One of my favourite authors over the years was John Stott. His writings have challenged me, encouraged me and on many occasions caused me to rethink what I believed.
One of my favourite books that he wrote is Basic Christianity. I love it for its simple and yet profound outline of the gospel. I have used it in studies with people who aren’t Christians and through those studies those people have found Christ.
My favourite quote in that book is the following:
Christianity is Christ. The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built. If he is not who he said he was, and if he did not do what he said he had come to do, the foundation is undermined and the whole superstructure will collapse. Take Christ from Christianity, and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left. Christ is the centre of Christianity; all else is circumference (p. 21).
This is not just a theological statement that we can debate when we feel like discussing theology. It is the very heartbeat of the church and should affect everything that the church does.
The center of the church’s purpose
For too long we have been told that the purpose of the church is to produce numerical growth. The church that is honouring to God, so the experts say, is the one that is growing numerically. Numerical growth is not the key element in the God-given purpose of the church.
Evangelism is part of that purpose but it is not the whole purpose and growth that doesn’t come out of evangelism is not God’s purpose at all. God’s purpose for your church is not to attract the Christians in the church down the road so that your church can grow while the other one dwindles.
The purpose of the church is to bring people into a discipleship relationship with Jesus Christ in which they are growing more like Christ in every aspect of their lives. That is God’s purpose for your church.
Jesus is the Head of the church. He is the corner-stone around which the church is built. He is the groom, loving and caring for his bride. He is the very heart of Christianity and as such the very heart of the church.
Everything that a church does needs to revolve around him and around helping people become fully devoted, passionate followers of Jesus.
The center of the church’s response
We live in a world that values “tolerance” above almost everything else. If a public figure wants to destroy his position in society, nothing will do so faster than to make an intolerant remark. Before he is finished the interview or television show the remark will have gone viral and shortly after he is off the air, he will probably lose his job.
I grew up in a very racist society. As a child I knew the derogatory nickname for every ethnic group in Canada. I didn’t use them but I knew them. My childhood was filled with race riots in the United States as people of colour struggled for some measure of justice in our North American world. They wanted their children to have the same chance that the white children like me had.
I look back on a world in which African Americans weren’t allowed to drink from the same water fountain as white folks could. I remember vividly hearing about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and being afraid of what the impact of that death would be.
Society’s move towards greater tolerance has been one of the positive changes that I have experienced in my lifetime. We still have a long way to go before we can say that we reflect God’s plan for this world, a plan of justice and equality, but we have made progress. As Christians we can’t be satisfied with where we are but we can be thankful for the progress that we have made.
While rejoicing that we are a more tolerant society than we were when I was young, we must recognize that tolerance does not negate truth.
At the heart of our Christian faith is the fact that Jesus through his death and resurrection opened a way for people to be forgiven and brought into relationship with God. As Stott points out in the above quote, Jesus is still the Rock upon which our faith is built and the only way for a person to come to God.
Tolerance demands that we respect different points of view and the people who hold them. It demands that we listen to people as they share those views and that we listen with an open mind to what they have to say. It demands that we recognize that the same rights that we demand for ourselves need to be given to everyone else as well. It demands that we extend to those who disagree with us the same kind of love that Jesus showed to us.
What tolerance does not demand though is that I accept what other people share as being of equal validity. It does not mean that I have to accept all other beliefs as being equally true. I can demonstrate tolerance and still believe that as Jesus himself said, he is the only way to God. No one can come to the Father except through him.
As Christians we need to hold that fact more firmly than we ever have before. Jesus is the foundation of our faith and while we respect those who don’t agree, we must never move away from that truth.