Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Identity Crisis

For a number of years now, I've had an identity crisis. Before you think I've gone crazy, it's not that kind of identity crisis. It's more of a label identity crisis. Reading Carl Medearis' new book, "Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism
" isn't helping any. Carl voices a lot of the thoughts I've been having for about the past six years or so. So, what is this label identity crisis I'm speaking of? It's terms. The terms we use to describe those of us who follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christian, Christianity, Evangelical, Born Again, Church, and Missionary are a number of these terms that I'm referring to. None of these terms are bad, in and of themselves. However, most of them are loaded.

To be called or call oneself a Christian means very little, if anything these days. We saw this in the last Presidential election in 2008. Seemingly everyone running was an Evangelical Christian in one form or another. You have a Mormon Evangelical Christian (Mitt Romney) on one side and an Universalist Christian from a black power church in Chicago (Barack Obama) on the other side. Both follow quite a few wrong doctrines, yet also claim to believing in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Then we have denominations, where everyone seems to be suspicious of the other denomination. Baptist Christian, Charismatic Christian, Pentacostal Christian, Presbyterian Christian, Lutheran Christian, Charismatic Calvinist Southern Baptist Evangelical Born Again Christian are just a few of the labels that can be thrown around.

I threw off the label of Evangelical some years ago, simply because I didn't see it being of any use to anyone. It's about as redundant as being called a born again Christian. Of course I'm born again. Do I need that attached to Christian? Evangelical is the same thing. This is why I propose, as Carl does in his book, to throw away the term Christian. Christian in the scriptures was used as a derogatory term to describe those proclaiming Jesus. It, in some way, should be something used to describe someone who is proclaiming Jesus, not a social class.

Part of my other identity crisis has to be with denominationalism. I grew up mostly in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Notable preachers from the PCA include D. James Kennedy, Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, R. C. Sproul, and Tullian Tchividjian. I migrated to the Christian & Missionary Alliance for a few years while in college, landed in an independent Baptist church, and am now a member of a Southern Baptist church. Denominational identity crisis? Perhaps. I've been both sprinkled as a baby and dunked as an adult with regards to baptism. I grew up believing in cessationism (gifts like prophecy, tongues, and healing have stopped). I no longer believe that, but still fall on the reformed doctrine side of things.

So, where does that leave me in trying to label me. Nothing but a Jesus follower. I wish that we throw out denominations and get back to who Jesus is and what He said. Impossible perhaps in the Western Christian church. What about evangelism? I pose the following question: Are we supposed to evangelize? Stirring question, to be sure, but think about it for a second. Did Jesus tell us to evangelize? To evangelize supposedly means to spread the good news. But what is the good news? How do we do that? Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, F. A. I. T. H.? We have a wrong idea of what the good news is. We think it's salvation from sins or hell and eternal life with God. That's partly right. The crux of the good news is Jesus Christ Himself and we have missed that. We continue to miss that. We have debates over Armenianism vs. Calvinism, pre/a/post-millenialism, pre/mid/post-rapture, the existence of hell, homosexuality, women ordination, and so on. In the meantime, Jesus is rarely mentioned. What He said and did gets left out. Jesus gets none of the glory. If we exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, why is it that we rarely mention Him?

So, if we are not to evangelize, what are we supposed to do as followers of Jesus? What was Jesus' final command to His disciples? It's found in Matthew 28:19. Make disciples. It doesn't say to make converts to Christianity. No, we are to make disciples of all people groups, teaching them all that Christ taught and commanded. Amazing, right? How do we do that? By Christ's authority (vs. 18). What do we talk about? Jesus. That's it. That's the Gospel. Jesus. We teach about Jesus and He does the rest. He saves, justifies, and sanctifies. We cannot change anyone's hearts. No matter how hard we try. We act like Christ is not on the throne. We have to come up with all sorts of way to explain doctrine. An egg for the trinity. A chasm for the gulf between us and God. The chasm illustration may not be too bad, but the egg is a bad analogy all the way around.

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 2 in his method. He went preaching nothing but Christ and Him crucified. That is making disciples. Too often we attempt to persuade people to Christianity through doctrine instead of proclaiming Christ, and we get frustrated that they won't see. Could the two disciples see Christ on the road to Emmaus until Christ himself opened their eyes? They were walking and talking with Him and didn't see Him, as He was teaching them about Himself. In the end, we are to teach about Jesus. Call ourselves followers of Jesus. Get rid of the labels and follow Jesus.