By Josh Hunt
For the last couple of months or so, I’ve been ruminating on something Dr. Alan Culpepper wrote in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Smyth and Helwys, p. 285): “Who we believe Jesus was has a direct bearing on what it means to be his disciple.”
Dr. Culpepper’s context is the application of Mark 8:27-30, when Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. Peter’s glowing confession comes eventually, after some prodding from the one who asked the question, but not before a few of Jesus’ friends get it wrong.
Jesus’ friends still get it wrong.
Could the reverse of Dr. Culpepper’s statement be true as well? Does one’s approach to discipleship convey what he or she believes about Jesus?
What does our discipleship — the ways in which we relate to God and to others — say about who we believe Jesus was?
Let me offer an example. If you don’t believe in total depravity, read the comments on most websites or blogs. It’s a discouraging exercise and I can’t recommend it.
When I read comments posted on the Associated Baptist Press news site, I wonder if our words communicate our belief that Jesus’ favorite part of the Church is our propensity toward self-congratulations for not being like the parts of the Church with whom we disagree. That’s certainly what we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy doing, especially when a bunch of us get together and we start hatching a plan to fix all that’s wrong with Christendom.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, he told this parable: Two men went to pray, one a Cooperative Baptist missionary (who had given the last five years of his life ministering to the poor in the kinds of locales where missionaries didn’t normally go) and the other a member of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The missionary stood by himself and prayed: “God I thank you that I am not like other people — prosperity Gospel preachers, conservatives, inerrantists, homophobes, and chauvinists — or even like that Southern Baptist official over there, bless his heart.”
But the Southern Baptist stood at a distance and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
You know the rest.
Just as in Jesus’ parable in Luke, my re-telling is not an attempt to glorify or demonize particular characters that appear in it, but rather as a cautionary tale.
We drink in the sweet nectar of what we determine are the failures and mistakes and wrong thinking of the people with whom we disagree — neighboring congregations and denominations, professors who moved into our offices after we were fired, pastors who are sell-outs, church staff who are corrupt — and we congratulate ourselves for being so open-minded, so informed, so extraordinarily different than they are.
In our depraved minds, their failures prove that our way of thinking is right. Our hands cease being productive so we can use them to pat ourselves on the back for being sufficiently holy, set apart from the people we know to be God’s little embarrassments.
If our highest offering to God is how different we are from the other people God loves, we’re to be pitied, and our message of new life and changed hearts reeks of insincerity.
What’s the alternative to this egotistical, self-righteous, condescending, ultimately close-minded way of thinking? A little less moral superiority and certitude. A little more “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus’ friends still get it wrong.
-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.