The earliest Church faced opposition from hundreds of other cults and religions. But some of the stiffest competition came from within the groups of believers themselves. You may remember Paul’s first visit to Ephesus where he discovered many were followers of the baptism of John but had heard nothing about the Holy Spirit. Paul didn’t criticize or make them feel less than Christian. He simply took them from where they were to the next step.
It is too easy to fall into the habit of discounting efforts for leading people to Christ if what they encounter first seems incomplete or superficial. I know that is the way I have sometimes responded to mass media efforts to attract people to Jesus. It might have been in the 1970’s with the Here’s Life campaign sponsored by Campus Crusade (now Cru) or years later the God Speaks initiative which began in 1998 when an anonymous donor contacted an ad agency with the idea for a local billboard campaign that would get people thinking about God. It eventually reached over 10,000 billboards in 200 cities. The current He Gets Us is funded by an initial $100 million contribution and has already reached millions online and through the commercials on the Super Bowl last month.
I could say all of these are efforts to introduce people to Jesus or God in ways making them accessible and non-threatening but still incomplete. There is nothing about the cross or blood sacrifice or even the Holy Spirit. It is “seeker sensitive” taken to a new level and the Bible teacher in me wants to shout that pointing people to the earthly life of Jesus is not good enough. Yes, that is the main story of the gospels but not the balance of the New Testament. In fact, Paul hardly mentions the man Jesus at all in his letters to the churches. His focus is not on stories about Jesus’ life, his compassion, miracles or even his teachings. Paul does not reminisce about Jesus and never asks, “What would Jesus do?” You could say the earthly life of Jesus is not Paul’s interest. The name of Jesus is used 36 times in Romans and only three times without Christ or Lord as part of his title. Paul virtually ignores the personality of Jesus. It is all about his role as the Christ. I imagine Paul would be mildly concerned about our emphasis on Jesus without the equal emphasis on his being the Christ and the necessity of the death and blood sacrifice. It’s not a draw for the use of mass marketing, is it? It might even be bait and switch once the customer has made the purchase.
But I look in the mirror and see a snob.
It is then I come back to Sam Shoemaker’s poem, I Stand At The Door, and have to reconsider my misgivings about those campaigns. Sam, an Episcopal priest, wrote about his role as standing by the door to welcome people to the grace of Christ and the Church. He is not there to lead them deep into theology or the finer points but to be the hand that grasps theirs as they blindly grope their way through life.
I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.
I have been reading Greek To Me by Mary Norris. She writes about scholars of Greek history who look down on those who have published books for popularizing the culture and myths of Greek literature. They are discounted as superficial and even harmful to the deeper understanding of the discipline. Yet, as Mary says, perhaps those books considered shallow by the learned have a better chance of introducing an uninitiated reader to the wonder of the stories and characters that have so influenced our Western culture. They would never attempt the deeper works but they are introduced by those authors who, like Sam Shoemaker, greeted them and then encouraged them to go deeper still.
So, Here’s Life, God Speaks, and He Gets Us may not pass muster with scholars, snob Bible teachers or serious theologians. They may even be embarrassing to some who have gone “way in” and forgotten how it was before they got in. But without them there are many who might never find the hand that will reach out and bring them through the door.
Art by Emily Gibson