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Forget Newsweek. Follow Jesus.

Like the perennial dandelions that pop up on lawns each spring, when Easter week rolls around you can expect Newsweek to put some form of Jesus being blasphemed on their cover.  In the most recent issue, the lead article, “Christianity in Crisis” by Andrew Sullivan, is featured on the cover by displaying a figure many are calling the “Hipster Jesus” who has these words stamped on his front: “Forget the Church.  Follow Jesus.”

Sullivan’s article, having the correction of modern Christianity as its theme, begins by referring to the National History Museum’s display of Thomas Jefferson’s “Bible.” That Bible is really the tattered leftovers after Jefferson excised the sayings of Jesus he liked while leaving behind the miracles, teachings, and, yes, even the resurrection that he did not believe.   Not that you should, but you can buy a version of Jefferson’s “Trim-line” Bible today.  Sullivan explains that Jefferson described this exercise as one of finding “diamonds” he liked in the Bible while leaving the rest of the “dung” behind.  Then Sullivan, armed with his own Jeffersonian-knife, builds his case for constructing a Jesus of his own making.   Sullivan’s Jesus “never spoke of homosexuality or abortion,” implying we  should accept these practices; calls us to forsake the outdated notion of the family since he “disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him;” and does not care about our sexual practices because he “was a celibate who, along with his followers, anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant.”  Having preached the gospel according to Sullivan, he then addresses the problems of the modern church.

At points Sullivan, like Jefferson’s tattered Bible, touches on truth, such as when he points to the bad religious politicking of Protestants or the abuses of the Catholic church.  However, Sullivan’s article offers an unacceptable – and glaringly hypocritical – answer to the crisis he says Christianity has.  Using Francis of Assisi as his example, Sullivan proposes that real believers should retreat from the public eye and the institution of the church.  Citing some of Assisi’s extreme asceticism and strange antics, Sullivan seeks to encourage us to follow his example:

To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labor, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.

Sullivan thinks that should be enough for us as well, as he ends emotively:

This Christianity comes not from the head or the gut, but from the soul. It is as meek as it is quietly liberating. It does not seize the moment; it lets it be. It doesn’t seek worldly recognition, or success, and it flees from power and wealth. It is the religion of unachievement.

This “religion of unachievement” Sullivan proposes is unacceptable to those who follow the Lord Jesus.  After all, He told us to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-20, where the Great Commission is found, did not make the cut in Jefferson’s Bible either).  And perhaps Sullivan’s words would carry more weight if they were not so self-contradicting.  For they appear on the Daily Beast webpage of Newsweek written by a homosexual activist who is regularly seeking to use magazines, books, news programs, and other “worldly” means to make disciples of his false Jesus.

One final thing needs mentioning.  Contrary to Mr. Sullivan’s gospel, if one wants to follow Jesus he cannot “forget the church.”  Jesus shed His blood for the church.  He was raised to give life to the church.  As early church fathers such as Augustine and Cyprian stated, “He cannot have God for his Father who will not have the church for his mother.”  They were echoing the sentiments of passages in the Bible such as in Galatians 5, where the Apostle Paul says,  “The Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.”  The church where Christ alone is preached and faith alone is practiced is a place where spiritual life is imparted and nurtured.  Where the church is imparting spiritual life, she is a true mother to and of the people of God.  To ask someone to forget the church is like telling them to forget their mother.  According to the Proverbs, only a fool would do such a thing.

Do not let that be you.  Forget Newsweek.  Follow Jesus.  Join His church.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ron #

    Echoes of this past Lord’s Day sermon ring true. Great words for convicting the soul.

    April 4, 2012
  2. Don #

    Reblogged this on One Bondservant's Diary.

    April 5, 2012
  3. Paul #

    I find it ironic that you ignore the very essence of Sullivan’s argument and instead fall back on tired old defenses of maintaining the status quo when Jesus himself was all about *challenging* the status quo.

    Sullivan is spot-on in his summation of Jesus’s teachings. True Christians absolutely should accept homosexuals without judging them or their sins; Jesus, after all, hung out with the “worst” people of his time (prostitutes and the even-more-hated tax collectors.)

    (And how telling is it that many of the religious right wing of both Jesus’s times and our times are aligned against people who fit into categories of supposed sexual immorality and an anti-government, anti-taxation ideology? Ask yourself, if you were transported back 2,000 years, would you be on Jesus’s side or the side of those that hate and condemn the prostitute and the taxman?)

    The other really powerful part of Sullivan’s essay that you ignore is where he points out a very major part of Jesus’s teaching- the rejection of power over others. Jesus was all about not condemning or urging control over our enemies; instead, he took the amazingly radical approach of saying “love them”.

    To Jesus, the “church” was not a power structure with priests (oh, the tussles he had with priests!) or an organization. The church was the community of people. In fact, if we look at his run-ins with pretty much anything “official”, he pretty consistently was negative about it.

    So plainly the notion of placing a lot of importance upon a church organization (as opposed to a loose gathering of people) was something he opposed, and presumably he would say today to not follow these charismatic types who spend as much time asking for money as they do actually talking about giving every penny you have to the poor and the sick.

    And it’s definitely safe to say that Jesus would be very dismissive of so-called “Christians” who spend their time trying to use political power and the power structure of the government and laws to suppress homosexuality.

    Now, whether he would actively *support* same-sex marriage, for example, is up to debate. (Personally, I think he wouldn’t; he’d say something semi-cryptic, like “let Ceasar have what’s his, and let God have what’s his”, but that’s just speculation.)

    But there can be little doubt that the Jesus of the Bible (whether the traditionally edited version, the Jefferson-edited one, or one including the other Gospels that were edited out by the early church leaders) would be perfectly comfortable hanging out with, accepting, loving, and most of all not condemning or reviling gay people.

    That’s the Jesus that (IMO) people should be following.

    But what do I know- I’m a lapsed Lutheran/Buddhist mess when it comes to religion. ;)

    April 5, 2012
    • Paul,

      I think an objective reading of my post will show that I did not ignore Sullivan’s argument. Rather, I engaged it by using his own presuppositions, standards, and lifestyle to show his fallacies.

      You, my friend, along with Sullivan, are the ones offering up age-old arguments. You both are simply echoing the heresies of the second century Marcion, who also did away with the Scriptures that inconveniently got in the way of the false gospel he wanted to believe.

      Yet for the sake of argument, let me play your game of Marcionism for a moment and limit myself to only what the gospels teach about Jesus. Do they really portray him as the non-establishment, live-and-let-live guy you and Sullivan want him to be?

      As the gospels make clear, the same Jesus who ate with tax-collectors and prostitutes also called them to repent of their stealing and immorality. You should be careful about confusing ministering to the lowly and despised with leaving them in their bondage to sin. Zaccheus the tax-collector and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet understood they were to sin no more.

      As the gospels make clear, the same Jesus who challenged the establishment, the priests and leaders of Jerusalem, also claimed to be the Jehovah of the Old Testament who spoke to Moses. The leaders understood that much, because they tried to stone him for it (John 8:58-59).

      As the gospels make clear, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20). His Sermon on the Mount shows the moral law of the Old Testament is still binding. As he explains, the Ten Commandments were never meant to be applied simply to outer actions of sins such as adultery but also to the inward heart lusts of sin. Jesus came not just to stop acts of adultery and immorality, but to transform adulterers and the immoral.

      As the gospels make clear, Jesus told Peter and the apostles that upon their life and testimony he would build the church (Matthew 18:18-19). Jesus is the chief cornerstone of the church he purchased with his own blood.

      As the gospels make clear, Jesus told his apostles that he would send them the Holy Spirit who would lead them further into his truth (John 16:13-14). So when you read other portions of the New Testament written by apostles to direct the churches organized by them, please remember that is the Spirit of Jesus you are hearing.

      Paul, the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ is no game. By your own admission, both you and Sullivan are taking the parts of the Bible you like and setting aside the rest. Yet you are picking and choosing to your own condemnation. Please repent of your confessed lapsed state and ignorance. Trust in the One who died for sinners and was raised three days later to set them free.

      Sincerely,

      Barry

      April 6, 2012
  4. kengsmith #

    A word to the editors: I find your interacting with the culture to be the most helpful in making relevant the truth of the gospel. “Reformed” suggests change, the very essence of the word repentance, a change of mind. I haven’t read my “Newsweek” yet, but certainly will. Thanks.

    April 6, 2012
  5. I totally agree with Len’s article and what says Pr. Robin Dugall. We also, in Brazil, have facing this terrible “Prodigal Church” crisis: a time when the Church has run away from God like Israel did long ago. And maybe the fruits will be the same. We are in a very dramatic and strategic point of the History and just a few people have been seen it, unfortunately

    April 10, 2012

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