A Watered- down Gospel

Photo Credit: Barefoot Communications on Unsplash

Something is missing. The communion elements taste different when the American church is divided.

Truth be told, it’s only been united during chattel slavery and even that was for a short time. Once the water of baptism was dried off and persons gave the implications of this new birth more thought, there was once again master and slave.

Now, split down the middle into conservative and liberal and “towing the color line,” there is racialized black and white people, Democrats and Republicans.

Which kind of Christian are you? And what did Paul say to the Galatians (3:27-28)?

This is the gospel watered down, the gospel that goes down smoothly with your favorite politician. It is mostly capitalism and campaign slogans with a little bit of Jesus sprinkled in.

Less parables and more of our preferences are mixed in. Because any time a former U.S. president can say with a straight face that he is second only to Jesus, something is missing.

The baptismal waters should make us feel different. More than a tingly feeling, we identify with the water as baptized believers.

Consequently, the North American church is in hot water. Something smells fishy.

Jesus’ disciples are called to be “fishers of people” but the church, now expressed through buildings though it began as a body, has become a fishbowl. We’re just swimming around in the same old, same old stagnant water.

We are too afraid to filter it or better yet, to empty it— though the church could use a fresh start, a rebirth.

Many church leaders aren’t making disciples. Instead, they are creating customers who will buy into a religious product that is available in contemporary and traditional services, that comes with hymns or praise songs, that is offered at 8, 9, 10 or 11 a.m. There is also an evening service if that doesn’t work for you.

But Jesus doesn’t work for you or me. The gospel isn’t meant to work well with our schedules, our capitalist lifestyle, our culture, our creature comforts, our family traditions, our social preferences, our idea of what discipleship is.

Jesus is not to be confused with a salesman.

“Step right up. Get your salvation!”

The gospel is offered with no fear of death. Not the hellfire and brimstone death but the death that comes from following in Jesus’ footsteps, that is self- mortification.

Because it is also a religious product that some Christian leaders guilt persons into. “Look what Jesus did for you, a sinner. Get saved! Come to Jesus today!” Because “if you die tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”

This means that we often come to Jesus out of fear and shame— not love and gratitude.

“The words with which we praise God shape the world in which we live,” Walter Brueggemann concluded. But a watered-down gospel shapes nothing. Our work and witness should “prepare the way of the Lord” without getting in the way of the Lord.

Church leaders are selling a religious experience. We go to church to sit in a seat. But being a disciple of Jesus means we sit at his feet.

Jesus said, “Learn of me”—not worship me (Matthew 11:29). He never asked for the red-carpet treatment, for roped off and VIP seating.

In fact, Jesus kept it moving. He told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Start here. Clean up, get washed up in this body of water and then follow me.

We have much to reflect on and I think that baptism is a pool that offers this opportunity. But in watering down the gospel, we have watered down the message and meaning of baptism too.

Photo Credit: The Ministry Collaborative

Listen to a quick conversation with me and Adam Borneman, Program Director at The Ministry Collaborative and find out what Harriet Tubman, Clarence Jordan and baptism have in common by clicking here.

Photo Credit: Plough Publishing House

Pre- order your copy of The Inconvenient Gospel by clicking here. I had the incredible fortune of writing the foreword. Also, join me, Russell Moore and Bren Dubay for the book launch on Thursday, October 27th. For more information and to register, click here.

Photo credit: Starlette Thomas

The Raceless Gospel Initiative at Good Faith Media has new resources on baptism, including a liturgy! Learn more about these resources by clicking here. To download all four, click here.

Be sure to follow me on social media @racelessgospel.

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Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and most authentic expression, I am the principal architect of a race/less world.

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