James L. Evans|
A place for Jesus in the church?
A Web-based group calling themselves TopVerse.com recently conducted a survey asking Christians to identify their favorite verses. The reason for the survey was to speed up an online search feature offered at the site.
The survey generated not only a list of favorite verses, but also favorite books of the Bible and even favorite chapters within those books. The final tally was pretty interesting.
The favorite verse list includes the ones we might expect — John 3:16 and such. But amazingly not a single favorite comes from the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, only four quotes are from Jesus at all in the list of top 10 verses, and three of them are from the Gospel of John. From the list of favorite books I was surprised to see that not a single Gospel was listed among the favorites. Not one.
How can the Sermon on the Mount not be among the favorites of Christian people? These words are the very heart of Jesus’ teaching. In fact, Jesus warns at the close of the sermon that failing to hear and do what he says will result in a failed life.
At least Jesus thought what he had to say was fairly important.
And how can it be that none of the Gospels make the list of top 10 favorite books. These are the books that tell us what we need to know about the life and teachings of Jesus. You would think that people who regard themselves as “followers of Christ,” would live in these books and commit large portions to memory.
I find all of this troubling. I have suspected for a long time that Christians consciously or unconsciously kept Jesus at arms length. We are glad to have Jesus die for our sins and secure us a place in heaven, but we don’t want him for our mentor. Some of the things Jesus taught and did simply do not fit with the way many believers live their lives today.
For instance, Jesus taught that we are to have compassion for the poor and to provide for the needs of the “least of these” in our midst. Unfortunately that doesn’t fit our current economic agenda, so we refuse to hear Jesus on this matter.
Also, Jesus taught non-violent resistance to evil and told us we must love our neighbors and our enemies. That however does not fit our current military agenda, so we refuse to hear Jesus on this matter.
Jesus taught that the church and Caesar cannot and do not get along. But that does not work with our current political agenda, so we refuse to hear Jesus on this matter.
And Jesus taught that prayer and acts of piety should not be public demonstrations. Our acts of worship are best done where God alone sees them. But that does not fit our current theological agenda, so we refuse to hear Jesus on this matter.
I have often wondered what would happen if Christians in America decided to take Jesus seriously and really live the way he taught. We went through a brief WWJD craze — asking “what would Jesus do.” But I wonder now how serious we were in asking that question.
I don’t understand how Christian people think they can be followers of Jesus and not value what he said and did. Of course, what we don’t read can’t bother us.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.