Volume 41, Number 2
Christianity involves more than a belief in God. The Christian faith owes its life and its unique character to the person and work of Jesus Christ. What we believe about Him is of eternal importance.Jesus Christ is especially relevant in the church because of His authority. The writer of Hebrews says, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:12-13). Jesus Christ is repeatedly declared to be the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). The concept of headship includes the thought of having the power to direct; therefore the church is to be “subject to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24). Christ’s position at the right hand of the Father is the place of power. We are told in 1 Corinthians 15:25, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” Jesus is now making intercession for His followers (Hebrews 7:25), and He is waiting in great anticipation until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet.
Jesus came to earth the first time to “preach good tidings to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted…to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2a). Jesus quoted the Isaiah passage and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). But the Isaiah 61 passage concludes with additional words, “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b). When Jesus comes to earth the second time, the destruction of His enemies will be accomplished. Revelation 19:11-16 describes the time when all who have despised Him, and had part in His rejection, will be put under His feet.
Worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ is not paying homage to a helpless infant lying in a manger, nor are we worshiping a teacher standing by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We are not worshiping a dead body hanging limply on a cross. We are worshiping the One who is now “King of kings and Lord of lords”.and who is to be preeminent in the church. Readers are encouraged to profit from the article that follows.
The Relevance of Jesus Christ in the Church
By Fred Keener
My wife Anna tells the story that as a young girl, she was riding in the back of the family station wagon when her parents stopped at a gas station. Anna thought they were stopping so she could use the restroom; but in reality, they were only stopping to change drivers. So when she got out, her parents didn’t know it; and after a short time, off they went without her! They didn’t get far; Anna’s sister and brothers evidently alerted their parents to what had happened, and it wasn’t long till they came back for her—and I’m glad they did! Hearing about an incident like that is humorous; but in this day and age, to leave a child behind is no laughing matter—it could easily end in tragedy.
Whenever our family goes somewhere, one of the things I always do, is count—I always check to make sure no one is missing! I wonder in the Church of the Brethren how recently we’ve checked to make sure that Jesus is not missing? How recently have we stopped to make sure He is still with us—that we haven’t left Him along the way somewhere? Jesus is not our child; He’s our Savior—He is the Head of the church, and we dare not leave Him behind! And yet tragically, we see evidences of that happening!
There is a wide spectrum of beliefs in the Church of the Brethren—from those who believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture and Jesus as the only way of salvation—to those who see the Bible as just another book, and Christ as just another religious leader. It is very evident that we strayed—that we have left Jesus behind. We have forgotten how much we need Him, and how very relevant He is in the church! Hebrews 12:2 calls Him the Author and Finisher of our faith. Who could be any more relevant than that? Christ is relevant in the church like the sun is relevant in the sky; like air is relevant in the lungs; like the captain is to the ship, or like the pilot is to the aircraft. Jesus is to our spiritual life what air and water are to our physical life—not only relevant, but absolutely essential, fundamental, indispensable!
Name any person or position in the life of the church—pastor, deacons, board chairman, treasurer, head of the Christian Education department—those are all important persons, and yet all of them are replaceable—not one is indispensable. All of them can be replaced, but there is no one who will ever replace Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 1:8). Jesus Christ is not merely prominent; He is preeminent, supreme above all others, King of kings and Lord of lords!
So what would the Church be like without Christ? Without Him there would not even be a church—a social club maybe, a do-gooder organization, a religious association; but not the church. The church without Christ would be like a body without a head (Colossians 1:18). He is as relevant to the church as our head is to our body! He is as relevant to the church as the foundation is to a building (1 Corinthians 3:11). Ephesians 2:20 calls Him the Chief Cornerstone. According to John 15, Christ is to the church as the vine is to the branches; without Him we can do nothing!
Christ is not only the Founder and Head of the Church; He is to be our central focus. Whenever we read about the apostles going to preach, we read that they preached Christ (Acts 8:5, 9:20; 1 Corinthians 3:2). He is to be the center of our teaching, preaching, witnessing, and outreach. We don’t read of Philip going to Samaria and saying, “Hey, you people ought to come to my church; we have this great ball team!” No, the Bible says he preached Christ to them! We don’t read of Paul going to Corinth and saying, “Folks, you ought to join my church; we have all these activities—sports, exercise groups, clubs!” No, the Bible says he preached Christ. When Someone says He is the way, the truth, and the life, the living water, the living bread, the light of the world—if Someone like that isn’t relevant in the church, then who is relevant?
1. JESUS IS RELEVANT IN THE WORSHIP OF THE CHURCH.
From His earliest days on earth, people saw Jesus as One to be worshiped (Matthew 2:11). All through His earthly ministry, and into the formation of the church, Jesus was worshiped, and He is still relevant in our worship today. Worship does not begin with an opening hymn; worship begins as we open our hearts to the Lord, acknowledging and submitting to His Kingship. Worship is not so much bowing our heads, as it is bowing our hearts!
A Sunday School teacher challenged her children’s class to take some time one Sunday afternoon to write a letter to God. The children were to bring their letters back with them the following week. One little boy wrote, “Dear God, we had a great time at church today—wish You could have been there!” That little story may come closer to reality than we know. Is Christ’s presence real in our churches today? Is He loved, is He worshiped, is He obeyed? Jesus alone is worthy of worship and praise. He is relevant in the worship of the Church.
2. JESUS IS RELEVANT IN THE DOCTRINE AND TEACHING OF THE CHURCH.When Peter, James, and John were on the mountain with Jesus, they heard a voice out of the cloud saying, “This is My beloved Son— hear ye Him.” In other words, listen to what He says regarding every aspect of doctrine and teaching. Throughout its history, our denomination has taken to heart a number of Christ’s commands, including “Love your enemies,” “Go the second mile,” “Let your light shine before men.” As a denomination which states that our only creed is the New Testament, we understand the relevance of Christ’s teachings! The problem arises when we pick and choose—some teachings we love; others we try to water down, or just overlook. For example, when Jesus says in Matthew 19:6, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder”—do we take it at face value? Or do we try to make exceptions? The fact that Jesus talks in Scripture more about Hell than He does about Heaven—do we accept the existence and reality of Hell, and Christ’s description of it, or do we try to soften it?
Many today have turned aside from sound doctrine, and are following teachers who tell them what they want to hear! More than 30 years ago, Vance Havner in his book Playing Marbles with Diamonds, offered the following insight: “The devil is not fighting religion; he is too smart for that. He is producing a counterfeit Christianity so much like the real one that good Christians are afraid to speak out against it. We are plainly told in the Scriptures that in the last days men will not endure sound doctrine and will depart from the truth and heap to themselves teachers to tickle their ears. We live in an epidemic of this itch, and popular preachers have developed ear tickling to a fine art.” Those words were written more than thirty years ago, but they are as up-to-the-minute as today’s news! Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That means His commands and teachings are as relevant in the life of the church today as they ever were. What Jesus says will never become outdated and will never need to be upgraded.
3. CHRIST IS RELEVANT IN THE SERVICE OF THE CHURCH.
Service has long been one of the hallmarks of the Brethren. It was elder Christopher Sauer, Jr. who decorated the walls of his printing establishment with the motto, “To the glory of God and my neighbor’s good.” In some congregations, you can read in the bulletin, “Enter to worship, depart to serve.” Brethren have been excellent “doers” over the years—from Heifer Project, to digging wells in Nigeria, to Brethren Volunteer Service, to disaster relief—Brethren recognized Christ as One who set the example in serving. Jesus spoke about serving when He said, “inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.”
One way we make Christ irrelevant in our service, though, is when we fail to confess Him to those we serve—when we fail to say, “I’m doing this because of Christ.” Some years ago, I passed someone along the road near a McDonald’s holding a sign which said, “Need food.” I drove on, but then the Lord spoke to me and said, “You could do something about that.” So I turned around, went into the McDonald’s restaurant and bought some gift certificates, and gave them to the person along the road. The individual was grateful, but what I neglected to do, was bring the Lord into the situation. I neglected to say, “I’m doing this because of all Christ has done for me, and because Christ wants me to serve others.” Many of us have opportunities to help others; when we do, let’s be sure to include Christ—let Him be relevant in our service.
4. CHRIST IS RELEVANT IN THE LIFE AND PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH.
It has been said that about 95% of what most churches do, they’d keep right on doing, even if the presence of Christ were to be withdrawn! How tragic that Christ could be so irrelevant to churches—that even if He were not there, they’d keep right on going! As individuals and churches, do we stop to think? Are we really doing what Christ wants us to do—what He’s called us to do? Two thousand years ago, Christ gave His disciples the example of washing each other’s feet. Today, there are Brethren who still wash feet and break bread and drink the cup. But many don’t. We let Christ out of the life and practice of the Church, when we decide for ourselves what we will and will not do. What about the sisters’ head covering? What about church discipline? When we stop engaging in these practices, we are letting Christ out! Christ gets left out of the church when we as His people leave Him out of our lives. Christ will only be as relevant in the Church as He is in our individual lives. In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus doesn’t say, “I have somewhat against you, because you no longer love Me.” He says, “I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.” Like that church, the problem is not that we have left Him totally out of our lives; the problem is we have left Him out of the central place, the place of Lordship! We want His blessings, we want answers to our prayers, we want the heaven He offers; and yet by and large, we still want to be in control.
There was a bumper sticker some years ago that was worded, “Christ is my copilot.” But as someone has noted, if Christ is your copilot, you are in the WRONG SEAT! Christ can only be as relevant in the church, as He is in our individual lives! If we expect Christ to be relevant in the church, we have to let him be relevant in our lives. And that means making sure we are doing what Christ want us to do, and not doing what He doesn’t want us to do.
5. CHRIST IS RELEVANT IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH.
Our love for each other and our sense of unity, results from having a relationship with Christ. This unity explains how you can feel kinship with other believers right off the bat—how you can have fellowship with someone regardless of background, skin color, or anything else, because that person has in common with you the most important thing of all—faith in the same God; love for the same Christ.
Early last month my mother died at the age of 77. Our family was already a close family, but in the months leading up to mother’s death, as we rallied around her and did what we could to help her, guess what happened? As members of her family, we drew even closer—the fellowship between us vastly increased! It works the same way in the body of Christ—the more we focus on Christ, and work together on what He wants us to do, the closer we become! The more we love each other! And why is love so important? It is the greatest evidence of our discipleship. Jesus doesn’t say, in John 13:35, “They’ll know you are My disciples if you go to church, carry a Bible, sing a hymn,” He says, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.”‘In Revelation 2. the believers at Ephesus were scolded, not for their lack of service or patience or sound doctrine, but for their lack of love. If we want Christ to be relevant in our fellowship, we need to regain the intensity of love for Him, and for one another!
6. CHRIST IS RELEVANT IN THE CHURCH’S MESSAGE AND MISSION.
Jesus is relevant in the evangelism of the Church—the proclamation of the news that even though man is sinful and separated from God, we can be forgiven and we can have a relationship with Him by repenting of sin, and trusting Christ as personal Savior.
Annual Conference speaker, Galen Hackman, says that we Brethren have forgotten what Jesus asked us to do. He said, “Jesus did not say go preserve a heritage, or go feed the hungry, or go establish institutions of learning and care giving. Jesus did not say, teach people to live at peace with one another. Jesus said we are to go and make disciples of all nations. Everything we do must be about the purpose of proclaiming Jesus.” He goes on to say, “God is not pleased when the central focus of our work is anything other than introducing a dying world to the Son in whom He is well pleased.” Christ is relevant in the evangelism of the Church—without Him, there would be no gospel to proclaim, no salvation, no good news! As our nation reels from disasters, and the threat of terrorism hangs over us, what better time to proclaim the Good News that there’s a way of escape from the wrath of God through His Son, Jesus Christ!
7. CHRIST IS RELEVANT IN THE DESTINY OF THE CHURCH.
What is the church’s destiny—the Church’s future? It is ultimate victory, eternal triumph—ruling and reigning with Christ forever (Revelation 22:5). Ultimate victory and eternal triumph are a reality for the church, because of Christ’s payment for sin, Christ’s defeat of death! Harold Martin, (in his article, “Who Do You Say That Jesus Christ Is?”) says that who Christ is, and what He has done, is at the very heart of the gospel. Christianity centers on Christ’s deity, His death, and His resurrection. Christ is relevant in the church, because He is alive!
Nearly four weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed our ninth child into the family—Justin Daniel. Since that time, Justin has been in the hospital twice. He has been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, along with a rare and serious heart condition. The cardiologist has warned us that Justin’s heart could fail at any time. As great of a blessing as he’s already been to us, Justin’s earthly future is uncertain.
When you think of it, that’s true for all of us—our earthly future is uncertain. And yet because of Jesus, who died and rose again, our eternal future is settled! The future of the church is settled. Jesus says, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” Thank God that because of Jesus, our eternal future is settled; our eternal destiny is assured! No matter what happens here on earth—no matter how much the gates of hell try to prevail against the Church—our ultimate destiny is final victory and eternal triumph, as we rule and reign with Christ forever. Surely we can identify with the story about the new believer who was reading the book of Revelation for the first time. When he got to the end of the book, he jumped up and down shouting, “We win! We win!”
Fred Keener has been pastor of the Bristolville Church of the Brethren in Bristolville, Ohio for nineteen years. He and his wife Anna are the parents of nine children.