Saturday, 22 March 2014

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?



This always seems to us like a very good question & in many respects it is.

Except that is when we get so fixated upon the example of Jesus in the Gospels that we lose the wider perspective of the New Testament’s teaching on the Christian life.

Here a somewhat heated online debate is taking place (200 comments and counting when I chipped in) prompted by an exchange of posts discussing the contention that believers ought to feel free to attend morally dubious social events in order that we might have the opportunity to witness to the unsaved whilst there.

This is a debate that comes up in church quite a bit these days I should think. 

One side argues that we ought to mix freely with the unrepentant in such circumstances in order to prove ourselves a “friend of sinners” like Jesus. 
 

 The other suggests that the people that Jesus hung around with would actually have been former sinners, or at  least those in the process of turning from their sins; and that the "friend of sinners" line needs to be understood as being a jibe made at Jesus by His enemies and was never actually a true reflection of His social habits.  

In short, they say, Jesus did not attend any wild parties, and so neither should we think of attending them even, if it is for evangelistic purposes. 

It is a worthwhile discussion and an important one for the times in which we live. 

 My own view is that most of the people Jesus hung around with would have been the genuinely repentant. I base this on the observation that He seems to have given the elbow very quickly to those like the rich young ruler who came to Him but were completely unwilling to change (Mk 10:17-22). 

 The 5,000 didn't hang around long after they figured out that the free lunch was a once-only offer (Jn 6) and I suspect that Simon the Pharisee did not get too many repeat visits from Jesus without first exhibiting a marked change in his attitude towards gatecrashers (Lk 7:36-50).

   However we cannot be too dogmatic about this. We know of at least one unrepentant sinner who remained long in Jesus’ company -a man  by the name of Judas Iscariot! 

 My problem with the debate is that reading through the various comments made it seems that few people are engaging with anything other than the biblical data contained in the four gospels themselves. It is as though the whole issue of a Christian's socializing habits is to be decided purely by what Jesus did in His earthly ministry.

It is here where the “What Would Jesus Do?” question really lets us down.

 It can lead us inadvertently into the kind of “Red Letterism” I posted about earlier, as though the rest of the Bible outside of the gospels has nothing to teach us about Christian living. In short all we ask is What Did Jesus Do in the gospels without ever looking beyond His earthly life for an answer.

But we need to remember that strictly speaking none of us are actually required to do what Jesus did.

Not, that is, unless you intend to move to Israel, hold a three year miracle and teaching crusade and then die for the sins of Mankind!

Instead we are required to know what Christians should do.

That is, whilst we are required to be followers of Christ’s general example and most certainly imitators of His character we are not to be simply slavish copiers of the precise details of His ministry.

Answering the question What Would a Christian Do is going to involve us moving beyond just the four gospels, and looking at all of the New Testament as our guide. When we look at all that the Bible has to say on this issue rather than just having a gospels-only fixation as is on display in that debate then things start to become a little clearer.

 For starters we learn from Paul’s writings that he made an important distinction in terms of associating socially with immoral people. The distinction he saw was between those immoral people who don't claim to be Christians and those who do claim to be Christians (1 Cor 5:9-13).

Why is this distinction so important?

Simply because a person who says that they are a Christian brother or sister but is living a life of open and unrepentant sin is someone who is “denying the Lord that bought them.” Their lives demonstrate a flat contradiction of the power of the Gospel to deliver them from those same sins. Paul therefore instructs that we are not to associate with those whose lives “crucify the Lord afresh.”  

 But this is not the attitude he adopted in relation to those who have never claimed to have known the Gospel. In any event, he says we would have to leave the world to avoid them!

So does that mean that those wild parties are on, just so long as there no other professing Christians there? 

We have Peter to help us with this question.

For he exhorts us as  a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Pet 2:5). He reminds us that those unsaved people are meant to be surprised that we no longer do the things that they do like going to “drinking parties” and that they will take notice of the fact that we no longer “join them in the same flood of debauchery” (1 Pet 4:3-4).

That seems to finally nail the issue of those morally dubious witnessing opportunities. Indeed I think Peter is teaching us that it is the very act of separating from those activities that will serve as our witnessing opportunity!

 And that overlong and ultimately sterile internet debate could have been brought quickly to a satisfactory conclusion if someone had only asked the correct question and been willing to let all of Scripture give us the answer rather than just those blessed Red Letters.

Sola Scriptura and Tota Scriptura