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Bringing the Gospel into the present with great flexibility amidst great resistance
I still get funny looks by some folks when I tell them what we’re doing in Circle of Hope and how we’re sharing the Gospel. The American image of Christianity has been so cemented by the loudest evangelicals and fundamentalists in the room that it's hard to put a word in edgewise.
I’m afraid that Christianity may very well die in its cemented form; it may fossilize itself only into a relic that we look back upon, not unlike the gorgeous Episcopal church right up the street from me, fit with gargoyles and everything.
I’ve been tagged by Christians as a cult leader, a false prophet, and sometimes just a postmodernist. People wonder how you can follow Jesus and lead people to do it if what you are doing seems so different than what they are used to. Our main goal is to deliver the Gospel personally and help people follow Jesus. Our region can be hostile toward such efforts, and so we are committed to bringing the Gospel into the present with great flexibility. And that included dying to our precious memories of church, at least those of us who had them.
These days I look at some of the popular evangelicals and I wonder how they can claim to be following Jesus while supporting such a transparently wicked commander in chief. Shane was Tweeting to the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham last week, prophesying about what they were doing to Christ’s name and his movement. It was a good question. And it’s more discussion. But I better stop before someone tags me as too “political.”
I’m less interested in politics and criticizing evangelicals, and more interested in helping people follow Jesus. To the best of my ability, I am trying to help people know and follow Jesus. It’s not just a matter of strategy that our personal, face-to-face cells are a delivery mechanism for the Gospel, I actually think it’s the best way to do it.
We say Jesus is best revealed incarnationally. That means he is best revealed in person-to-person, face-to-face. Not program-to-person, or even screen-to-person, or tract-to-person. I think this is basically modeled in the very incarnation of Jesus on earth. The Word became flesh to relate to us, share his love with us, and save us.
Paul extends this when he declares that we are the Body of Christ—literally, Jesus on earth. We are all connected to each other and relate to each other as one big family. We need to keep relating personally.
That’s why this whole thing starts with relationships. That’s why the Sunday meetings are intimate, the congregations multiply after they exceed 200 people, why cells multiply when they approach 12 to 15 attenders. We want to stay face-to-face, but we don’t want our need for intimacy to stifle our capacity to share the Good News. It is best shared personally, so we need to keep building relationships to do that.
So we are person-first kind of people, not always doctrine first (or really, argument-about-theology-first). People belong to us before they “believe,” as it were. But really, people can be connected to us and our movement before they call themselves Christians or actively follow Jesus.
Sometimes people are looking for the signals of faithfulness, so they want an explicit “altar call” at every message, one that doesn’t encourage you, but convicts you and brings you down to your knees. Attending worship, if it doesn’t leave you feeling a little beat up, might mean it wasn’t “holy” enough. I think that style works for some people, and probably worked in history too. But most of the people I know are repulsed by that.
So we’re doing something a little different, but I think more true to the Spirit of the Gospels and of Jesus.
Christians who are looking for the right Christian messaging that keeps the Evangelical subculture going and the right religious buzzwords probably won’t find them here. They might have to die to their precious memories of church if they want to get in. Honestly, if your main goal is to feel comfortable as a follower, I think you should re-prioritize.
If they aren’t ready to do that, there is still plenty of options for them. Circle of Hope is not for everybody. But we are for the person looking for something more, something beyond the turmoil and trouble of their regular life. Honestly, it’s not that easy to survive in this economy. And the young people in it are just receptacles for contempt, it seems.
But when you move with Jesus and try to share his love radically, the religious folk of the era threatened by a new movement, might very well attack you. It happened to Jesus. In fact, he told us that because the world hated him, they’d hate us too. That doesn’t mean we should embrace others' constructive criticism as if we are the holy ones, but we should expect some hostility from every side.
Paul found refuge, briefly, in Athens after hostile Jewish people chased him there because of how he was changing the region. In one of my favorite examples of bringing the Gospel into the present, he repurposed an Athenian inscription to share the Gospel with Epicureans and Stoics. He coins some of the most beautiful language to describe God when he was moved to imagine a new way to do so. He says God is the person “in whom we live, and dwell, and have our being.” Perfect.
We are the body of Christ. Dwelling in God. That’s what counts. So, even though we don’t always look like that old dying thing, in many ways, we are that old thing repurposed for the sake of the people in our region. Just like I know God will meet them where we are at, I hope that we do the same to each other.