A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Call to Follow Jesus Is Non-Negotiable

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' And immediately they left their nets and followed him.As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him (Mark 1:16-20).

There is no story in the Bible where God calls someone and offers to negotiate the terms of the call. There is no example in the Bible where God calls an individual on a trial basis. Jesus doesn't say to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, "Follow me for sixty days and we will see how things work out and re-evaluate." No, God calls and we have two choice-- either we follow or we don't.

And we cannot follow Jesus à la carte, as consumers who follow on our terms choosing only how we want to follow. The consumer approach to discipleship not only creates Christians focused mainly on themselves instead of others, cafeteria Christianity tends to produce, not followers of Jesus who "get in the game," but spectators content to warm the bench while others tend to the hard and faithful and sacrificial work necessary in service to the kingdom of God.

Michael Foss writes,
I don't want to push the analogy too far, but for the sake of illustration, let's think of the membership model of church as similar to the membership model of the modern health club. One becomes a member of a health club by paying dues (in a church, the monthly or weekly offering). Having paid their dues, the members expect the services of the club to be at their disposal. Exercise equipment, weight room, aerobics classes, an indoor track, swimming pool—all there for them, with a trained staff to see that they benefit by them. Members may bring a guest on occasion, but only those who pay their dues have a right to the use of the facilities and the attention of the staff. There is no need to belabor the point. Many who sit in the pews on Sundays have come to think of church membership in ways analogous to how the fitness crowd views membership in a health club (quoted here).
Bishop William Willimon states,
The point is not membership. The church does not have clients, members, or consumers of goods and services. The point is discipleship. The church exists to form and sustain individuals and a people who are followers of Jesus Christ, who are his disciples. Rather than buying into a consumer model of the church, where the customer is king and the church simply meets customers' needs, the church does more; the church redefines our true needs. The church transforms people according to the life and pattern revealed by God in Jesus Christ. It unites them with others who are committed to this way of life.
As long as the consumer model of discipleship reigns supreme in the church, the call of Jesus to follow will always be received as negotiable on our part. But there is no example of such a call in Scripture. Abraham is told to go west to a place he will be shown. God calls Amos to preach a specific message to specific people. Mary is told she will give birth to the Savior of the World. Paul is called on the Damascus Road and simply told what he will do. Not one of these individuals gets to negotiate the terms of the call-- and frankly, neither do we.

Jesus calls. We follow. It is God who names the terms.


Donald Sensing said...

See John 6:60-70, too.

"66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."

And Jesus not only did not run after them to talk them into returning, he actually turned to the Twelve and basically asked, "So why are you still standing here?"

Karen O said...

Following the health club idea: And those that only 'pay their dues' with money and not participation and sweat get nothing out of being a member.
Timely thought about Jesus not running after those that left, Donald,especially as I get ready for charge conference and 'cultivating members'