So, after Brendt’s post last week, I thought my temptation to write an article on this would pass. However, after a number of DM’s, Tweets, Facebook messages and some emails, I think it might just save me some time and lots (and lots) of repeating myself. Additionally, a good friend asked me what was going on with all of this, and my reply was “it’s a long story” (which I probably owe her at some point, anyway), and current events seem to be surfacing this topic, as well.
Background on “Christian”
Andy Stanley started an 8-part series a couple of months ago at North Point Community Church, called “Christian”. The overarching premise is that “Christian” is a malleable word (a poor adjective) that can mean most anything these days. It was a word given to Jesus-followers by outsiders, not the followers, themselves. What the followers called themselves, and what Jesus called them, is much better defined: disciples. As such, we, as followers of Christ, ought to try to live up to what Jesus expected us to be (disciples), not take the squishy road of “Christian”. [I highly recommend the entire series, FWIW.]
- Part 1: Brand Recognition – This is the basic premise of the entire series, relayed above, where Stanley lays out Christianity’s reputation, outside the church as “judgmental, homophobic moralists, who think they are the only ones going to heaven and secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell”, and then goes on to describe the difference between “Christian” and “disciple”
- Part 2: Quitters – Picking up from Part 1, Andy tells the story of Anne Rice – leaving the church, rediscovering her faith, and then disavowing “Christians”, saying “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ, as always, but to being ‘Christian’ or being part of ‘Christianity’. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.“ Stanley then goes on to describe the defining characteristic given to disciples by Jesus (see 1 John 4:7-8), that should differentiate us from the world around us, so that we don’t settle for the brand “Christianity”. Key quote: We give up our leverage in society when we opt for anything other than LOVE.
- Part 3: Insiders Outsiders – Andy follows the evolution of the early church – from a small, persecuted minority to a movement that toppled the Roman Empire. He points to this event in time as a point where Christians stopped leveraging love as their distinguishing characteristic, and started leveraging other things – like political power – to impose their faith on others, by threat or force. He examines how Christians should treat those outside the faith, and that we should not expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live as he commanded his followers to live. (This sermon shared points with the incredibly good 1-sermon series last summer, The Separation of Church and Hate.) Over time, though, Christians morphed the Great Commission into “Therefore, go and impose my teaching, values and worldview on all nations, threatening them with judgment and destruction if they don’t obey everything I have commanded you.“ The main point he comes to is that we are to judge disciples (who are acting against his commands), not outsiders (who never signed up to follow his commands). [He uses Mark & Grace Driscoll's appearance on The View as an example of how to demonstrate this.]
- Part 4: Showing Up - The Sunday before Easter, Andy preached this sermon on how disciples should live – as salt and light – in the world. He traces this from the experience of the early persecuted church, up to how we ought to live now – where how we treat one another and how we treat those outside the church (by “showing up”) – is to be such examples of Christ that when people see us, they see what he is like. This is messy, and is not always immediately (or ever) visible to us, but our good deeds should shine in such a way that others speak well of Christ from seeing how we act. “The way we act may make them feel guilty, but it should not make them feel that we are condemning them.” (i.e. it should be their conscience that convicts them, not our criticism.)
- Part 5: When Gracie Met Truthy – In a theme common here, Andy touches on the tension that exists between grace and truth. His basic premise, spoken several times and several ways: “A tension exists between grace and truth. If we try to resolve that tension, in either direction, we lose something.” He goes through multiple examples in Jesus’ ministries where Jesus, described by John as the perfect embodiment of grace and truth, gives both grace AND truth. For example, in the woman who committed adultery and as brought before him, Jesus response was “I do not condemn you” (grace) and “go and live in sin no more” (truth). As Brendt quoted this sermon, “… people may misunderstand your grace towards sinners as somehow condoning their sin, but that is not the case.“ This was a very good, but very difficult lesson (and the source of the controversy, covered below).
- Part 6: Angry Birds – This sermon covers similar territory the previous week – this time via Jesus’ teaching, whereas Week 5 dealt with Jesus’ actions. It examined Jesus’ teaching to the disciples about how to treat sinners, followed by the story of the Two Lost Sons (sometimes called The Prodigal Son). In the first part, he says that if Christians are doing what Jesus did and following what he taught, we, too, should end up attracting the “tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes”, which will likely result in the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to mutter that we’re associating with the wrong sorts of people. Even though we have more in common, and nearly identical theology, to the ‘Pharisees”, the way we live our belief – if we’re doing it right – will likely result in the sinners feeling welcome and the self-righteous feeling … self-righteous and put out. Basically, as Stanley follows on, we should be modeling the role of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
- Part 7: Loopholes – This sermon continues on, examining how “Christians” (and, to some degree, non-Christians) try to use “loopholes” which allow our own sinful behavior, while condemning/damning the sins of those who are different than them. He contrasts this with what Jesus taught – “Love God, and love your neighbor – all other laws flow from/are subservient to these”. In the context of loopholes, Andy sums this up – to the Pharisees – as “Don’t you dare take a verse or a passage of Scripture and use it to unlove someone else, you hypocrites” and then continues: “Disciples don’t look for workarounds or loopholes – ‘Christians’ do that – Disciples ask ‘What does love require of me?’“ [I loved this particular bit, as well: "'Christians' use the Bible like a mace - 'Disciples' use the Bible like a mirror."] If you only have time for one sermon in the series, I’d go here. Very challenging stuff. Stuff I often suck at. Stuff that will make you uncomfortable. Stuff that doesn’t require you to compromise, but requires you to love people who are not like you.
- Part 8: Working It Out – In the final sermon of the series, Andy picks up from the final question of Week 7: What does love require of me? In it, he notes that the people who have shaped us the most are either a) those who really loved us; and b) those who really hurt/abused us. Originally, Jesus gave us a new commandment: Love one another. Our defining characteristic was to be how we love one another, but over time it has evolved from being more about how we behave to being almost completely about what we believe. If we want to re-brand “Christian” to become synonymous with “Disciple”, we need to follow the new commandment he gave us. “We represent the commander, not the commandments.” He finishes up the series by talking how to prepare ourselves to live in love: 1) Don’t do anything that will hurt you; 2) Don’t do anything that will hurt someone else; and 3) Don’t be mastered by anything.
- All in all, this was an incredibly good series, and one that is challenging (for good reasons). I encourage you to watch/download/listen to it all. Twice.