Discussion Summary for ReJesus

Here is the write-up of our discussion of ReJesus: ReJesus shows us that it is crucial for the church to authenticate itself in relation to Jesus’ example as it is conveyed to us in the Gospels. ReJesus shows us how easy it is to drift away from authentic Christian discipleship; how easy it is to think we are getting it right when we are not. But because ReJesus focuses on Jesus in the Four Gospels, the scope of ReJesus is intentionally pre-Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is mentioned but Frost and Hirsch do not describe in detail how we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in these matters.

Christian discipleship requires that we have a present relationship with God (mutual agreement to interact with each other) that is only possible through the Holy Spirit. Christian discipleship is based on an existential (actually lived out in real time) intercourse (fully human, fully spirit trafficking) between God and man. This constant interaction in and with the Holy Spirit is what informs and empowers each one of us to live like Jesus (not merely trying our best, on our own to imitate Jesus). However, just because we seek to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t necessarily lead us to live like Jesus. This is the whole point of ReJesus. Our own insight and understanding is insufficient; our own perspective and way of framing things is insufficient. We need to authenticate everything we think and do in the light of Jesus’ life, practice, and teachings. This can be a very sobering, even disturbing process. In Frost’s and Hirsch’s words: "Key to encountering the biblical Jesus is a step that many Christians seem to find painful, that is, our preparedness to read the Gospels in order to emulate Jesus." (p. 17) I am very pleased that our conversation about reJesus was candid, unpretentious and nitty-gritty. At times, the conversation did feel uncomfortable, daunting and incomplete.

One person found the accounts about a KKK Grand Chaplain and a KKK Grand Wizard to be annoying and disturbing: "Oh God, our Heavenly Guide, as finite creatures of time and as dependent creatures of Thine, we acknowledge Thee as our sovereign Lord…May we as klansmen forever have the courage of our convictions that we may always stand for Thee and our great nation… By the power of Thy infinite spirit and the energizing virtue therein, ever keep before us our oaths of secrecy and pledges of righteousness. Bless us now in this assembly that we may honor Thee in all things, we pray in the name of Christ, our blessed Savior. Amen." (p. 1 -- quoted from Don Whitehead, Attack on Terror: The FBI against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi) "But it’s the specifically Christ-focused aspect of the Klan philosophy that continues to shock nearly half a century later. Praying in the Name of Christ at the inauguration of what was effectively a racist death squad jars, but there can be no denying that the KKK routinely called on Jesus to strengthen them in their quest. The devotion to Jesus of the Imperial Wizard, Sam Bowers, is well known…The Imperial Wizard in the most radical sense possible is a believer in the sovereignty of God." (p. 2)

The disconnect between faith and practice is not confined to the KKK. One person stated that even people cited positively in ReJesus were also racist. In his later years, Martin Luther was very strongly anti-Jewish (even suggesting that Jews should be violently dealt with) and T. S. Elliot was probably anti-Jewish. In discussing these cases it became clear that having some things right about the Christian faith and being fervent in faith and practice do not protect us from holding a wrong view of things. The suspicion entered our minds that we could easily be misguided ourselves. According to Frost and Hirsch: "We ought to be mindful once again of William Temple’s warnings about the nature of theological error when he noted that if our conception of God is radically false, then the more devout we are the worse it will be for us." (p. 114)

We also discussed the problem of how to relate to people who profess to be Christians, yet who act strongly counter to what Jesus taught and lived. We are commanded to seek unity, but we are called to make every effort at unity that is of the Holy Spirit. Our efforts should be in keeping with the fruit of the Spirit. Our efforts should be aimed at maintaining a bond of peace: "I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3) At the same time, Paul wrote: "For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

A description of what mission is and what mission does stood out for one person: "And what is mission? It is the outward impulse of God’s people… to declare the lordship of Jesus in all and over all… This can be manifest in sharing the Gospel, planting churches, feeding the hungry, agitating against injustice, and more." (p. 181) This outward impulse is driven by a love that has a high regard for others. This person also shared this quote that was very meaningful for her: "If we reJesus the church, we will lead it toward a greater respect for the unbeliever, a greater grace for those who, though they don't attend church services, are nonetheless marked by God's image...The missionary task of the church is not to bring God to them but to uncover the 'Imago Dei' [image of God] and assist people to use this knowledge for the salvation of their souls." (pp. 34-35) Our missionary task is not to bring our version of God to people (sometimes by condemning them and trying to convert them to our church’s particular beliefs and practices). Our missionary task is to love them in ways that reveal who they are in the light of love (who is God), including the faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict and to convert them.

Some may think that disciples only need to be nice people who admire Jesus. Our attitudes are important, but our actions are more important. We agreed that obedience confers knowledge about God and our lives that nothing else does. "Helmut Thielicke says it like this, ‘Only conformity to God’s will can open up access to knowledge of the figure of Christ.’" (p. 153) The opposite of this unity is fragmentation. As one person put it: pre-Jesus, my life was very compartmentalized." This person is working toward unification of her life, but she struggles with what it means to live out of a Hebraic vs. a Hellenistic mindset. Surely, in their time, the Jews were influenced by the Greco-Roman culture they lived in. How did they live out a Jewish mindset in the midst of that? Surely they struggled too. In regard to going from a Hellenistic way of thinking (understanding life by first creating ways to categorize and systematize life from a theoretical perspective) to a more Hebraic one (understanding life from a kind of simultaneousness of all the parts acting together in actuality), she observed: "It is hard enough to change how you do something. It is daunting to think about changing how you think." This leads us to another question: If change was comfortable/easy/quick, would our resulting growth in maturity be all that meaningful? If we want to grow, it seems that we need to undertake that which is uncomfortable, daunting and not the "perfect thing" for us. For one person, it was the occasion of a heart surgery that prompted a major change in his way of doing things. It is interesting to think of the idea of choosing to do something daunting, because it is the less daunting of two daunting choices. Is this perhaps generally true from some most ultimately true perspective?

One person observed that when we make studying the Bible our only means of knowing God, we can miss out on learning by doing.

There was one way that this Hebraic approach was put in ReJesus that was very helpful to one person who felt that shalom -- both for the individual and for the community is dependent on each individual working in and through the Holy Spirit toward this "yichud": "Jewish people know that if God is one and that all of life comes under that claim of the one God, then the only true response is that we give all of life to God as our true act of worship. They call this task ‘yichud,’ or unification, and it involves taking all of the disparate elements in one’s life and offering them up to God. No sphere or domain or aspect of human existence is to be kept out of this equation: politics, economics, family life, religious life, all are directed toward the One. In this offering, all idolatries are renounced, no domain is seen as autonomous, all motivations are to be redeemed and directed toward God, and in so doing the worshipper unifies his or her own existence. This is true holiness." (p. 124)

One way that Frost and Hirsch sought to describe the Hebraic approach to life was a diagram which showed three overlapping circles which represented orthodoxy (right thinking), orthopraxy (right doing or right practice) and orthopathy (right feeling). The Hebraic approach to life was not dominated, or lived out primarily through any one of these ways of living (particularly orthodoxy). The Hebraic approach to life consists in the intersection of all three ways -- in living that satisfied all three ways simultaneously. The focus is not on theoretically what could/should be. There is no agonizing over what theoretically coulda/shoulda been or could/should be; no what if/if only daydreaming. There is only thinking right/doing right/feeling right in authentic living. One person asked where the Holy Spirit was in this holistic approach to live. We need the Holy Spirit to live rightly.

Try as we might, we couldn’t get comfortable with the idea of orthopathy as right feeling. One person said that Frost and Hirsch seem to want that our feelings to lead us. That didn’t sit well with him. One person looked up orthopathy and found that "ortho" means right and "pathy" refers to suffering. But "right suffering" didn’t seem to be too helpful for us either. I would like to offer some further thoughts on this matter. First, is there anything we have avoided doing for love of God and neighbor because it involves suffering in some way? "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." (Colossians 1:24). Second, what about defining orthopathy as right affections/feelings and understanding that right affections/feelings do not serve to lead us, that is the role of the Holy Spirit. Right affections/feelings rather help us to follow, they help us to obey. "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh [sometimes translated a tender heart], so that they may follow my statutes and observe my regulations and carry them out. Then they will be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20) Tender-hearted affection toward God and man help us to obey God. Rightly hating evil and injustice, fearing God, right desire, fervor, and zeal are actually essential to following Jesus. We can no more follow Jesus with a numb heart than we can follow him with a numb head.

No matter how we seek to authenticate our following of Jesus against the Jesus of the gospels, we need to make sure that we take care of the poor and needy near us and among us. This is another simple litmus test of our authenticity as Jesus followers. We don’t want to be a copy of a copy of a copy of real disciples based on passed down human traditions. We want to be authentically connected to the gospel Jesus. In this regard, we were jarred by a story one of us told. He was in a small group at a church that practiced traditions of doing church and did not even refer to the Bible in any formal way. He asked what would happen if a homeless person came to a church service. The leader answered, "Why would they?" This church was definitely involved in ministry to the poor and needy. But the ministry took place out there, beyond the walls of the church. The answer was not lacking in mercy. It just seemed to mean -- what would the homeless person (or perhaps, any person who is unlike us) find meaningful in being in our midst? This is a good question. How do we make the power of the gospel message be the center of all we do at Open Door, for example at each and every Sunday gathering? How do we make the power of the gospel message available in some form to all whom God draws to any community gathering that is associated with Open Door?