John Howard Yoder, in The Politics of Jesus, points out that, when Jesus is held up as an example in the New Testament, it’s always about the cross.
He’s never held up as an example of how we should pray, or how to live as a single Christian. He is not held up as an example of Christian leadership or as the “Master Teacher.” It’s always about his crucifixion.
Philippians 2 is one very important example. Peter uses Jesus as an example to us of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom —
(1Pe 2:20-21 ESV) 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
Paul uses Jesus as an example of sacrificing for the sake of others —
(1Co 10:32-11:1 NIV) 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. NIV 1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
In Ephesians, Jesus is an example of love as shown in sacrifice —
(Eph 5:1-2 NIV) Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
In Hebrews, the cross teaches perseverance —
(Heb 12:1-4a NIV) And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
The lesson of the cross — and the example of Jesus — is about service, submission, sacrifice, and even suffering. This is what the church is supposed to be all about.
It’s how we relate to one another. It’s how we learn to get along. It’s how we show the world the light of Jesus. It’s how we are restored to the image of Jesus. It’s how we become Christ-like. It’s how we perform the mission of God. It’s even how we seek the good of the city where we are.
We surrender all pretensions to worldly power. No worldly politics. No yoking ourselves to political parties and candidates. No imposing God’s will by the power of the state’s sword.
(2Co 12:9-10 NIV) 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul is offering himself an example for how the church should live — in weakness, because in weakness we better serve others.
(2Co 13:4 NIV) 4 For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.
It’s no easy question to decide how to seek our city’s good. Nor is it that easy to know what good works God wants us to do. But here is my experience and observations.
We start by getting rid of some dreadful habits. We remove worldly politics from the pulpit and the classrooms. We stop preaching against other Churches of Christ and “the denominations.” We stop defending our denominational identity and, instead, preach Jesus.
Preach through one of the Gospels — submissively, not explaining away the hard parts but approaching the text with humility and a heart of submission. Teach the Kingdom.
Preach Deuteronomy. There are some powerful passages in that ancient text, such as —
(Deu 10:16-19 NIV) 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
Spend some time in the books that the Churches of Christ routinely ignore. Study the Prophets and learn about the character of God.
(Isa 1:11-17 NIV) 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
(Mic 6:7-8 ESV) 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
There is incredible wisdom in the prophets.
So back to the theme of the series. What of the Church of Christ teaching should we keep?
* The Churches are insistent on regular church attendance, and I think that’s right. It’s not just a command but a necessary element of being formed into a spiritual, Christ-like community. You can’t be in community unless you see and talk to each other on a regular basis. You can’t be edified as a church unless you meet as a church.
* On the other hand, the notion that we meet to “perform Five Acts of Worship” misses the point of the assembly and points everything in entirely the wrong direction. It’s not a semi-pagan effort to appease an angry god by carefully following the rules hidden in the silences. It’s about so loving, so adoring God that we become like him.
We become like what we worship, and if we worship a god who damns over unintentional errors, we become harsh, judgmental people. But if we worship a God rich in mercy and love and forgiveness, that’s who we become.
* Church is not so much about obeying a command to attend so we can go to heaven as getting to be with other followers of Jesus to encourage and build each other up so we become more and more like him.
* And because we’re like Jesus, we work to make the world a better place — especially in the community where we are. It’s blessed to send out foreign missionaries and to dig wells in distant lands, as many churches do, but we should also serve the city where we are because we are the best evidence and testimony about the truth of Jesus. We need to show who Jesus is and how he has changed us so that faith is honored in our land because the world sees the good that faith brings about.
* Hence, evangelism, missions, and benevolence are good and necessary things, but they should no longer be programs required by the “pattern” of how we do church. Rather, they should exist because they reflect the nature of the members of the church. These should be second nature. They may be programs, but they’re done solely out of love for those served, not just to check the benevolence box on how to be a true church.
* And, yes, we worship during the assembly, not because God will damn us if we don’t feed his desire for adoration (God is not neurotic or emotionally needy), but because we see the beauty and wonder of God so well when we see his gathered people that we cannot help but worship the Being who drew us together. Then the worship will draw us closer to God and to each other, regardless of its form or tradition. The point is not rule-keeping but expressing our hearts toward God because of who he is.