What a Concept (Revised)

[Something strange happened on the way to the “publish” button. My work-in-progress launched too soon. I’m not sure what you got, but here’s what I intended to share. Thanks for your patience.]

I heard today about a group called “Red Letter Christians”. The “Red Letters” are the ones that identify the words of Jesus in many Bibles. (Yes, I know the technical issues that make this les-than-accurate. But let’s set those aside for now.) Red Letter Christians think Jesus meant what he said. They believe following Jesus means walking his talk. In their own words, “The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.” (Follow this link to learn more: http://www.redletterchristians.org.)

What a concept! Being a Christian means taking Jesus at his word(s)–especially the ones that make us squirm. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) may well have  inspired more weasel-words from those who call themselves Christian than any other Bible passage: “He meant these words for the Twelve, not for everybody.” “He was talking about life in the coming Kingdom of God, not the real world.” “These are ideals, not prescriptions for daily life.” Jesus’ first disciples thought Jesus meant just what he said. The early church thought Jesus meant what he said. Throughout history a lot of folks (like Gandhi), who’ve said they’d be Christian if the Christians they knew were more like Jesus, have believed Jesus meant what he said.

Clarence Jordan (www.koinoniapartners.org/clarence/index.html) thought Jesus meant what he said.  Clarence was born into a middle-class white family in Talbotton, Georgia in 1912. As a young man, he was deeply disturbed by the racial inequality and injustice he saw. His concern led him to a Ph. D. in New Testament Greek at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1938. But he didn’t take refuge in the academic world. In 1942 he and his wife and another couple moved their families onto 440 acres outside Americus, Georgia. They started what they called “Koinonia Farm”, an interracial Christian farming community. What were they thinking in the Deep South in 1942?? “To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.”

Somewhere between 70 and 85% of the churches in this country are declining in attendance and membership. Most of them are looking for answers. They say they’d love to reach unchurched people, especially “young people”.But most of those folks want nothing to do with playing church. Most of what’s on a typical church’s weekly calendar has no connection with their lives. They are unchurched (or de-churched) because they believe Jesus meant what he said and they haven’t found a church that looks and acts it does. But when they do discover a church that takes them seriously as persons and takes Jesus at his word(s), they’re all in!

Want to revitalize your church? Lose the gimmicks. Run off (with Christian love) that expert with all the answers who’ll head home about the time you’re trying to sell his miracle cure to the folks who never trusted him anyway. Center your life together around Matthew 5-7. Read the Sermon on the Mount together–slowly, reflectively, prayerfully. Imagine what “taking Jesus seriously” looks like in your lives and in your life together. Explore the life of Clarence Jordan and other Christians who’ve made the Sermon on the Mount the centerpiece of their discipleship. Don’t just sit there and study. Identify a step you feel called to take. Start with a very small step. Now give one another the gift of mutual encouragement and accountability. Dare to ask God to form you into people and a church that looks and acts like Jesus. What a concept!

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