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Spiritual Steroids

December 28, 2010

I am a St. Louis Cardinal fan and I vividly remember the 1998 season.  This was the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a colossal competition for home runs.  I lived in Oklahoma at the time and almost never got to watch the Cardinals play on TV.  I do remember watching the score ticker on the bottom of the screen on ESPN.  The Cardinals weren’t very good that year and I didn’t pay attention to the score.  I would just look to see if McGwire hit a home run.

Hindsight is 20/20 and we all now know that steroids were used not only by these two players but by a lot of other players.  Baseball is certainly not the only sport that has been tainted by steroids.  No matter the sport the reason to use steroids is the same:  an athlete lacks trust in his or her own ability and looks for artificial enhancers.

Could it be that churches have sought our own artificial power enhancers?  Could it be that we have lacked trust in the power and example of Jesus and have reverted to some sort of “spiritual steroid?” 

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola speak to this trend in their book Jesus Manifesto

Jesus Himself said that when He is lifted up, He will draw all people to Himself.  But because we don’t trust Jesus to do what He says He will do, or believe that He is who He says He is, or have not caught a glimpse of His infinite glory, we sit at drawing boards and draw up programs and methods and draft strategies that we hope might bring people to Christ.  But Jesus could not have been clearer:  the only begotten Son of God is the draw.  Our mission is simply to lift Him up in a context that our culture can understand and appreciate.  Whenever this happens, the rest will take care of itself” (pg. xx). 

Jesus is the power of Christianity.  We can’t enhance Him.  Artificial, religious, power enhancers can produce growth but unfortunately it will be … well… artificial and religious.  It won’t be the kind of growth that produces eternal fruit. 

How then does a Christian community present Christ to the world?  Should we do away with all programs and strategies?  Actually, I think the answer is “no.”  Programs and strategies are neither good nor bad in and of themselves.  The “goodness” of a program is found in its ability to recreate the logos (way) of the cross, the ethos and character of Jesus, and recreate His mission.  A program must be measured by its ability to reflect and imitate the ministry and example of Jesus.  A church is only worthwhile to the degree that it exalts Jesus by recreating His spirit, example, and mission in the context of the modern world.  A church that sings loudly about Jesus and uses His name frequently in prayers, but does not imitate Him is a church that has not yet trusted in His power nor have they made Him supreme. 

How does Jesus become supreme and central within a church?

First, Jesus has to become the central and integrating figure in our faith.  Jesus is not one of the things we study about, preach about, and seek to follow.  He is the guiding force within the church.  All fields of theology must find their home in submission to Christ and not Christ to certain areas of theology.  Furthermore, the church in the United States is in grave danger of reflecting the political and economic landscape of its surrounding culture more than it reflects the heart of Jesus.  Churches are as materialistic as any organization, finding great pride in what we own.  Furthermore, I have even talked to some who have found more of their Christian identity in political banter than from Jesus.  Some of these folks can quote Andy Rooney on the left or Glenn Beck (whose faith as a Mormon would demote Jesus from His proper place) on the right, but cannot list the beattitudes of Jesus and have never read the Gospels! 

Second, symbolic faith must move over and make way for a faith of substance.  Symbolism reigns when we become more concerned about the images of our faith than we are about the actions of our faith.  Many of our programs and ministries are symbolic actions for the “cause;” but often no one is helped, no relationship with those who are lost are built, and no one has met Jesus.  We will spend thousands of dollars, even tens or hundreds of thousands, on symbolic events that do not meet any of the criteria above.  Christianity needs to be in an active form, ready to engage the lost with profound love. 

Third, we will have to ask the tough questions about whether our collective church reflects the character of Christ.  Jesus spent time with sinners and so the church will have to do so as well.  Our resources will need to be focused on those who are being reached and much less on those who are already “in” the church.  Also, Jesus taught generosity, used his power to meet earthly needs, and ultimately gave his life away on the cross.  The church will have to generously meet earthly needs as an announcement of the authority of Jesus over all things and as an expression of the love of God.  Ichthys symbols, Christian apparel, and events that lack mission influence will not get it done any longer.

If you read this blog often, then you know that I write about the role of Jesus within the church a lot.  I tried to write about something else. . . really I did.  I cannot help but focus upon the supremacy of Jesus and His headship over the church.  I am captured by it.  I am also captured by a vision of a church that has truly been captured by Jesus.  No power enhancers necessary.  I long for it and believe (maybe foolishly) that it can happen.

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