Have We Missed Jesus in the Church?Monday, March 08, 2010
My friend John Armstrong blogged back in December about a subject that seems to be one of the most significant driving factors in the church plant I lead here in Statesboro, GA. This topic is the much needed counterbalance to the doctrinal, theological, academic, exegetical structure built into my life over the last twenty years. In short, it jives with the old cliche, "you know a lot about Jesus, but do you know Jesus?" Now, I am beginning to really know Him. And I don't want the people coming alongside of us in the church plant to miss Him by eclipsing Him with truth and theology about Him that doesn't emphasize communion with Him. Here's what John had to say about it.
I find it more than odd, but terribly common, that Christians know very little about Jesus. Most Christians know very little about Christian doctrine and practice but they know even less about Jesus. The reason for this is not hard to find in most contexts.
First, ministers did not learn much about Jesus in college and seminary. In the best schools we were taught how to exegete Scripture and how to understand basic doctrine. Catholics are given additional courses in canon law and liturgy that most evangelicals know nothing about. Both evangelicals and Catholics are given a course, or at least a part of a course, on Christology. They know about the two natures (Jesus was God and man) and about how the church developed its understanding of Jesus in the face of heresies. But hardly anyone learns in depth about Jesus himself. How does he think and feel, what are his values, what issues in life truly concern him?
Protestants are generally more interested in the text of the Bible, especially the Pauline letters and certain parts of the moral code of the Old Testament. Catholics are enamored with the church as the teaching authority established by Jesus. One old German lady told a Roman Catholic priest a few years ago, "The way I size up Christianity is like this: The Catholics worship the Church, the Protestants worship the Bible, and there are darn few who ever get to know Jesus Christ!"
I believe the old German lady is right. The Church and the Bible have become our message. But our message is Jesus Christ. The Church and the Bible are the medium of the message. The New Testament has authority because Jesus Christ gave his authority to those human authors who composed it. Evangelism is introducing people to Jesus Christ, not to doctrines about Christ or the faith.
Why is it that we've have settled for preaching the medium rather than the message? The consequences of this are immense. You may study the Scriptures your whole life, or attend Mass every single day, and miss Jesus.
The four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) give us a divinely inspired account of the life and thought of Jesus. How did he respond to different audiences and in different cultural contexts? Because they give us a truly human account we can know a great deal about Jesus' life and teaching. Trying to grasp what they actually told us helps us get to know the real Jesus.
I suggest that the way to know Jesus is to read the Gospels and ask questions. Listen to the various interpretations of the Gospels but then meditate prayerfully before the accounts. Try to enter into the scenes pictured in the story and thus enter into the heart and mind of Jesus of Nazareth as he lived in these real scenes.
What we desperately need is a deeper knowledge of the God-man, Jesus the Christ. We can have it if we hunger for it, read the Gospels in this way and ask the Spirit to give this to us. Seeking to know Jesus will totally change your life. It might even bring about the real ecumenism I long to see in the coming years. After all, true Christians are united first in Jesus, not in their agreement on every doctrine and debate.