It's tempting at times to skip Jesus altogether and simply focus on being about the things Jesus was about. He loved enemies - let's love enemies. He hugged lepers - let's hug lepers. He fed hungry people - let's feed hungry people. If we go this route, not only will we have more tangible goals (after all, how do you measure, "being filled with all the fullness of God"?). Yes, let's be His hands and feet and skip all the doctrinal ambiguity, division, pondering and messiness that comes from talking about the actual life of Jesus and what it means to be in relationship with Him.
But then, along comes an article like this one, where a confirmed atheist declares that Africa needs Christianity. Here's part of what he says:
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in
There you have it. We can tell ourselves that we don't need all the messiness of Christ, or even begin to believe that if we simply feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we're doing the work of God. But Jesus tells us that ministry is more than just giving a cup of cold water; it's giving a cup of cold water in Jesus name.
The article has two profound implications:
1 - The author speaks of how spacious, engaging, and enlivening followers of Christ are in Africa. I often ponder why I meet so many Christians in these North American parts for whom the opposite is true - they've become anxious, guilt-ridden, closed minded - so much so that I know people who are walking away from the faith because of neuroses of the faithful, afraid that it's contagious.
I can only conclude that a gospel (good news) that fails to change our persona, fails to open us up to the world, fails to impart joy, is not the gospel of Christ. We who lead had better make sure we're not inviting people to rituals, clubs, and systems, because the real deal entails an invitation to transformation by virtue of a person indwelling a person. I know it sounds mystical, but it's true - and it works, as evidenced by the article above. Put simply, if our lives are filled with fear, hate, and whining, we're probably following a different Jesus.
2 - I know many people who are open, spacious, and enlivening, but who are afraid to mention the name of Jesus. They're mantra is a destructive mutation of St. Francis' words: "Preach always - use words when necessary." This is tragically interpreted to mean that words aren't necessary at all, that the cup of cold water needn't have a name attached to it, or that the name doesn't matter - Humanitarian NGO is just as good is Risen Christ.
Kudos to Matthew Parris for having the courage to say what too many faithful are afraid to say: Christ makes the difference. Do we believe that? Let's begin living it then, and making sure that Jesus' name is on the next cup of cold water.