I’ve developed a serious case of “What would Jesus think about this?” Trust me, it’s just as annoying to me as it is to you.
I don’t claim to know perfectly what Jesus would think about anything, but going on what Jesus says in the gospels, I’m usually able to get on the right road and start asking some of the right questions.
No, I won’t shut up just because you disagree. Sorry. I can’t help myself.
For example, yesterday I was driving through a community where I used to live, and at one intersection there’s a large building that was built about twenty years ago with the intention of housing about 30 “storefront” businesses. It’s turned out to be a bit of a white elephant, as few businesses have located or succeeded there, even though it is a good location right at a major intersection. Now it’s looking a bit second class.
As I drove through yesterday, I noticed something, and it tripped the “what does Jesus think?” switch.
There are three churches in this building. All on the first floor, virtually next door to one another.
“The Anchor” (name changed)) faces one of the main streets, and is the largest. It appears to have been there the longest. It’s presentation suggests it’s pitching for the crowd that wants very progressive music and more of the “not ever in church” crowd. Tattoos welcome and all that.
“Faith Learners” is around the corner about 40 yards, I’d say, from what little I can see, that’s it’s the “word faith” church, Tulsa style. Prosperity Gospel. Ken Copeland, etc.
And then two doors down is “Heritage Community Church,” whose sign seems to be pretty traditional Baptist. Probably a split, most likely generational these days.
Point here is that none of the major Christian divisions- Roman Catholic, Orthodox, etc.- seem to be represented in these three churches that have all set up shop next to one another. These three churches are all evangelicals, and until you get to page two, they believe almost identical versions of the faith.
I often describe denominational life in our culture being like stores next to each other in a mall, with each one claiming some subtle reason the shopper should choose their store.
Well…..these three churches are, literally, next door to one another in a shopping/business strip mall. One, two, three churches, all three doors down.
There’s no reason that there can’t be ten or fifteen other churches move into the same facility.
When I look at these three churches, I know I’m looking at the results of people with a genuine sense of calling to their community. They are convinced that God has led them to do what they are doing.
I’m also sure they are aware there are three other churches in the same strip mall. And dozens and dozens more throughout the community.
If you and I went to each one and asked “What is it about your church in particular that should persuade a person to come and join with you?” we’d get substantial answers.
“Our church has a distinctive kind of worship.”
“Our church is truly based on the Bible and nothing more.”
“Our church is open to every kind of person, no matter what their background or beliefs.”
“Our church teaches equips the Christian in a way no other church does.”
“Our church has a heart for the community.”
I don’t disrespect these answers, or the individual journey that brought those people to start their churches. I’ve been right here in my own living room with the same thoughts while there were two churches within a block of me.
But what would Jesus say?
I don’t doubt that he would approve of small groups of Christians meeting together throughout a community. I think a movement of small groups is what he seems to have had in mind.
But I think Jesus had a much different view of the church as it extends throughout a community- the unity of churches across various dividing lines- than we have.
Unity to Jesus probably didn’t mean “Everyone join the same megachurch and do things the same way.” But I do think unity to Jesus meant that three groups of Christians, once they are aware of each other, don’t function as three different churches.
I think it meant that we can make missional distinctions, but after that we should be cautious and generous. We should see the body of Christ, the presence of Christ and the Spirit of Christ throughout the denominational circus.
And that’s our problem. Most of what we call churches behave as if they are the true church finally arrived, and the guy three doors down is someone getting it all or mostly wrong. Evangelicals reinvent the faith and the church every time they get bored.
In the proliferation of churches in small communities in my part of the world, the differences are primarily stylistic, not substantial.
Musical style. Level of formality. Dress codes. Self-image. Intended audience. Models and networks. Bible translations. Occasionally theologically differences, some significant and some not so much so.
A friend of mine was explaining to me the other day why she’s changed churches. She talked for 10 minutes, and every word was about music. More precisely, the song selections of the respective bands. That’s in two churches whose doctrinal differences are minute and which would look, to most traditionalists, identical in worship and musical style.
I think Jesus would find that a very strange distinction. Remember, this is the God who said that his disciples should see God at work in those who were outside of their “network.” This is the God who is speaking through Paul when he says “I rejoice that Christ is preached,” even when that preaching is from people with less than admirable motives.
I believe Jesus would approve of missional diversity, and that his Spirit leads the way in the proliferation of Christians into a culture in cells and small groups.
But I don’t think Jesus is all about three or three thousand churches ignoring the fact that we all belong to one Messiah, sharing one Spirit, one faith, one Lord, one Baptism.
Our diversity isn’t the enemy of unity unless we decide to conduct ourselves that way. I once had a reformed baptist pastor tell me I wasn’t a Christian because my church didn’t have elders.
That’s not Jesus. That’s just someone being a spoiled, get-your-way-or-else brat.
In this same community, many of the larger churches join together for community ministry and Holy Week worship. Small things, but the right direction. I think Jesus would approve.
(By the way, I’m sure my Roman Catholic friends really enjoyed this post as an example of the Protestant follies. Enjoy yourself, then remember that Jesus loves missional disciples, even those who try to start the church over and over and over. Christianity is a movement with a mission, and he loves those who get that right even if they get other things wrong.)