Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
– 1 Corinthians 17-25
This past fall, the Friends of Jesus Fellowship gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland, around the theme of “confessing Christ in a chaotic world.” Inspired in part by the experience of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church in World War II-era Germany, this theme seemed particularly relevant to us as Western Christians in a culture whose technological sophistication has far outpaced its moral awareness. While there are always challenges when broken people come together in vulnerability and seeking, we were powerfully blessed by times of confession, repentance, encouragement, inspiration, healing, teaching and laughter.
I expected that the gathering would be a time of beautiful fellowship, an opportunity to start new relationships, a capstone, a brilliant finish to months of planning and prayer and focus, and it was all of those things. But for me, it was also a new start, a re-dedication of my mind and spirit to the work of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship and to the ministry that God has laid upon me. I have been reflecting on this new beginning recently, on what it means to be part of a Christ-confessing church.
I am still working through my personal confession, but here are some truths that, with God’s grace, I hope to reflect in my life with increasing faithfulness.
I confess that Christ is Lord. People have many identities – vocational, ethnic, political and more. I confess that each of these identities is subordinate to my identity as a follower of Christ. I seek to emulate Christ in earnestly seeking God’s will and in not shrinking away from that will when it involves suffering. This may mean doing things that are professionally limiting, like observing a Sunday Sabbath, or that are unpopular in the context of my lefty “tribe,” like insisting on the fundamental corruption of abortion-on-demand ideology. This is uncomfortable and sometimes even painful, but as a follower of Christ, I can do no less.
I confess that there is no salvation apart from the cross. The atonement is a multi-faceted jewel, and I would not dream of denigrating any scripturally supported view of Jesus’ saving work. I find some theories of the atonement more attractive than others – I am particularly partial to Christus Victor, celebrating Christ’s ultimate triumph over sin and death, as anyone who knows of my obsession with the hymn “Victory in Jesus” can attest – but at the end of the day how Jesus reconciles us to God through his life, death and resurrection is a mystery and one that I embrace. What is not a mystery, however, is Jesus’ insistence that anyone who would gain life in him must learn to die daily to the flesh. There is no way to attain the glory of Christ’s crown without the suffering of Christ’s cross.
I confess that God’s grace is infinite. I have a bad habit of trying to weigh sin. Is gossip as bad as theft? Is rape worse than child abuse? Is pride as evil as murder? I never get anywhere with these musings. In fact, trying to create a hierarchy of sin is, at least for me, both an utter waste of time and a dangerous hobby, as it tends to lead to self-righteously looking down on others whose sins are “worse” than mine. The truth is that my fallen human nature – the “old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts” – has much more in common with the wickedness of a serial killer than with the goodness of God. God’s righteousness and holiness are utterly foreign to that old self. But while I was chained in sin’s prison, God sent Jesus to break me out and he wants to do the same for every last person on this earth. Whatever you have done, whomever you have hurt, however you have failed, whatever depths you have sunk to, God has extended you a pardon, an invitation to his table, and a place as a treasured daughter or son in his house. Isn’t that good news?
I confess that right relationship with God is possible. Not only can God’s grace rescue even the most enthusiastic wrongdoer, but when we truly commit to follow Christ, we receive a new nature. We begin to desire God’s will and gain the mind of Christ. For some people, this happens instantaneously; for others, it is a gradual process. For all who follow Christ as Lord, the restoration of our relationship with God is marked by a life of yieldedness to God’s will, sometimes known as “perfection.” A restored relationship with God doesn’t mean that goodness and godliness cannot grow further, but it is a qualitative change in relationship that is both felt inwardly and seen outwardly.
I confess that the Spirit of Christ knits all believers together. I don’t know how, but the Bible promises that believers will be bound together as one body, a reality that I have experienced. This means that we behave unnaturally, worse than fools, when we ignore the struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether those in pain are unemployed White men in Appalachia, under-resourced Black children in the Rust Belt, disabled adults in our neighborhoods or any other precious children of God, I confess the truth of scripture: “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Following Christ means actively seeking ways to honor and cherish those who are weaker in worldly advantages, weaker in stature, weaker in faith. Sometimes that means going along with someone else’s desires when I know in my heart that my way is better. This is extremely difficult, and it often feels terrible, but if dying to the flesh were fun, it would have a more appealing name than, you know, dying to the flesh. Any gospel that is not good news for the least among us is no gospel at all.
I confess that discipling others is a core work of every follower of Jesus. We must help others to grow in Christ if we would call ourselves his followers. Making new disciples is one of the very few explicit commands that Jesus gave his own disciples, and that means coaching, supporting and encouraging people to know – and obey – Jesus, even as we put our efforts into growing in faith and obedience ourselves. Of course, we are not to ignore material needs and we are not to turn a blind eye to those who do not share our faith: Jesus did not give theological tests to the lepers before he cleansed them or the crowds before he fed them. But discipling others is hard and the very concepts of evangelism and discipleship may even be offensive to some, as evangelism could be seen as disrespectful to those of other faiths or no faith and discipling others may seem too authoritarian and hierarchical. Nevertheless, I see no evidence in the Bible or the history of the Church that these activities are optional. So what does discipling others look like? Sometimes it means shepherding new believers, unbelievers and almost-believers as a loving friend, active mentor and listening presence. Sometimes it means spiritual friendships with those at a similar point in their faith journey, joining together with others for mutual support, fellowship and accountability. Sometimes it means continuing to pray for and exhort those you may see as spiritual giants (trust me, they need it too). Wherever you are in your faith or your doubt, your peace or your struggle, your belief or your unbelief, there is someone in your life who you can invite into a deeper love relationship with Jesus, someone you can encourage to grow and stretch and be molded into the instrument of peace that God would have each of us become.
What is your confession? What witness is God calling you to, calling us to, in this time and place?