In a recent Washington Post editorial, Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, commented on what he feels is missing from many Christian churches today. Noting a recent Pew survey that found a large increase among Americans who claim to have no church affiliation, Rev. Tchivdjian wonders if perhaps the main problem isn’t a problem with style, but substance. Specifically, the central message that seems to be found in many churches today. The message he finds being increasingly promoted is basically, “Do something for Jesus.”
Certainly, there can be no argument among Christians that God expects his people to do good things for him and for each other. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and help the needy. The Bible warns against having a faith that does not produce works. Christians should do good things for God and for each other, and Christian churches should encourage and assist their members in doing these works.
The problem comes in when doing things becomes the central message of the church. The heart of the Christian faith is not, “Do something for Jesus.” Rather, it is, “Jesus has done everything for you.” When Christian churches fail to understand this, they leave their members feeling guilty, and give non-members the impression that Christianity is all about controlling behavior and enforcing morality.
Rather than burdening broken sinners with more guilt and urging them to try harder, churches need to proclaim the message that in Christ all our sins are forgiven. His righteousness becomes ours; our sins became his. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” That rest is what the gospel is all about: Rest for our souls; rest from our troubled conscience; rest in knowing that God loves and forgives us; rest that will last forever in heaven.
There are no strings attached to Christ’s redeeming grace. On the cross, Jesus did not say, “It is finished, if...” He said simply, “It is finished.” If more Christian churches made that their central message and proclaiming it their reason to exist, perhaps they wouldn’t need to struggle to find relevancy. And maybe, just maybe, the number of people who have no church affiliation wouldn’t continue to rise.
Brent Merten is pastor of Mountain Valley Lutheran Church, 802 Brush Creek Terrace, Eagle.