I’ve spent most of my life seeking to understand how to relate to the non-churched, non-Christian world. My books and speaking platforms have all had a crossover flavor to them and I finally ended up at the peak of professional speaking opportunities on the largest platforms in addition to pastoring one of the early mega-churches.
During that season of my life I came to the conclusion that only Jesus could transform our lives.
1. NOT Churchianity
2. NOT Christianity
3. NOT conversion methods
4. ONLY JESUS
I came to the conclusion that in order to reach the non-churched world I would have to separate myself from mainstream churches and Christianity. So, I did that to a certain degree, but I still had to take up offerings to to keep the church and its staff alive.
In the second season of my life Jesus apprehended my heart in a fresh way and poised me toward taking this same JESUS PLUS NOTHING message beyond the “secular”, non-churched world into the 7 major cultures of the world.
So, now my focus and perpendicular learning curve have taken me to a simple understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom. I've spent so much time and energy unlearning a lot of my theological premises I received at graduate seminary while a student and professor. It's been a fresh look at Jesus and His message of the good news of the Kingdom. He only mentions “church” twice, yet we are all about building and uplifting the church. His message was not the church, but all about the Kingdom.
In this journey now we are working with the 7 primary cultures of the world—Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Animist, Christian and Atheist/Agnostic. We don't present Christianity to them, but Jesus. We teach them to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus as the early disciples did. It took a while for the disciples to become believers. However, it's important to note that being a believer is not enough—the demons believe, false prophets/teachers of Matthew 7 are believers and we are believers. So, what's the difference? Jesus says, "Only those who do the will of my Father will enter the Kingdom." So "hear my words and practice them"....
We are working with the Buddhist youth. What is so amazing is that these young Buddhists are followers of Jesus. It's just like hanging out with the early disciples while Jesus is out for the evening. It is mind-blowing! We are seeing the same results with the other cultures. Jesus trumps everything else. Not Christianity, but Jesus. My concern is that we must stick to the teachings and principles of Jesus without depending upon a set of beliefs or a theological system that man has built around Jesus. I believe Jesus never was a Christian and doesn’t want to be.
The problem I sense with making Christianity the answer or making the ultimate goal for a person to become a Christian is the following:
We are using and promoting terms (Christian and Christianity) that are NOT even used by Jesus. And, when New Testament writers don't make this their identification mark for the Jesus movement. Worse, we have transformed these terms into sacred goals for not only our lives, but the entire world. By doing this we set it up for people to hate Christians and Christianity, even lumping it altogether with the West. Therefore, so many do not hear the Good News. So many miss the most attractive person ever—Jesus.
Many people use the term “Christianity” and mean by it a personal relationship with Jesus. However, words must be chosen well in order to communicate most clearly. So, consider these observations:
FIRST—Making Western Cultural Christianity the primary way to God implies all other cultural religions are wrong and Western Cultural Christianity is right. It tells people that to be a Follower of Jesus, one must also undergo a cultural transformation to Western Christian culture. It’s as if Western Christian culture and Western Cultural Christians own Jesus. This is not scriptural; Jesus is not exclusive, but all-inclusive.
SECOND—Making Christianity the primary way to God implies and requires that Christians must convert the world to Western Cultural Christianity. Obviously, this requires a vast array of evangelistic campaigns, exporting Christian music and Christian doctrine, which is really a brand of Christianity from the West, with the intent of changing the audience to a more western culture. This creates a prideful, imperialistic, cultural type of evangelism. It creates a situation where people of other religions are the “enemy of our faith” who must convert to “our side,” instead of simply following Jesus within their context. The turn-off level is great and very offensive to many who don’t want to reject their culture in order to come to Jesus. The truth is that only Jesus through His Spirit is able to bring about spiritual transformation. This is not a cultural transformation, but a heart transformation.
THIRD—Making Western Cultural Christianity the primary way to God brings with it a narrow view of God—Jesus and the Kingdom. God and Jesus are limited as being from the West. It’s a negation of God’s full creation of every culture, nation and tribe and thereby diminishing the cultural richness of the Creator-God.
FOURTH—Making Christianity the primary way to God reduces Jesus and the Kingdom to a religious system, competing for the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere. Christianity is another religious system on par with the religions of the world. Jesus and the Kingdom are not! We cannot change people with religious rituals and programs; that is pride. Only a personal relationship with Jesus, who is above all religions, can and will change people; from the inside out.
Christianity as another religious system acting as if it is the only way to God or the right way to God stirs up negative reactions and attitudes from the non-Christian world, criticism from the media and persecution of the Christian “missionaries” and their activities around the world. This attitude and teaching that Christianity is right and all others are wrong merges quite well with the smug attitude of the West believing we are always right and better than most everyone else.
E. Stanley Jones’ approach in the Indian culture was marked by his meeting with Mahatma Ghandi. Ghandi had just returned from his work in South Africa. He asked Ghandi how he might make the Good News more effective in the nation of India. Without skipping a beat, Ghandi offered two suggestions to Jones. First, “If you Christians would practice the teachings and principles of Jesus, that would go a long way in communicating your faith.” Second, “If you would study our culture and religion, then you will find we aren’t all that bad and reprehensible.” Jones found these to be profound enough to make them the cornerstone of his approach to not only the Indian culture, but the cultures of the world.
FIFTH—Making Christianity the primary way to God rejects the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus is for the entire world. Jesus never urged anyone to become a part of a Christian culture or to join a Synagogue or Church. His only concern seems to be the person’s heart of faith and the subsequent act of whether or not the person becomes a follower of Jesus.
Jesus made it a habit of reaching out to people from all kinds of religious and cultural backgrounds. NOTE the following illustrations of how the approach of Jesus and his disciples was all-inclusive:
• John 4:12—Woman at the well was a Samaritan with very different beliefs regarding the center of worship. He left her with cultural beliefs intact, except that He trumped the center of worship by saying that someday the center of worship will not be in a given location, but in your heart. Jesus was not promoting a new religion; he was offering a personal relationship with God. This personal relationship would transform both her religion and the Hebrew religion. We give Satan too much credit, he is not a creator! He can only steal and destroy what God has made. A personal relationship with Jesus would take what Satan had stolen back for God and replace what he had destroyed.
• Acts 10:28—Peter’s experience with the non-Jews. After Peter was supernaturally led to the house of Cornelius by a radical vision from God, he told them: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
• Mark 7:26—The Syrophoenician woman. She was a gentile from a godless culture. Her faith was evident in her persistent conversation with Jesus about her daughter. Jesus honored her faith, however He didn’t pull her into a new religious system or study class, nor did He have her renounce her cultural upbringing. When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman, He didn't make certain to warn her of her false beliefs and be sure to change the mountain where she worshipped. There was no renunciation of her false doctrines.
The presence of Jesus will change a person from the inside out to be like Jesus. God’s presence will convict their hearts in His time of what needs to be changed in their personal and cultural ways; NOT US!
• Luke 9:54—Rebuke of James & John. They suggested that Jesus call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who were not of the Jewish faith. Jesus rebuked them soundly.
• Mark 6:45-7:23—Trip to Gennesaret. Do you notice how many times the Gospel writers refer to going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee? Whenever they were on the Jewish side, they crossed over to the other side. Why? Jesus performed the same works among the gentile world. He never urged them to change their religious culture, but let them remain right where they grew up. However, they were drawn to Him.
• Matthew 15:30; Mark 7:24-8:9—Trips to Tyre, Sidon and Decapolis. All of these were non-Jewish areas where Jesus ministered.
• Mark 7:31-38; Matthew 15:29-38—Feeding of the 4000. It’s almost as if Jesus made a point doing the same miracles among the gentiles as He did with the Jews. This was a feeding within the world of the gentiles.
• Matthew 8:5—The Roman Centurion. No doubt the Roman Centurion grew up with the Roman gods, yet Jesus does not speak to this at all. His concern was his faith. When Jesus declared the Roman official's faith as outstanding, even greater than He had seen among the house of Israel, Jesus didn't tell this man to make sure to repent and go renounce the many Roman deities or his faith would be for nought.
• Matthew 8:10-11—Continuation of the Centurion story. Further in the scene in the healing of the Roman Centurion’s servant, Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
• Matthew 24:14—Jesus’ message regarding the nations of the world. Here Jesus says: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
• Matthew 28:18-20—The great commission of Jesus. Jesus repeatedly gives the same command to His disciples before His departure: MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS.
• John 10:16—Jesus mentions “other sheep” that are His. Who are these other sheep? Could it be that they are from the various cultures of the world? Could they be those spoken of in Romans 2:14-15 and 1 John 4:7?
• Acts 15:1-29—The first followers of Jesus were all Jews. When the first gentiles (everyone else) came to Jesus, some religious Jews insisted that all followers of Jesus must become cultural Jews. The apostles clearly decided against this. All people could be Followers of Jesus without changing their culture.
• Acts 17:26-27—Message of Paul in Athens. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” God made the nations—all nations—were made by God in such a way so that all men might seek and find God.
• Acts 17—When Paul spoke before the gentile audience in Athens, he didn't quote Scripture, didn't use Jesus' name at first, stroked them for their many idols of worship and proceeded to explain to them who this UNKNOWN GOD is that they commemorated. He didn't call for the renunciation of these "gods" and he used their “heathen” poems to explain what God is like (Acts 17:28), yet many believed in Jesus that day. What's that all about? I don’t know many with this kind of approach.
• Acts 8:26-40—When the Ethiopian eunuch was approached by Philip, sent by God to do so for this Divine appointment, why doesn't Philip bring up the renunciation of his Ethiopian culture? They had already built many temples to some gods back then, so why not a call for renunciation of these gods...and especially before baptizing this eunuch, which must have served to make him feel he was now OK with God and a follower of Jesus?
• I Corinthians. 9:19-22—Cultural identification. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” NOTE the strategy here was not to export a given culture to another, but to identify with the culture in such a way to introduce Jesus to that culture.
• Revelation 5:9—Every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Jesus came to reach all of these, not by exporting any given tribe, tongue, people or nation, but from within each of these faith in Jesus naturally emerges. Since the Creator-God is the source of all people, He has already marked all of these people groups. The word translated as “nations” is actually “ethnos” in the Greek. This is where we get the word “ethnic” from; in other words, there will be every cultural group in heaven.
• Anyone, anywhere can be a follower of Jesus— Cultural Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Agnostics, Moslems, and even Christians can all be followers of Jesus. Christians have said for years that a cultural Jew doesn’t have to renounce being Jewish in order to follow Jesus. Following Jesus makes a person’s Jewishness more full and meaningful. I believe this translates into the many cultures of the world. Following Jesus brings out the fullness of any and all cultures. A cultural Buddhist can be a follower of Jesus. A cultural Moslem can be a follower of Jesus. It’s just like a cultural Catholic can be a follower of Jesus without renouncing his cultural background or cultural Baptist or a cultural Methodist. Anyone can be a follower of Jesus and still remain within his or her cultural background...and this is quite Biblical as demonstrated above. It also makes it much better for reaching others within that culture.
NOTE that each of the above passages has to do with the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom reaching to the ends of the world—to everyone everywhere.
To take this one step further, there is a spirit of anti-Christ taught in Scripture. “Anti” is not only "against Christ", but "instead of Christ", therefore anything that takes us away from JESUS PLUS NOTHING is not only an add-on, but in the spirit of anti-Christ. This is why Paul says, "I am afraid as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness that your minds might be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (II Cor. 11). I wonder if this is what is going on in our ministries.
I don’t want to slam any church or Christian leader by what I’m saying, but I do want to be helpful in awakening leaders everywhere to the simplicity and purity of following Jesus. I have pastored a few churches over the years and know how easy it is to fall into the habit-patterns of keeping the "show" going—whether it is the Sunday morning service, the youth program, the children's ministry, and the obligatory prayer-letter back to supporters. Sometimes we get caught in the trap of pleasing our constituencies and are not free to see Jesus and His teachings as they are. We pray for a special releasing of the people of God everywhere to be free to see what Jesus said and did and JUST DO WHAT HE SAYS.
By the way, when Jesus spoke of being hated by the world as He was hated, He was referring to the religious leaders (“They will put you out of their synagogues.”) and that's where I receive most of my attacks...from those brothers who ought to know better.
Jesus and the kingdom are spread through a few who have been transformed by the power of Jesus.
PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION is what is normally called “conversion” and because of a misunderstanding of what this is, the modern missionary movement has attempted to “convert” the natives throughout the world. This is what I call “doing missionary work the hard way.” No missionary, no matter how effective, has the power to produce genuine, spiritual transformation.
The great modern missionary, E. Stanley Jones, was confounded by this problem and was a quick-study on what Jesus would do in other cultures. He said: “In conversion you are not attached primarily to an order, nor to an institution, nor a movement, nor a set of beliefs, nor a code of action—you are attached primarily to a Person, and secondarily to these other things.
To pass from estrangement from God to be a son of God is the basic fact of conversion. That altered relationship with God gives you an altered relationship with yourself, with your brother man, with nature, with the universe.”
Recently a blogger by the name of Bill stated this beautifully when he said, “The more I study Jesus’ message the more I’m convinced that it is non-religious. In fact, until the modern mission movement that began in the late eighteenth century, Christianity mostly moved into culture rather than converting it. That is, Christian missions more often converted the heart but left much of the culture intact. For the past 200 years, we have been converting whole cultures to the Euro-American style of Christianity…. What I’m beginning to understand is that the ‘Good News’ requires little change in culture—which often includes a religion. The gospel message is relational and spiritual, not religious.”
And that relational, spiritual transformation can only happen through the power of Jesus, not Christianity.
Why has the church become a distribution center for religious aspirin? Most people only go to church at baptisms, marriages and funerals—only to be hatched, matched and dispatched.
Why is the church viewed as irrelevant and out of step with the culture? Why is the church so impotent ƒand dying out in the USA at the rate of 70+ churches per week? Why is the church not expanding in our country?
The building and expansion of little local kingdoms called churches has replaced genuine transformation through the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom. Jesus mentioned the “church” only twice and spent His entire ministry teaching the principles of the Kingdom. Christianity, though well-intentioned, has placed the emphasis in the wrong place and is missing the power of personal transformation. The emphasis must be upon Jesus and the Kingdom and churches gather in the name of Jesus to teach and practice the Kingdom lifestyle.
So, it’s not so important that a person becomes a Christian or Catholic or Baptist or Adventist or whatever. What’s important to be a follower of Jesus.