Every organization is prone to forget why it’s there. People come and go, the founders pass away, the culture changes. Sometimes an organization can wake up and find it’s lost its way. Other times, the organization never wakes up.
The YMCA started in London in the 1840s as a Christian outreach to young men in the inner cities during the industrial revolution. Now, the YMCA is a gym with a robust after school youth program.
Baptist fundamentalism began as a protest movement against theological revisionism and apostasy. Within one generation, the movement’s various flavors fractured over the issue of secondary separation. In some quarters, the mission drift is so extreme that evangelicals have long been considered ” the enemy,” rather than modern-day heresy and compromise.
So, mission drift happens.
On that note, here are some short reflections for pastoral ministry from Jesus’ interactions with the Sanhedrin’s representatives during the early portion of Passion Week. They’re about “mission drift,” too.1 It’s not a new thing.
Is Jesus your King and your Lord?
This isn’t about Lordship Salvation. It’s about whether you actually reverence Jesus Christ as Lord in your heart and give Him allegiance in your life. On Palm Sunday, the crowd said Jesus was its King. They lied. How many pastors are lying? How many professing Christians?
Jesus is the Son of God, which means He shares the Father’s nature. He’s equal with Him. Mark’s Gospel begins (Mk 1:1, 11) and ends (Mk 15:39) with this statement. The Father says this from heaven twice (Mk 1:10-11; 9:7-8) just to make sure everyone understands. Demons recognize Jesus as “the Holy One of God” (Mk 1:24). They scream and cower whenever they encounter Him (Mk 1:23). He commands them and they obey (Mk 1:25-26). He heals the sick (Mk 1:30-31, 34, 40-43; 2:1-6) and conducts exorcisms (Mk 1:34, 39). He says He has the power to forgive sins (Mk 2:5-12). He identifies Himself as the Son of Man, the great eschatological figure who will be crowned in heaven and come to rule over all creation (Mk 1:9, 28).
He said and did all that, and that’s only the first two chapters of Mark’s Gospel.
When He entered Jerusalem for the last time during his incarnate ministry, a crowd of Passover pilgrims and disciples spontaneously sang an excerpt from Psalm 118 that identified Jesus with the great King of Israel (Mk 11:9-10). They recognized David’s kingdom was coming. They recognized Jesus was coming in Yahweh’s name.
We know they lied because, that evening, Jesus was left with just the 12 core disciples. Later that week, some of the same people from that ecstatic crowd would be with the Sanhedrin, demanding Jesus’ death (Mk 15:6-15).
This matters because Christians need to always sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts (1 Pet 3:15). This is important for pastors, because we need to remember He’s our Lord; not the culture, not our “feelings,” and not a special interest group within the congregation.
Being a Christian means Jesus is your Lord, your Savior and your King. It means you’re gone from being a terrorist in God’s universe, to an adopted son or daughter in His family. It means you’ve told Him you’re sorry for the immoral and ungodly things you think about and do. It means you believe He’s been perfect for you, died for you, and rose again from the dead for you – to blaze a trail that leads His people through the twisted wilderness of this world to the Promised Land of eternity. It means you’re part of a community; a card-carrying member of the New Covenant. It means that, because He’s your King, you owe and give Him your allegiance in how you lead the congregation.
More to the point, if you claim to be a Christian and you know God’s word says one thing, but you choose to do the opposite, then He isn’t your God – you are.
Are we slaves to tradition?
The parable of the fig tree (Mk 11:12-14) is about Israel and the mess she’d made of the Old Covenant system of grace, mercy and promise. The tree looked good from a distance. It looked like it had some tasty fruit to offer. But, it was all a sham. When Jesus got to it, He saw the leaves promised something the tree couldn’t deliver. They were window-dressing. They were useless ornaments. There wasn’t any fruit. None.
The fig tree was like Israel in Jesus’ day; bustling around in the service of a corrupted system that had ruined countless Jewish lives for generations. It was all a sham, and the blasphemy of the market bazaar in the Court of Gentiles epitomized all of it (Mk 11:15-19).
It was a sham because the Old Covenant system was buried beneath the political opportunism of the Sadducees (particularly the high priestly family led by Annas) and the legalism of the Pharisees and scribes. Like a legion of malevolent barnacles, this corruption encrusted the Tanakh and cut people off from the piety of the “true religion” James later wrote about (Jas 1:27).
Are our churches a sham? Have often do we look at our own traditions to see if they help or hinder the church’s mission? I’m very skeptical if a pastor has never done this, or thinks he has everything right. Here are some of the traditions I’ve re-evaluated over the past year:
- Men and women help serve the Lord’s Supper
- Women may lead congregational singing
- We rotate having members of the congregation (male, female, boy and girl) do the announcements
- We rotate having members of the congregation and children (male, female, boy and girl)2 do Scripture readings each Sunday
- We had a woman serve on the pulpit committee that interviewed an elder who recently accepted a call to our congregation
- We’re incorporating several liturgical days in the preaching and teaching calendar. We’re doing this because these celebrations keep critical events before the church when they happened, and it establishes solidarity with the catholic church. Baptists aren’t good at that.
- We’re becoming a shade or two more formal with our liturgy (or, if you prefer, “order of worship”) on Sundays, as follows:
- I’m exploring asking the church to drop the “divorce = disqualification” interpretation for pastors and deacons (no, neither I nor the other pastor have ever been divorced)
- We’re dropping believer’s baptism as a prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper
- I’ve deliberately down-played dispensational eschatology in favor of more teaching about God, Christ and the Trinity. I’d rather have a church member know about the hypostatic union, than whether the rapture is in Revelation 4ff.
It’s true that none of these changes needed to be made. Certainly, none of them made our congregation a “sham” without fruit. But, mission drift is incremental. The point isn’t so much, “how are we totally failing as a congregation?” Rather, it’s more like, “what are we doing that really isn’t fitting what we see in the Scriptures?”
Let’s always be reforming. Let’s honor all the traditions we’re received, while not being a slave to any of them.
Has your church forgotten why it’s there?
Israel’s problem is that she’d forgotten why she was there. Her mission was really simple. They agreed to it at Mt. Sinai, after the Lord rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He reminded them He “bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself,” (Ex 19:4). God told Moses what their job would be (Ex 19:4-6), and the people agreed (“[a]ll that the Lord has spoken we will do,” Ex 19:8). This was their mission:
- be a kingdom of priests who represent God to the world
- be a holy nation that lives according to His rules
- obey His voice and keep His covenant
- do this because you love Him, because of all He’s done for you
By Jesus’ day, and at various points leading up to that day, Israel had fallen down on the job. Jesus’ criticism in the temple is about the commercialization and resultant blasphemy. But, it’s also about how the commercialization marginalized the Gentiles who came to worship God. The use of their courtyard (which, remember, is un-Scriptural) for this mad marketplace sends a clear message to these God-fearers – we don’t want you here! This is why Jesus quotes the great passage from Isaiah 56 about the hope of those who aren’t native Israelites (Mk 11:17; cp. Isa 56:7).
What is the catholic church’s mission? Presbyterian, Nazarene, Methodist and Baptist – what’s the mission? The Apostle Peter quoted Exodus 19, and applied the same mission to the church (1 Pet 2:9-10):
- to be His chosen people
- to be royal priests and represent God and His Message to the world
- to be a holy nation
- to be people who belong to God
- to do all this so we can proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light
Each generation has its battles to fight. This generation increasingly seems like it’s fighting battles about identity (primarily sexual) and mission (why are we here?). As we consider the parable of the tenants (Mk 12:1-12), whose sins were to forget why they were there and that they were under the authority of a powerful owner in a far country, let’s always re-calibrate ourselves to the catholic church’s mission.
We preach the Gospel and disciple believers. If we lose sight of that, then we’ve failed.
1 To be sure, these are not the main applications a Christian should draw from Mark 11:1 – 12:12. Instead, they’re implications for pastors I’ve noted as I preached through this section over the past few weeks.
2 That is, children who have been baptized and made a credible profession of faith.