Title: Continuing the Work of Jesus
Author: David K. SHumate
"So again Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.'" (John 10:7, 10b, NRSV)
Time has a way of moving on! It is hard to believe, but over twenty years ago, a study commissioned by the former General Board resulted in the adoption of tag lines for the Church of the Brethren. A tag line is a device used to communicate the essence of a product or organization to the wider public. These short and pithy statements are common in the world of advertising. Think about "Snap! Crackle! Pop!", "I'm Lovin' It! and "Eat Fresh." As most of you know, our tag lines are "Continuing the Work of Jesus, Peacefully, Simply, Together" and "Another Way of Living."
Even though these tag lines were new to us, we have previously had unofficial tag lines as a denomination. "No creed but the New Testament", "no force in religion" and "for the glory of God and my neighbor's good" continue to be heard amongst the Brethren. What do these words mean? Why do they capture the essence of our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
The Church of the Brethren has traditionally understood Jesus as both Savior and Lord. As Savior he has done for us what we could not do for ourselves (Romans 5:6-11). Many gladly receive Jesus as Savior, but few are overjoyed by his invitation to take up the cross (Matthew 10:38). As Lord he calls us to a new life and a changed lifestyle. This is symbolized in baptism (Romans 6:1-4). If we are baptized into Him we will share His life daily and follow His example.
Continuing the work of Jesus means a life of discipleship, of following Him regardless of where that path might lead. For the Brethren to follow him means a life of non-conformity both in thought and in deed, both inwardly and outwardly (Romans 12:1-2). It means being different from our culture and society, not because we desire attention, but because we have been changed by the power of God.
What are the practical consequences of this? In a world concerned with appearance, fashion and unquestioning compliance there is a price to pay in continuing the work of Jesus. Can those who preach and live a gospel of peace fit easily into a society that celebrates death and settles problems by violent means? Can those whose aim is to live more with less seem any less than odd to a world that is focused upon conspicuous consumption and misplaced materialism? Can those whose God invites and welcomes the least, the last and the lost to the table fit in a world fixated upon elevating ethnic, racial, gender and cultural differences above our common humanity? Can those who believe that the presence of Jesus makes a difference in the lives of individuals, nations and the entire universe not seem strange to those for whom religion is a drug that lulls the spirits of men and women to sleep? The teachings and example of the one whose work we seek to continue remind us that we are sent "as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matthew 10:16). How much more difference could one want?
Continuing the work of Jesus means striving to do what Jesus would do in our everyday relationships. We must manifest the presence of His spirit, its gifts and the fruits of Christian character in our lives. Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered in his name that he would be present (Matthew 18:20). He told his disciples that he would send a Counselor, the Spirit of truth to manifest His presence to all the world (John 15:26- 27, 16:4b-15). We continue the work of Jesus as the Spirit transforms us from day to day into those who think like He thinks, walk like He walks, talk like He talks and live like He lives! If he is compassionate, we must be compassionate! If he receives the outcast, we must receive the outcast! For now the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever is found where those who are called out by His Spirit are found. We are all given talent, intellect and ability to use for His work under the guidance of the Spirit. The practice of Christianity is not a spectator sport, but an intense daily activity requiring presence with God and God's creation. Jesus calls us to a life of meditative service that is marked by an increasing spiritual maturity.
Continuing the work of Jesus: Peacefully, Simply, Together and Another Way of Living are wonderful tag lines. But it is so many words if we do not consecrate ourselves to living it out daily! Just as Jesus' deeds gave meaning and depth to his teachings, so our works give meaning and reality to our wonderful words. While we are seeking a "compelling vision" as a denomination, these are important factors to consider!