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Christians Live God’s Story

When was the last time you went to a fast-food drive-thru? Today’s burgers are lightweight. And as someone who knows the staff’s names at at least four joints in this city, let me tell you: The sodas get blander every week.

Everything is getting thinner. It’s like there’s no more real meat. Leafs fans stay home on Saturday nights, and Christians attend church the next morning. That’s it.

But what does it really mean to be a Christian? Is it just someone who goes to church most weeks? Is it someone who tries to be “nicer” than everyone else and then feels worse about themselves when they are not? Perhaps it’s someone who gives more than usual to charity or says grace before eating.

Let’s go back to the beginning. This is a good way to get to the bottom of things, and we’ll be doing it fairly often around here as we write about God, grief, and gardening. In this case, it means we are going back to the first Apostles who followed Jesus and those who started the early church.

This is where things start to get a little bit weedy, but, like the earthworms and caterpillars in your garden’s understory, you find abundant life there. Revd Dr Alison Morgan is a British theologian, author, and minister. She lists four hallmarks of the first followers of Christ.

People completely and totally re-oriented their lives around Jesus. They gave up their boats and fishing nets. They said goodbye to their families. They left high-paying and stable jobs. A new star ordered their days.

Second, Jesus’ followers were willing to be apprenticed by him. They became his disciples, which, given their historical context, meant not so much that they were learning a specific skill or craft but that they would come to embody his total way of being. This required complete submission, sacrifice and dedication to learn and live his practices.

Then there’s the thorny issue of community. Morgan writes: “[the early Christians] learned not just as individuals but as part of a community, one which existed not for its own sake but for the sake of those that did not yet belong to it.”1 To be a Christian was to be a part of a community of other Christ followers who had also come under the submission of Jesus and who existed for the charity and salvation of non-believers.

But why did Christ’s followers give up everything? John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Susanna were real people who had real lives and who dropped everything to follow Jesus. We are not talking about those living cloistered lives in a churchhouse or seminary. These are tangible decisions and sustained behaviours with real-world consequences. The world’s first Christ followers didn’t give up everything to follow him because they thought Jesus was a teacher of the first rate. No. They believed that through him all things were made (John 1:10). The Apostle Paul wrote: “All things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (NKJV, Col. 1: 16). John again, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (NKJV, John 1:14). To recognize Jesus Christ as a great teacher is to miss the message that has been at the heart of the gospel for two thousand years. He is the Christ, begotten of the Father. He is God made flesh.

And how did John, Paul, and the other Apostles come to believe this? It’s hard for us, being creatures of our age, to understand how the Apostles came to this conviction. A look at marketing today will tell you how we moderns try to convince others of things. We revere science, rationality and self-affirming psychology. This medicine must be good for your health because a well-conducted study says so. Or Steve is depressed because he believes himself to be. While Christianity now has centuries of writings to support its propositions, its central message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, hinges not on a rational argument, a series of proofs or on evidence. It hinges on nothing more or less than it did when the Apostles were writing two millennia ago: faith. It is the faith that God was born into human likeness, lived a perfect life and became obedient even unto death and that he is the one to whom “every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2: 10-11). “This is the faith of the church, its story, its basic paradigm through which it views all reality…[It is] a faith that leads to understanding.”2

Faith cannot be communicated by argument. It has to be shown through worship. Discipleship is, therefore, not only a constellation of new behaviours oriented around one’s conscious submission to Jesus Christ as one’s master, but it is also the primary tool of demonstrating something that a Christian believes to be true but that they can’t communicate by reason. And since the plural of disciple is church, as Morgan puts it in her book’s sub-title, church becomes a vehicle of God’s redemptive and outward-focused story. It is the sign of “Christus Victor, the community of people where the victory of Christ over evil becomes present in and to this world.”3

And this brings us to Morgan’s final mark of the early Christians, something that should come as no surprise given the cosmic significance of what they believed, how they were impelled to share it with others, and the horrendous fates their master and many of them ultimately faced. The first Christians were willing to embrace suffering.

There’s a universe between “just going to church on Sundays” and the convicted lives that Morgan describes. Are we to jettison the Biblical examples of taking up one’s cross and embracing suffering in favour of our culture’s message of maintaining one’s standard of living by whatever means necessary?

What is dying to oneself, exactly?

WORKS

  1. Morgan, Alison. Following Jesus: The Plural of Disciple is Church. ReSource, 2015. p. 183. ↩︎
  2. Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Faith : Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World. Baker Academic, 1999. p. 63. ↩︎
  3. Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Faith:. p. 77. ↩︎