I was reading The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience again this morning.
Scandal documents the terrible testimony that we Christians are giving to the western world. The book is important. It will do us no good to pretend that there is not a problem. We need to change. If we do the same things we’ve always done, we will get the same results we’ve always gotten.
This time, however, I read it knowing that there are people doing something about it. There are people preaching a true Gospel and offering real change.
Examples that I know of are Francis Chan, who has been preaching simple obedience to Christ and modeling it with thousands of people in southern California, though I understand he has moved on to new fields of service. I hear heartening and inspiring stories from David Platt’s church in Birmingham, AL. I’m also hearing very encouraging stories both secondhand and firsthand from Memphis, Tn, where I know of an inner city church and even politicians getting involved in helping troubled youth at great expense to themselves in order to honor Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
Here in Auburn I’ve run across a denominational church trying to bring its people together in real service, real fellowship, and a real relationship with our Father in heaven. The steps they’ve taken are working, at least for now. I’m going to their men’s breakfast in a few minutes, and it’s encouraging to be with those men.
The Need That Still Exists
The reality is, however, that most Christians are still detached. Even if they attend a church, they’re lonely, independent, and many struggle to maintain a holy life in the midst of the incredible temptations offered by our modern world and its easy access to just about anything we want.
I’m in Auburn because I know people who are active—very active—in their churches, but they see the fellowship we have at Rose Creek Village and say, "We don’t have that. What do we need to do?"
I’ve visited Kenya, India, and Myanmar. It’s incredible to see the response to the Gospel from simple, poor people and the great joy that the Gospel brings to their lives.
But it’s also disheartening to see Christians in those places come together, get help from westerners, obtain some security and wealth, and then begin to focus on nice shoes and tailored suits. Leading pastors from humble backgrounds seem to suddenly have as much distance between themselves and their poor flocks as visiting American preachers do. Prestige and position seem to matter more than fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Is it any wonder that obtaining the same prestige and nice clothes is as important to their flock, or more important, than obeying Christ, loving others, and living a life of service?
We have to purposely work at focusing on the right things.
It does not come naturally to walk the narrow path. There is a reason that "deny yourselves" was right at the start of Jesus’ preaching.
But what do we focus on? What works? How do Christians come together in unity?
I keep telling people here that I have one goal, which is that no one who embraces the Gospel would ever have to say they’re lonely again.
How do we achieve that goal?
Part of what is necessary is knowing what the Gospel is. God did not call us to follow Christ alone. God has always wanted a people, not just scattered persons.
We have some idea of what it means for Israel to be a nation. Their capitol city, Jerusalem, was destroyed in A.D. 70, and they were forbidden to enter the rebuilt city …
for 1870 years!
It is simply astounding that the Jews maintained their national identity for almost 19 centuries while scattered among other nations. Is there any others story like that in all of world history? Nations and peoples are conquered all the time, and they are integrated with their conquerors.
The Jews had a national identity, and it came from God. When they went to new nations, they considered themselves first and foremost a part of the nation of Israel. They no longer had a land, but in their eyes, they had God. He was their King, and he had promised them a nation.
But we don’t have the same idea with Christianity.
Somehow, the Gospel has been distorted so that we believe that following Christ means, primarily, having a personal relationship with him.
It’s not so. God wanted a people under the old covenant. He wants a people under the new covenant, too. The church, according to the New Testament, is God’s family. It is a nation. In fact, it is the new Israel, and being a heavenly people with heavenly citizenship, it ought to have a stronger sense of identity than old Israel, not a lesser one.
Somehow, it makes a difference when we say the family of God versus saying God’s family, even though grammatically they’re exactly the same thing.
"The family of God" is a nice religious phrase. We sing about it:
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod
But how real is that?
Isn’t it true that in most churches, if you lose your job, go broke, and have your home foreclosed upon, it is your parents or some other relative that you’re going to go live with, not your church family?
We have a wonderful opportunity in the current recession. People have lost jobs and homes. Lots of people, and some of them are Christians.
I watched one church trying to take advantage of it. They gave 20 minutes of a service for members to tell their stories of what this recession did to them. In a few cases, there were responses of others who weathered the recession better. They offered jobs and told each other of places to stay.
Good start, but it’s not enough.
The Gospel calls for a complete commitment, but it’s not just a commitment to pray in our rooms to a private God. The Gospel is supposed to offer a people to commit ourselves, too.
A real family; God’s family.
Shouldn’t God’s family be the best family in the whole world?
Where Does It Start
I don’t know that I’m saying any of this in the best way or even a good way.
I do know that I want to call us to begin to live like family.
Where does it start? It starts with 2 or 3. It starts by deciding we will believe the Gospel, that we will acknowledge that Christ calls us to a narrow path, forsaking our own needs, and seeking first the kingdom of God in faith that God will provide all our other needs.
That’s hard enough, but it’s the Gospel, we have to do it, and it’s only the beginning.
Faith needs to be working. Faith needs to produce action.
It begins with 2 or 3. Christ has promised to be in the midst of 2 or 3 who gather in his name. People who promise themselves that together they will go after Christ, following him by his Spirit and obeying his commands.
Maybe not everyone can do that. Those of us who can need to.
If we are going to be able to say that following Christ means entering the family of God, then we need to provide a family for new believers—and old ones who’ve never experienced this—to join themselves to.