Up until now, Michael Spencer has been pointing out where the American evangelical church falls short of “Jesus shaped spirituality” by picking and choosing doctrine to make themselves most comfortable and incomplete pictures of Jesus to support their religious culture. In Chapter 7 of Mere Churchianity, Michael lays out a complete picture of Jesus. Glynn Young, over at Faith, Fiction and Friends, lists out each of the bullet-points Michael gives that we too easily ignore or neglect today.
I want us to look at a specific example from Jesus’ life: the blind man in John 9. Jesus meets him and the cultural, religious, response was that he must have sinned to be that way. Jesus rebukes the notion and instead states that he is in his condition so that God may be glorified. (How often do we honestly look at the things our churches “do” as having the goal to glorify God versus pointing fingers at someone else’s sin?) This man is healed and is quickly questioned by the religious establishment. He gives one reply that relates directly to our discussion on this book. In verse 25 he says, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Do we need a complete picture of Jesus to have Jesus-shaped spirituality? Do we need to be theological experts on the life of Jesus? Or do we need to simply look in the mirror to see what our relationship with Christ has done in our lives and conclude that the true Jesus, not some cultural facsimile, is at work? I believe in an effort to “brand” our particular church, we focus on this part of Jesus or that, this miracle or that, this statement or that, and forget the Living Christ at work in our lives to transform us into His likeness.
Jesus prayed for unity amongst his believers in John 17. The early disciples in Acts 2 “had everything in common.” (v 44) The encouragement Paul gave to the church in Philippi was to “contend as one man for the faith of the gospel.”(v 27) And Paul further points to the unity of the Gospel in Ephesians 4. So what did these early Christians do? In Acts 4 we read they couldn't help “speaking about what [they] have seen and heard." (v 20) What did they see? Jesus at work.
The hundreds of different denominations are divided over every little nit-picked detail, and Jesus at work has been lost. All the people Michael describes who have left the little-c church in search of Jesus? The sad thing is, they already found him, but the church failed to remind them of that. At some point in their lives, the real Jesus did something or they would have never walked through those doors. It is tragic that we get so caught up in our petty differences that we no longer see Jesus still working in His Church today.
***Addendum: I also wanted to point out the irony of Michael's example of Anne Rice. How could he have known that she too would be duped by the "cultural Christianity" and turn her back on the Church? For more discussion on that particular instance, check out the discussion on "Spiritual but not religious" over at the Washington Post's forum, OnFaith.***