A Call For Renewal

This is a call for a “Jesus renewal” in the church.

  • It is simple. We must once again put into practice the teaching of Jesus, our Lord.
  • It is also radical. For no matter what tradition or denomination we are a part of, it will require a drastic transformation.

The Church Is Adrift

The movement that Jesus of Nazareth began has spread now for many centuries. And although there has always been a faithful remnant, many who have claimed to be a part of his movement have barely understood what he is about. This is still true today:

  • We don’t know what his agenda is
  • We don’t know what his demands are
  • We don’t understand his teaching and example

We are functionally illiterate when it comes to  Jesus. Thus, we are adrift.

This is certainly the case with the church in the United States. We are divided, confused, ignorant, weak, unfaithful and bloated with wealth. We bring dishonor to the reputation of God, as unbelievers see that our actions do not line up with what we profess. So they conclude that what we profess must not amount to much; that our God must not be real or worth knowing. (Romans 2:24).

It doesn’t matter which tradition or denomination we are a part of, or if we try to escape all this by being independent – the church of Jesus needs a  reorientation.

A New Direction

The answer is not to emphasize the old continuums – Catholic or Protestant, Conservative or  Liberal. These are a distraction from the real problem because neither end of these continuums addresses the real crisis.

The answer is to go back to the foundation –  Jesus, our Lord. In the parable of the two foundations Jesus compares his teaching to the sure foundation, which, if we build on it will even  survive the storm of the final judgment (Matthew 7:24-27). This is the same foundation that Paul speaks of  in I Corinthians 3:11.  “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

What the church needs is to rediscover Jesus –

  • not just as the means of our salvation – our savior
  • not just as one whom we have a relationship with – our friend.

We need to rediscover Jesus as our teacher and guide. As Jesus himself said, “You have one teacher – the Messiah” (Matthew 23:10). It is he who instructs his church how to live and move forward with the mission he has given us. This is the way to true transformation and blessing. We can learn greater faithfulness to God, and as we gather around Jesus become more united.

This is the challenge of this call to renewal. This is a call to take Jesus seriously once again.

Our Hypocrisy

Most people in the church today do not take Jesus seriously.

  • Jesus is the Lord of all creation, we say, but we don’t actually make reference to him in terms of how we live our daily lives.
  • Jesus is our savior, but surely he did not mean for us to take his teaching literally and put it into practice.
  • Jesus sits at the right hand of God, but what he spoke in the Gospels was just for that day or just for certain people.

We marginalize Jesus even as we exalt him. We give Jesus all authority in our formulations and confession, but practically we give him no authority because he has no say in how we live our lives. This is an empty and useless authority.

In reality we follow other teachers. We make reference to other agendas; to other philosophical, cultural or theological systems. These are what actually shape how we live and how we guide the church.

Despite our words that honor Jesus as our Lord and Master, judging by the fruit of our actions, we do not take him seriously:

  • We ourselves do not actually do what he says (Luke 6:46)
  • And we do not teach others to obey everything that he has commanded (Matthew 28:20).

This can only be named for what it is – hypocrisy. Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7).

Learning Again To Take Jesus Seriously

1. Learning to take Jesus seriously requires that we hold firmly to our Lord’s authority to teach us. It means affirming that no one else has the authority to teach us that Jesus has.

His authority is rooted in his identity as the Son of God. John said, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus is the one who can make God known to us.

His authority is also rooted in his mission. God has chosen him to teach us his way. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples . . . teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus has the authority to teach us God’s way. And his authority is such that no other teacher can set it aside:

  • No teacher can add to Jesus’ teaching by making binding what is not binding in the apostolic witness. This is to exalt ourselves as the teacher alongside of Jesus (Mathew 23:8-12). This is to teach mere human commands (Mark 7:6-13). This is to go beyond the teaching of Jesus (2 John 9). Whether we do this based on the authority of the church, or of reason, of tradition, or culture – it is wrong.
  • Also, no teacher can take away from Jesus’ teaching. This directly contradicts his commission to us. We are to teach others “to observe everything that he has commanded us” (Matthew 28:20).

Not even Moses can set aside Jesus’ authority. We revere Moses but Jesus brings to completion and perfection what God revealed through him and the other prophets (the Old Testament). So Moses has authority, but Jesus is our ultimate authority (John 1:17-18; Matthew 19:7-9).

2. Learning to take Jesus seriously also means that we hold firmly to the true Jesus. There are many different versions of Jesus in the world. But it is only the Jesus that we find described in the New Testament – the apostolic Jesus – that has authority to guide us.

We do not submit ourselves to any other Jesus:

  • Not a mystical Jesus of our experience, or someone else’s experience.
  • Not a charismatic experience of Jesus by the Spirit.
  • Not an esoteric, hidden, or recently discovered Jesus, from beyond the apostolic witness.
  • Not the so-called historical Jesus which sets aside the Jesus of the apostolic witness for a speculative reconstruction based on the changing assumptions of this or that scholar.
  • Not the revisionist Jesus of progressive thinkers who see aspects of Jesus that are good and then build from there based on their own agenda.
  • Not traditionalist caricatures of Jesus that are “orthodox” but which really only serve to reinforce certain conservative cultural values.

We cannot be fooled into listening to a replacement Jesus, who is nothing more than a front that seeks to legitimize someone else’s agenda and teaching.

It is the apostolic Jesus of the New Testament texts that is the true Jesus. It is this Jesus who is our living Lord and the Master of all creation. No other so-called Jesus can claim this. No other Jesus holds authority over us. Only this Jesus.

The Real Test

Learning to take Jesus seriously means actually putting his instructions into practice. This is the real test of whether we take Jesus seriously or not. Do we obey him? Do we put his teaching into practice?

Unlike some today, who say we have to look for general principles or try to translate Jesus’ teaching into our cultural context – Jesus actually expects us to do what he said. Every bit of it. According to   Jesus, we are literally supposed to guide our daily lives and order the church according to his teaching.

  • Jesus said, “You have one teacher, the Messiah” (Matthew 23:10).
  • He said, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear” (Mark 4:23).
  • He said, “Make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
  • He said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God – and obey it” (Luke 11:28).
  • He said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them” will survive the storm of the final judgment (Matthew 7:24).

There is, of course, need for discernment to make sure that we are correctly understanding Jesus and the apostles. There is also a need for wisdom as we apply his teaching to our situations. But what Jesus has told us, he meant for us to put into practice.

So whether or not we have regard for Jesus’ authority is evidenced in how we choose to live our everyday lives and how we choose to order our church communities today. As he said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Why do you say I have authority and then proceed to ignore what I have taught you?

The Fruit Of Renewal

As we begin to take Jesus seriously again we will find renewal.

First, we will become more united. We will not agree on everything, but we will have a common  focus – finding out what Jesus and the apostles taught and then  putting this into practice.

Second, as we begin to hear our Lord’s voice once again, we will be radically challenged to greater faithfulness to God. Our unfaithfulness will become apparent. We will not always agree on the details, but we will be moving in the same direction of greater faithfulness as we put Jesus’ teaching and example into practice.

Finally, as a result of our faithfulness, we will receive God’s blessing once again. The Spirit will rest upon us in fullness and we will know God’s favor, grace and power. We will look more like the church that we see in the New Testament –  empowered by the Spirit to accomplish God’s mission of making disciples of all peoples.

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William Higgins – 2004