Jesus challenged the political, economic and religious establishment of his time with his views and teachings that were radically different. In my July 17 blog I told how the early followers of Jesus—the early church—were radically different in the way they lived, and how people who knew them observed how radically different their way of life was from the rest of society.
I left you with this question: Can it be said about today’s Christians that we are different and stand out as Christians in the eyes of our society?
Jesus summed up all the law and the prophets and his own teaching about the way God wants us to live in these words we find in Matthew’s gospel in answer to the question “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’, this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:3-40)
We seldom think how radical that second commandment is—and Jesus places it on an equal basis with the first one! As Jim Wallis puts it: “We are asked to care for our neighbor’s as ourselves, and our neighbors children as our children. This is an ethic that would (and could) transform the world.” (On God’s Side, p. 6)
Wallis further points out this fundamental teaching flies in the face of the “selfish personal and political ethics that put myself always before all others; my concerns first, my rights first, my freedoms first, my interest first, my tribe first, and even my country first—ahead of everybody else. Self-concern is the personal and political ethic that dominates our world today, but the kingdom of God says that our neighbor’s concerns, rights, interests, freedoms, and well-being are as important as our own.
Our inability to live the way these two “great commandments” instruct us is why the question “are we perceived as Christians to be different today?” must be answered negatively.
Listen to what Wallis says of this: “We live in one of the most self-centered cultures in history. Our economic system is the social rationalization of personal selfishness. Self-fulfillment and individual advancement have become our chief goals. The leading question of the times is, “How can I be happy and satisfied?”
“Not surprisingly, our self-centered culture has produced a self-centered religion. Preoccupation with self dominates the spirit of the age and shapes the character of religion. ….The common question in evangelism today is, “What can Jesus do for me?” In other words, the question is how Jesus can help us make it in the present order, not how we can respond to the new order. Potential converts are told that Jesus can make them happier, more self-satisfied, better adjusted, and more prosperous. Jesus quickly becomes the supreme product, attractively packaged and aggressively sold to a consuming public. Complete with billboards, buttons, and bumper stickers, modern evangelistic campaigns advertise Jesus in a competitive market. Even better than Coca-Cola, Jesus is ‘the Real Thing'”.
‘The gospel message has been molded to suit an increasingly narcissistic culture. Conversion is proclaimed as the road to self-realization….the role of religion is presented as a way to help us uncover our human potential—our potential for personal, social, and business success that is. Modern conversion brings Jesus into our lives rather than bringing us into his…..Conversion is just for ourselves, not for the world. We ask how Jesus can fulfiill our lives, not how we might serve his kingdom.” (Call to Conversion, p. 22-23)
These are strong words? I wish I could disagree with them, but I can’t—can you? If so, do so!!
They are words that show a credibility gap between the way of Jesus and the way of our churches today. We are not living “the way of Jesus”, we are living the “way of the world today.”
I hope to discuss in Part Three some of the results of the above indictment, as we confront two central challenges we face today: The increasingly lop-sided division of our world into rich and poor and the fear of violence this raises.