For years now as a pastor, I’ve tried to define what we believe as Christ followers and describe the kind of Christians we are trying to become as a church. I often have friends or acquaintances ask me, “Hey what kind of Church do you have?” or “What denomination are you guys?” Well, I came to faith in a non-denominational church, but I was raised in the Catholic Church, and I later attended a Baptist Seminary. Maybe that’s why I’m a little confused sometimes! But I often find myself trying to describe the KIND of Christian that I am, and to find support for this in the scriptures. Do you ever find yourself in the same situation?
I usually get dumped into the category of “Evangelical Christianity”, but I’ve never been comfortable there. In fact, I’ve never wanted to be connected with this definition, mostly because I grew up with a very skeptical eye on those famous preachers and televangelists who have repeatedly given us a black eye, even when we never wanted to be associated with them. Swaggart, Baker, Haggard, all those guys on TBN; these were (and are) the guys who are most commonly associated with Evangelical Christianity, and these are the same guys who kept me from seriously examining Christianity until I was in my thirties… I really want nothing to do with them.
But something more important has happened with me in recent years. I’ve started to look very closely at the underlying theology that has shaped the evangelical community. And I no longer believe that the ‘movement’ known as Evangelical Christianity has a irrefutable theological foundation. It seems that most of Evangelicalism is founded on the Great Commission:
'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'
Evangelicals have always seen this commission as one that is directed not only to the disciples who were standing with Jesus on that powerful day, but also as one that is directed to us specifically. It is OUR commission to reach the world and make disciples of all men. But the most direct and simplest reading of the text is simply that Jesus was talking to his disciples; the apostles and their associates about whom we read in the Book of Acts. What is it about this passage in Matthew 28 that we should interpret as being directed specifically to us as 21st century believers?
The more I look for direct passages that speak to me, in my generation, and commission me to make disciples of the nations, the less comfortable I am with some of the interpretations I used to hold as true. I do think there is one very powerful passage in scripture that DOES tell us what our responsibility is in reaching the lost with the Gospel, but I don’t think it is to be found in Matthew 28. And as I have come to see the power and wisdom of this particular passage, I’ve realized that I’ve done a lot of stupid things over the years as I was trying to fulfill this thing I understood as the “Great Commission”. Most of the stupid stuff that I’ve done was in direct response to what I thought my responsibility was in light of Matthew 28.
I took that passage, and allowed myself to be defined as an Evangelical Christian. I no longer claim that title however. I’ve embraced a new definition. I’d like to be seen not as and Evangelical Christian, but as a “Responsive Christian”. More on that title and the scripture that led me here in my next post…