I’ve been reading Rubel Shelly’s latest book, I Knew Jesus Before He Was A Christian…and I Liked Him Better Then, which is a very provocative book calling the church back to the way of Jesus. The book joins a growing voice of concern that there is a significant discrepancy between Jesus and the people who claim to be Jesus’ followers. I share this concern.
Shelly writes, “People who read the Gospel stories from the life of Jesus are attracted to him. People who know Christ only through his followers often can’t stand him” (p. 14). Perhaps that overstates the case or perhaps it doesn’t. I suppose it depends on who you talk to.
One of the stories that Shelly tells from his days of preaching with a church illustrates this discrepancy:
In a note that documents the distinction between the Jesus I know from the Gospels and the Jesus recast by Christian history, a deacon once challenged my eagerness to welcome seriously broken people into the life of our church. He asked: “What would people think of a church that is filled with alcoholics, adulterers, and divorced people?” Hoping to be direct without sounding arrogant or disrespectful, I could only respond by saying: “They might think we were the church Jesus promised to build.” (pp. 111-112)
How is it possible for a Christian, any Christian, to miss the point of being followers of Jesus so badly that they would make such a challenge?
This is why I don’t think the we can get enough of learning about Jesus. I don’t mean that every sermon and class needs to be on a “red letter” verse but scripture should be read and taught so that we are ever challenged with the real Jesus and the gospel he lived and proclaimed. We’ll never be perfect this side of the second-coming but our neighborhoods are more likely to believe there is a church among them living as the church Jesus promised to build.