in those days, but it wasn’t because a pastor, group of pastors, or churches decided it was needed. The outpouring of God’s Spirit into those who became believers brought change because they were changed.
We were following Jesus, not a set of teachings or new approaches to doing church. As God transformed our lives, we wanted to go to church, and we came “just as we were.” We wanted to hear God’s Word taught, and wanted to worship with abandon, and we wanted to tell others about Jesus.
He brings revival as He changes us from the inside out. The church doesn’t need a change of appearance or approach—we need a change of heart. Each of us needs to follow Jesus with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Mark 12:30).
Revival is God’s work, not ours.