Today, I border on heresy. It’s not by intention. I didn’t wake up this morning and say, “Let’s write something controversial.”
Actually, I woke up trying to knock out the cobwebs from a night of NyQuil, thanks to a cold that is–thankfully–on its way out. So if this post offends, please chalk it up to my delirious state and move on.
But I’ve got a question based on years of hearing some phrases (and teaching them myself) which may be worth re-thinking.
Deep breath, fellow evangelicals; here is one: “I received Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was (pick an age) years old.”
We hear evangelists talk about “receiving Christ as Lord” or something similar. Actually, we can find something close to this in Matthew 10:40 where Jesus says, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.”
Close. John 13:20 has Jesus saying somewhat that same thing; “Truly, truly I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.”
If we stretch things a bit then, I guess we can say they talked about “receiving Christ.”
But, if we are looking to have the faith of the first apostles which changed the world–a 1st Faith–we need to talk as they did.
And the truth is, we can’t find an instance anywhere in the letters and gospels of the New Testament where someone is said to have “received Christ as Lord and Savior.” They just didn’t talk that way.
Jesus in fact, talked mostly about following. Consider . . .
In Matthew’s account, just after his temptation, Jesus’ first words are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus’ second declaration? “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
In Mark’s gospel we see the same pattern.
Luke’s account carries a deeper biographical narrative but we’re only in the fifth chapter before we see, “Follow me” again.
And John? We’re still in the first chapter when Jesus says (v. 43), “Follow me.”
In today’s Christianity we focus on “receiving” and “accepting Jesus.” This isn’t written to criticize (goodness knows we’ve got plenty of people who love to rip into the church for any reason) but to ask, “What if we talked like those first followers did? Would it make a difference?”
My answer to this question is, “I don’t know.” I’m not God’s oracle on this stuff.
But if we focus on following, the letters in the New Testament make much more sense. Because when we read what Paul, Peter, James and John wrote, the essence of these letters to help people understand how they can effectively follow.
Today’s Christianity asks youngsters to “invite Jesus into your heart” and focuses all of us on “receiving Christ as Lord and Savior.” I’m not saying either of these is wrong, but we can go through every Gospel account, the Book of Acts and every single New Testament letter and not find one instance where this takes place.
When Peter gave us his first “evangelistic message,” he closed by telling his listeners to “repent,” meaning they needed to change their minds about who Jesus was. Most of those gathered saw Jesus as the enemy, a rabble-rouser who attacked time-honored Jewish tradition. They needed to first change their minds and see Jesus as he was; a man sent from God who was their messiah.
Second, Peter told them to be baptized in Jesus’ name. There were no theological arguments about baptism for Peter and those guys; they just did it.
It’s interesting. They–those first followers–talked about changing one’s mind (repenting), which I suppose can be construed as “accepting Christ.” Again, close. They just didn’t use those terms.
But next, their faith was focused on action. It started with baptism for almost everyone (exceptions were baptized later), then a life of following took place where they focused on living out what they were learning.
Am I only writing semantics here? Does it really matter that we say things quite differently today? Perhaps. Maybe I’m just being picky.
But something tells me that if we want a true 1st Faith, we’ve got to connect our 21st century language to theirs. They were followers, not “accepters.” It’s quite a distinction, in any century.