I suspect like many of you I have been trying to process what happened in Washington last week when the US Capitol building where the elected represented of the American people were carrying out the democratic mandate of the people was violently invaded by a mob. The pictures were shocking. Some of the scenes caused me a feeling of physical revulsion, these included a man wearing a sweatshirt that read CAMP AUSCHWITZ and a group raising a gallows with a lynching noose.
Shocking as all of that was, there was something else that shocked me more deeply. Mixed among all of that violent hate filled stuff were people carrying JESUS SAVES placards, Christian flags and wearing sweatshirts that proclaimed JESUS IS KING. These people were making common cause with those openly proclaiming themselves to be racists and anti Semites.
The question that has gone round and round in my mind has been how people who seem to proclaim an allegiance to the same Jesus I follow could do such things and make common cause with such people?
How could followers of a Jewish messiah, join with those celebrating the Holocaust?
How could people claiming that Jesus was their king get involved in violence when that same Jesus commanded his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies?
How could you carry a flag that is meant to express some sort of allegiance to the Kingdom of God and be an active participant in a violent mob whose actions contradicted almost everything Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is about?
Rainn Wilson, who is best known as Dwight Schrute from the US version of The Office wrote about the same thing. He describes how Jesus has been effectively hijacked
“The metamorphosis of Jesus Christ from a humble servant of the abject poor to a symbol that stands for gun rights, prosperity theology, anti-science, limited government (that neglects the destitute) and fierce nationalism is truly the strangest transformation in human history.”
I am sure there are many answers to the question of how Jesus has been hijacked by people who embody everything He opposed. However, one has particularly come to me. It seems to me that there are people who believe you can have Jesus as your Saviour but reject Jesus as your example.
To reflect on that we need to have a look at these verses from the New Testament.
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. John 13:13-16
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2
bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:13
For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 1 Peter 2:20-22
the one who says he abides in Him (Jesus) ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:6
Those verses all flag up a vital and indispensable part of the teaching of the New Testament, that Jesus life, his teaching and his actions are an example that those who are authentically his followers will be committed to following.
One New Testament scholar summed up the teaching of the New Testament on following the example of Jesus like this
“The words and metaphors used mean to mimic or act like someone else. These statements are made as exhortations and used in the continuous tense to suggest a constant habitual practice.
Thus, there are several related ideas in these metaphors:
- We are to mimic constantly in deliberate conscious imitation in order to resemble someone else.
- We are to copy faithfully as we would the beautiful handwriting of a skilled teacher
- We are to follow faithfully the model and outline we have been given
- We are to be stamped out like a coin, or pressed into a mould, or shaped by a seal, in order to correspond to the original
The example to be imitated, the writing to be copied, the model to be followed and shape to be conformed to is the life of Jesus.”
At the risk of grossly oversimplifying things, this is what I think went wrong in the thinking and practice of the Church. When it came to Jesus, orthodoxy got divorced from, then prioritized over, orthopraxy. Let me explain what I mean by that. In terms of Christian theology, orthodoxy is about believing the right things about Jesus and orthopraxy is about behaving the right way, like Jesus.
This led to the church coming to the position in practice that believing the right things about Jesus was more important than behaving like Jesus. This led in turn to things like the church burning people at the stake as heretics for not believing the right things about Jesus, but people were never disciplined for not loving and forgiving their enemies as they were commanded to by Jesus. .
When orthodoxy and orthopraxy gets divorced you end up with things like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the KKK claiming it is defending Christianity and what happened in Washington last week. People who think they believe the right things about Jesus behaving in ways that contradict the clear commands and example of Jesus. This is how the explicit New Testament teaching about following the example of Jesus has been all too often been downplayed, theologized away or just flagrantly ignored. Today this has led to the popular belief that you can have Jesus as your Saviour but opt out of having to follow Him as your example.
How else could a follower of the Prince of Peace be part of a violent mob? How else could those who claim Jesus as their King be part of a group spewing hatred when that self same King Jesus commanded his disciples to love and forgive even those who were their enemies and spoke words of forgiveness from the cross?
During the Reformation, as ordinary Christians began to read the Bible for themselves, something troubled many of those believers. What caused these ordinary Christians to be upset was that they came to see in the light of Scripture that there were Christians leaders and churches doing exactly what Jesus teaching and example explicitly forbade. These Christians came to be known as Anabaptists because they believed that part of following Jesus example and teaching meant that people should only be baptized on confession of their own faith. Yet the real heart of their movement was about putting Christ back at the heart of what it meant to be a Christian.
For the Anabaptists Jesus is the defining and authoritative example for how we should live the Christian life. Based on verses like those we looked at earlier, they believed that Jesus was the model for how Christians should act and think in every part of their everyday lives. Menno Simmons, one of their early leaders, invites us as believers to “suit ourselves to Christ,” in other words, to align and orient our entire selves to the life and teachings of Jesus. He says that all followers of Jesus are to “conform our life to the gospel,” be renewed “after the image of God,” and turn our “minds after Christ.”
Now we need to be clear that imitating Jesus is not about earning our salvation, but it is about expressing our salvation. I don’t say this lightly but if someone claims Jesus to be their Saviour and yet their actions are a consistent living contradiction of Jesus explicit teaching and example then I think there is cause to doubt their claim to salvation. The sad thing is that the events in Washington seem to suggest that there are a large group of people who believe you can have Jesus as your Saviour and act in ways diametrically opposite to what that self same Jesus explicitly teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. But as we have already thought about no amount of hermeneutical gymnastics or blind eye turning can free us as Christians from following the example of Christ.
Michael Griffiths in a book called THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS puts it like this
“The life of the Christian disciple as an imitator of Christ is not any kind of yoga style self endeavour, it’s not a process which is initiated and sustained by the Christian believer, as if it were just human mimicry. It is a process initiated and sustained by the Holy Spirit, and in it, He conforms the pattern of the life of believers to that of their Lord so that men may become aware that they are His disciples. Yet it remains the unavoidable responsibility of the disciple to obediently follow the example of Christ.”
Many of my unbelieving friends took notice of the Christian symbols and statements on display among the mob on Capitol Hill. To them, it confirmed all their prejudices and fears about Christians that we are intolerant, hate filled people willing to use violent words and actions to impose our ways and views on others.
How can we respond to these people and their concerns ?
The only possible response I can see is for us to embrace the vision of the New Testament and the Anabaptists. To, in the power of the Spirit, recommit ourselves to making Jesus central to our lives and following his example in every aspect of those lives. Only lives that are genuine echoes of Jesus will show an unbelieving world, by way of contrast, what counterfeit Christianity is and let’s be unequivocal, what was on display in Washington was counterfeit Christianity to its core.