The Church Is Changing: Will Believers Start Bypassing Christianity to Follow Christ?
Rachel Held Evans has been one of the “go to” blogs for commentary on the unfolding World Vision controversy. Today, in an article for CNN, Rachel argues that in their desire to win a culture war, Evangelical Christians have lost a generation.
As I grieved with my (mostly 20- and 30-something) readers over this ugly and embarrassing situation, I heard a similar refrain over and over again: “I don’t think I’m an evangelical anymore. I want to follow Jesus, but I can’t be a part of this.”
Increasingly children growing up in evangelical homes are saying, “We want to follow Jesus, but that system you are selling, no thanks!”
Which begs the question, “Could following Christ possibly mean bypassing Christianity?”
The Apostle Paul’s Dilemma
For many Christians following Christ equates to the pre-packaged religious system they’ve been brought up with.
You want to follow Christ, you must first become a Christian; and as part of that process there is then a number of rituals, behaviors, ceremonies, and disciplines to be learned.
Heck, there is even a language (Christianese) to be mastered which is near indiscernible to outsiders.
A not so subtle pressure is placed on new people believing in Christ to conform to that pre-packaged religious system. You may just want Christ, but you also get this, that, and the other thing. It’s like subscribing to cable TV because you want the History Channel and finding out you have to also get MTV and the Trinity Broadcasting Network as part of the package!
The Apostle Paul dealt with this same situation in the years following Jesus’ ascension. See, back then there were no Christians. People who followed and believed in Jesus were called…
Jesus was a Jew. All of the disciples were Jews. All of the earliest believers in Christ were Jews. However as the Apostle Paul took the Good News of Christ beyond the Jewish homeland into Asia Minor and Greece a huge debate began to take place.
Did “Gentiles” (non-Jews) hearing about Christ’s Love and desiring to receive it have to conform to the Jewish law first to confirm their new relationship with God?
A LOT of believers thought so.
Imagine if your whole life you had been told that the way of following God equated to following a certain set of religious laws and observances. Your daily life literally revolved around it. The chance that you would be open to the idea of a relationship with God minus those laws and observances would probably be nil and none
Well, nil and none, except for the Grace of God…which was just what Paul happened to be sharing.
But as he shared that message he was constantly harassed by religious Jews who were insisting that the new believers in Jesus first
* be circumcised if they were male
* follow the Jewish Law
* observe the Jewish Feasts
Essentially in order to become a Christian…you had to first become a Jew.
(Watch from 1:40)
In the movie Peter and Paul there is a great scene where Paul is trying to explain the success of the number of Greeks coming to Christ including Titus who is with him. Foreigners are opening their hearts to Jesus! Cause to celebrate right?
The religious folk don’t care about that. What are they concerned with?
Whether Titus is circumcised or not.
Paul counters that their religious pre-conditions are in fact trying to “affect a monopoly on the Grace of God by which men will have to first go through them in order to obtain it”
Its the age old problem. Getting past the gatekeepers to get to God.
In the first century the question was “Does a Gentile need to first become a Jew to have relationship with Jesus?”
In the 21st Century the question is becoming, “Does a Gentile need to first become a Christian to have a relationship with Jesus?
According to many young evangelicals the answer is increasingly sounding like “no”!
“…and they were first called Christians at Antioch”
The term Christian was pejorative at first. It meant “little Christ”. Believers in Christ took the mantle however as a moniker of their genuine desire to follow in the Way of Jesus.
Over the centuries the term has got a little muddled though…
A co-worker who is vocally non-Christian was chatting with me the other day. I mentioned how we had a teenage friend of my son staying with us for a few weeks while a difficult domestic situation at her home got sorted out. Mentioning the notoriously small size of Hong Kong flats he suggested most people wouldn’t be open to being put out like that. I admitted it had its challenges “space-wise” but the young person is in need right now with no where to stay. “Taking her in is part of the way Jesus taught us.” I said.
“You know, if Christianity was more known for stuff like that, I’d be more open to it,” he replied.
There was a time when that WAS what Christianity was know for.
My prayer is that “Christian” is not what new believers have to become in order to follow in the Way of Jesus but is instead simply describes someone who is already following in the Way.
Evangelicals may have lost a generation but thankfully Jesus won’t!
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