From my own observation, a large part of why the contemporary Church has gone off the rails is that Christians, churches, and denominations have become hardened around words, issues, belief-systems, causes, philosophies, and theologies all without imbibing in the spirit of Jesus.
Every parent has said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” If you haven’t, your kids are not old enough to to point out your inconsistencies! The thing about the Christian faith is that we have a Master Teacher who we can look to in both what he says and what he does. Jesus, our Master Teacher, teaches his followers not only with his words but also with his manner of life.
Jesus taught using parables. Parables are stories “thrown alongside” another reality. They serve to illumine who God is and what it means to live under the umbrella of God…which Jesus called the kingdom of God. Jesus’ parables were not alway clear to the listeners. They had a mysterious tone to them. But the invitation was for his hearers to wrestle with the meaning. Jesus didn’t give simplistic answers to his hearers. He invited us to engage with God directly.
Jesus taught using preaching and instruction. The Sermon on the Mount or Plain are moments Jesus gets very specific. The poor, grieving, persecuted, meek, and humble are the ones who are blessed. Love and pray for your enemies. Don’t store up treasures here on earth. Don’t pray in public to parade you religion. Again, the purpose of Jesus’ teaching is to get people to adjust their orientation in life – renew their mind, go beyond their way of thinking about God – ‘metanoia’.
But the primary mode of teaching for Jesus was not the spoken word. Jesus most powerful teaching came from his manner of life…from the way he lived and moved in the world…from the way he engaged people and problems day in and day out.
- Jesus taught by eating with sinners, tax collectors, and others the religious leaders declared unclean. He engaged with the people where were socially and religiously ostracized. Lepers, demon-possessed, the sick, and outsiders were who he was drawn to.
- Jesus taught through humility, gentleness, and compassion. He was the shepherd who looked out on people who were cut off by the religious leaders – harassed, confused, helpless – like sheep without a shepherd.
- Jesus taught by what he did day by day. This was his most significant way of teaching. His life bore witness to his words – the truth of his parables and instructions. The religious leadership of his day said one thing but lived another. Jesus’ words and actions aligned.
From my own observation, this is a large part of why the contemporary Church has gone off the rails. We have made idols of certain causes, interpretations, and cultural issues and ignored the way Jesus lived, moved, and engaged the world. It feels as if many churches in America have elevated “proper belief” to the place of idolatry while ignoring compassionate action. (Some will read this and assume I don’t think belief matters – that’s because they don’t don’t have ears to hear or eyes to see the full way Jesus taught). The world is watching. The world is listening. They notice a modern church where words and actions do not align. Not only do they not align with Jesus words and actions…they don’t align with their own words and actions. They will pay more attention to the way we dialogue about this blog post, than the content of the post. *Sigh*…and yet some will continue to focus more on being right, while forsaking the manner of Jesus life.
I believe disciples of Jesus must recapture the sense of being apprentices of Jesus not just scribes of apologetics. We must allow Jesus to be our teacher both in what he says and in how he lives. This is what is truly means to embody Christ.