RockHarbor Church–I belong to it–is such a great church. I am very blessed to be a part of it. For instance, it was mentioned in an article I featured a few days back; while the recession has negatively impacted many churches, it positively impacted my church. RockHarbor actually found a renewed sense of purpose in helping those in need, and it therefore ended the fiscal year with a surplus!
It gives me joy to be part of such a group.
Today, however, as I walked out of church, joy was nowhere in my heart. Frustration, more like it. Why?
Was it the worship? Did it just not make me ‘feel’ good? No–the worship was actually quite good, and worshiping God isn’t about my personal feelings anyway.
Was it the ambiance, then? Was I just not “entertained”? Was the message dull and boring? Did I not come away “filled up” and energized for the week? Again, no. Worshiping God is not like watching a movie. Like I just said, it’s not about my personal likes and dislikes…it’s not about me.
Rather, what upset me is a matter of truth. The message today was a message that contradicts the biblical witness, yet it is a message I hear frequently in the 21st century. I cannot see Jesus proclaiming the message that was proclaimed today.
Hear me clearly: I’m not saying I didn’t like the way things were done, nor am I saying the message didn’t “meet me where I’m at.” This is an issue of faithfulness, not tastes.
Our pastor’s main intention was to press home that our actions need to match our beliefs. We should live in contradiction to the world. How could that go against the Bible and Jesus? That part was actually wholly in line with Jesus and the Bible. A hearty “Amen” there! If you preach Jesus but don’t live it, then your proclamation is actually doing more harm than good. Better to just be quiet in that case. That gave me something to think about.
Things started going off the rails, though, when a very obvious second message was proclaimed: the whole “actions-proclamation” dichotomy.
Yeah, I know: our pastor did say (very briefly!) that we are to proclaim the Gospel, but the net effect of the message as a whole was to swallow up those brief caveats.
Here’s why I say that: I thought I was just reading into the message, but that was put to rest when I heard the worship leader’s application: “go out and proclaim the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” He got it loud and clear. When we got to my car, my wife, who is not an apologetics freak like myself (she’s normal, thank God!), turned to me and said, “I know what his intentions were, but do you get the notion that he was saying that you don’t need to talk to others about Jesus?”
It is very, very popular these days to separate actions from speech. Many church leaders maintain that what matters are your actions, not your words. In fact, both matter, and actually talking and discussing the Gospel and Jesus with people is an act of faithfulness to Christ. You cannot separate the two and stay faithful to the Bible’s message.
For evidence of that, just look at the Bible’s emphasis on proclamation, specifically of the vocal kind. Heck, just take one book: the book of Acts. I don’t know how you could read that book and come away with the notion that vocal proclamation of the Gospel message is not absolutely central to the life of the disciple.
The slogan the worship leader tossed out at the end is a very popular one in the church. What most don’t realize, though, is that not only is it’s current interpretation patently unbiblical, but it’s not wise either. If you just “live” a good life sans actually sharing your faith, will people get the Gospel message? Also, will they think you are a Christian? No…most likely, they’ll think you’re a Mormon (The only Mormons I’ve seen who are passionate about sharing their faith are the ones on their 2 year mission commitment. Otherwise most I know and have seen–quite a few!– just try to get along.)…or they’ll think you’re just a nice churchgoer.
St. Francis of Assisi–the monk who coined the phrase above–could get away with saying that; he was an itinerant preacher! Plus, he lived at a time when people would more easily make the “lifestyle–Gospel message” connection. We live in no such culture. Our culture is the most biblically illiterate to come along…probably ever.
A better phrase for the 21st century Church is: preach the gospel at all times, and use words, because, like other actions, they are necessary. 21st century believers ought not dichotomize the two and pit one as more important than the other. Even putting them into two separate categories in the first place is odd.
Let me say it again: the Bible (and Jesus, for those of you wont to separate the two) portrays talking with non-believers about the Good News (who doesn’t want to ecstatically share good news with those he loves?) as an act that sets you apart from the world.
It is the world–not Jesus, not the apostles–that wants believers just to be nice and shut up about it. When you bring it up in conversation, that tells the world that you actually believe Jesus’ message enough to make it a frequent topic of conversation, and that you believe it enough to risk rejection and ridicule for doing so. As long as you behave nicely and all, the world will tolerate you, but as soon as you bring up the message of Jesus like it’s actually true, the benign smile turns to a snarl pretty quickly, for the Gospel, which requires human beings who supremely value their autonomy to bend the knee to a Sovereign, is pretty darn offensive.
At this point, many readers are likely pidgeonholing me, so let me deal with an objection: there’s no need to don a sandwich board placard, stand on the street corner with a bullhorn, and shout Christaneze slogans at passersby. That is not the type of proclamation I’m talking about. Nor do you need to edge Jesus awkwardly into a conversation that has nothing to do with Him, steal the stage, and filibuster for 20 minutes.
All I’m talking about is simple discussion. Ask the questions that naturally will lead to spiritual topics being brought up. Take advantage of the many opportunities that come up around you. Don’t know how? A great place to start is with the “How do I bring up Jesus?” podcast on the Overflow Show.
How many of us just simply engage in surfacy talk at the work lunch table, let those opportunities slide by, and never bring up the gospel? How many of us never ask the penetrating and interesting questions? How many of us have the attitude of a friend of mine (a Christian leader in my church): “I wasn’t hired to preach the Gospel?”
Quite a few, I’m willing to bet. I see it and hear it, and I see the same fear in myself. I know I portray myself on this blog as a fearless Christ-follower, but I’m in the same boat as everyone else. Let me give you an example:
In the conversation I featured the other day, one of my fellow co-workers responded to my points by saying: “I believe Jesus was an actual person who lived, that he lived for a little over 30 years, and that he actually died.” All I said was, “well, history backs you up on that one.” GAH! That was a perfect opportunity to go deeper about who He thought Jesus was and why, and to, perhaps gently, suggest there’s more to Him than that!
Another example: another time, the fellas at the table were talking about end of life decisions: if I have a stroke and can’t eat, do I want to be kept alive by a machine, or would I want to be let go? That was a perfect opportunity to ask, “what do you think happens after you die?” All I did, though, was sit in silence with my soup.
I know I’m not alone. The chairs are filled with guys and gals just like me, and what we could really use are encouragements to boldness, and some advice/training on how to be bold, faithful and winsome (Winsome is important! Afterall, who wants to become the stereotypical guy who fillibusters in Christaineze?).