My wife pointed my attention to a controversy which has arisen lately over a popular Christian leader who has become well known (whether famously or infamously) for his seemingly totalitarian, agrarian, authoritarian convictions about the Christian life. In short, he and his local church ministry have simply become another example of what it means to short-circuit ministry because of adding some kind of peripheral emphasis to the lives of the flock in addition to the gospel. Through such emphases, the environment and atmosphere of this and any other local church like it (always issue-oriented) can only lead to an authoritarian pastoral regime in which the flock are treated as naves and everyone else who doesn't do as they do are criticized as not really following Jesus. In short, to add any peripheral or otherwise emphases to the gospel means the gospel is no longer the gospel, but another gospel. This is the very thing Paul struggled with in his day. And I am convinced that legalism will not die an eternal death until Jesus returns to take His beloved home with Him.
I rejoiced last night as I lay in bed, trying to stay awake to converse with my wife. I was delighted to be a part of a local church ministry where the primary and only emphasis is on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and what implications that carries for our personal and family lives. I've lived so long under various spiritual regimes which made me add something to Jesus in order to follow Him. I hate to keep pounding the "Jesus Plus ??" post a few days ago, but the theme continues to resound in my head and heart over and again for some reason. I have grown weary of following Jesus plus anything else. Here are a few questions that captured my mind last night.
Why do pastors, church leaders, ministers, and theologians want to emphasize Jesus plus a certain view of church leadership or even a certain view of preaching? If they are right, then let them be. But to emphasize them as an important distinctive leads the flock to think of something other than Jesus as the primary distinctive in the local church.
Why stress or emphasize an agrarian lifestyle (homesteading), as if the latter has anything at all to do with our holiness before God? Living on a farm and raising your own food doesn't make us more holy. Yet there are multitudinous "Christian" camps out there which emphasize this above the gospel, or else teach that such a lifestyle is an expression of the gospel.
Why do these men (and women) stress a weight loss program as an expression of the gospel? How about teachings and books on what the Bible supposedly has to say about healthy living and eating? What have they possibly do with the message Jesus preached and with the message Paul calls us to reflect on day by day?
Why do church leaders emphasize patriarchal theology as the path to true godliness in the family? Why is classical education portrayed as a path to Christlikeness? Why is homeschooling propounded in churches as the only godly means of showing your love for Christ? Why the need to put stress on moms and dads to make their small children sit in a worship service and call it Christlikeness?
What about the emphases on various parenting methodologies? Why make moms feel burdened about how they breastfeed their infants, or if they do at all, while linking it to godliness and holiness?
And why point the attention of so many to peripheral issues like drinking wine and/or cognacs, making your own beer, and smoking cigars? Why emphasize that the gospel only finds total expression in Reformed Theology and all its intricacies? Why the need to point our attention to a specific mode or method of baptism as a reflection of following Christ?
I was in Red Lobster the other night enjoying a plate full of crustaceans and I spotted a table full of fundamental Christians. All the gals were in ankle-length dresses, the men with short haircuts...you can spot 'em a mile away....I used to be one of 'em. The leader, presumably the pastor, was wearing a bright red polyester jacket with a gospel-centered Bible verse on the back. I don't remember the verse, but I do remember the emphasis on sin and forgiveness. Fantastic! Then he turned around. On the front left portion of the jacket was an embroidering of an open Bible with a sword laying across it and this inscription: AV 1611. Foolishness. That is a classic example of Jesus plus something else. The gospel does not find its expression in the 1611 Authorized Version of the King James Holy Bible, nor in wearing certain length dresses, nor in certain length haircuts. My heart wept for them. They were in bondage. Oh, that they could know the joy of following Jesus. Is that saying they are not Christians? I'm no judge. But I do know this for sure. Adding any emphases to Christ destroys the gospel and any effectiveness you hope it may have on others.
Please don't miss my point. I'm not saying that any of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves. My point is this: if these things are stressed, preached, taught, and emphasized as expressions of the gospel, or as the primary reflections of what it means to follow Jesus, or as the environment which provides any sort of safety, comfort or security for the saints, then the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in Scripture is destroyed and those who tout their teachings follow another gospel.
What emphases does your local church put on your life? Does it happen to find reflection in any of the things I mentioned above? Does it find reflection in something else? How about someone else? In other words, is your local church known for the human being they follow rather than the Savior they should be following? Is your church known for following Bill Gothard, Jack Hyles, the Ezzo's, Doug Phillips, R.C. Sproul, Jr., Bob Jones, Doug Wilson, John MacArthur, John Piper, C. J. Mahaney, Brian McClaren, Rick Warren, or anyone else? Or is King Jesus the centerpiece of the attention and emphasis in your local church? Is it only Christ who occupies the primary parts of our hearts, lives, thoughts, small group meetings, worship services, and other events? Is the good news the primary and only message that is taught? Is it the gospel of a crucified Christ for desperate sinners who would suffer under God's wrath were it not for propitiation? Is it the grace and mercy and love of a God who undergirds your every step with justification by faith so that you may life your life to the uttermost and please God at the same time?
In closing, let me simply say that the only biblical expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a life set free from the Law and fixed upon a Person. Follow Jesus and stop following man-made traditions which always and only saddle you with legalism accompanied by burdensome guilt, sadness, condemnation, and joylessness. Focus your heart and mind on loving Him and stop giving your time and attention to things that Jesus did not put His attention toward. It only leads to misery. Only Jesus gives real joy.