Make no mistake about it, the church in America is at a crossroads. In the lives of many unsuspecting well intentioned believers and church communities, there is wide gaping foundational hole. Deep down, most know there has been something foundational missing. As a result, many have been working hard to identify what that may be and are presenting ‘filler’ to fill up our deep foundational hole, so to speak.
(Radical Together by David Platt & The Amway Gospel)
In a large section of the evangelical system, the message of ‘Radical’ and ‘Radical Together’ by David Platt has grown to a fever pitch. The reason that I am mentioning these books here is because the message that Platt presents in these books are not unique to him and his circle, but represent a large section of what many in the evangelical system are hearing today.
This movement is simply the latest that is attempting to address what they perceive to be missing from the system; and what the solution should be. Several months ago, I did a book review of David Platt’s book ‘Radical’ (click here to read it). Needless to say, It caused quite a stir. ‘Radical Together’ was written by Platt to further expound upon the concepts communicated in ‘Radical’ from a corporate perspective.
Unfortunately, the 3 major errors that Platt’s book ‘Radical’ was built upon (detailed in my previous review) are repeated in ‘Radical Together’. The point of this article is not to be a book review, however, but an assessment of what has come to be known as the ‘Missional / Disciple-Making’ church movement.
Please understand that my intention is not to attack the heart or question the motivation of a David Platt, Francis Chan, or anyone else who is preaching a similar message. I am convinced that these brothers in the Lord are burdened for the church and are motivated by love. My intention is to simply examine and evaluate their message. Because of the popularity of this message among the evangelical system, however, there really are not many that are publicly examining and questioning this issue in a thoughtful way. I would like to see this change.
The Amway Gospel
Several years ago, I was employed in a high stress job that had a large turnover ratio. Many of my coworkers didn’t enjoy their job, and their attitude made that quite apparent. After working with a particular coworker for a couple of years, I began to notice an abrupt change in his behavior toward me. He began to notice me. He began to go out of his way to speak to me and ask me how I was doing. He began to treat me as if we were old buddies from High School. I was intrigued to say the least. Before long, he was asking if we could get together outside of work because he had something that he would like to share with my wife and I. While I was very intrigued by the abrupt change in my co-worker’s behavior, I was also glad to have a new friend who was so interested in my life.
As my wife and I sat across our kitchen table looking at my new best friend from work, he began to share how an amazing company had changed his life. He was literally beaming with excitement. He began to share that this company made lots of different things, but they were best known for their soap products. That’s right, he started telling us about various kinds of soap…dishwashing soap, laundry soap, bath soap, bleach, various cleaning supplies, etc…All of these supplies, however, were made by a company named Amway.
At first, I wanted to laugh and dismiss what I was hearing. After hearing my co-worker’s presentation, however, I actually became excited about the soap. This seemed like the most special soap in the world that could change our lives! Since we buy soap anyway, I reasoned with my wife that it made sense to consider the soap that my new friend was telling us about.
My new friend had become a distributor of these products for Amway, and he assured me that I could obtain these life changing products through him if I was interested. He was a great salesman, and I was legitimately excited. If these products caused this kind of change in my co-worker’s behavior, I reasoned that it must be some spectacular soap from a spectacular company. Just as soon as we began to order products through our new friend, he told me that there was more to the story if I was interested in hearing more about it. How could I say no?
He began to share that to really take advantage of the possibilities of Amway, there was more to it than just buying products from him. Although he was a distributor of Amway products, he went on to tell me that it would be better if I joined the company and became a distributor myself.
By becoming a distributor, I could make money by directly buying products for our household, as well as selling these products to my friends and family. I would just need to do a few things to become a distributor, and I would be ready to sell these amazing products! After all, if these products were so good, I’d be doing my friends a favor by getting these products in their hands. Now, I was really thinking! This would be a new focus and direction for my life.
After taking some time to discuss this opportunity with my wife, I was almost ready to sign on the dotted line. Then, the real goal of becoming an Amway distributor became apparent through a conversation with my friend. He told me that becoming a distributor involved more than just selling amazing products. He went on to share that to fully realize the potential of Amway, I would need to sell the job of becoming an Amway distributor to others under me. Simply put, I would do exactly what he was doing to me!
The goal for me all along was NOT to buy, use, and enjoy the soap, but to become a distributor! The soap was just bait, so to speak. I would make money from all the people under me who sold other distributorships and products. It was a ‘pyramid’ scheme.
Although I was excited about the amazing ‘soap’ that I was originally told about, the focus was quickly taken off the ‘soap’ once I bought in. Why couldn’t we just focus on the soap? Let’s use this amazing soap. Let’s smell it. Let’s wear it on our clothes, so to speak! I was excited about the soap, not the prospect of roping people into a new duty or job.
Do you see where I am going with this? The evangelical system has become a glorified ‘pyramid’ scheme. Like the soap, we are taught to tell people about this amazing man named Jesus Christ who loves us and died for us. We tell the world that He is the living bread. We tell people that the water He gives will satisfy. We tell people that he comes to give us abundant life, etc… then, shortly after a person is interested in this Christ and says yes, the focus changes. Instead of discovering and experiencing the depths and beauty of this glorious man, we are quickly taught that there are things we must ‘do’ to get more and train more Christ ‘distributors’.
This was true in my own life. As a young man, I fell in love with Jesus Christ and I said yes to His proposal. The more time I spent in the religious system, however, the more that the focus shifted off of Him and on something else. I was taught that more ‘distributors’ were needed, and my job was to go get them and train them in the same way that my co-worker sold me on Amway. I speak from experience when I say that this focus on ‘doing’ does not lead to life, but away from life. There is a reason for this.
In my opinion, ‘Missional Confusion’ are the two words that accurately sum up most of institutional Christendom. This would also include most of the ‘Missional’ Church movement that exists today as well. Just what is God’s mission anyway? That’s the million dollar question that we keep getting wrong. It is easy to take a verse of scripture here and there to try to make a case for one particular ‘mission’ over another. If we look at the whole of the scriptures, however, we’ll see that God has only ONE overarching ‘Mission’.
The mission of God is the revelation and expression of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God has never been interested in just telling us about Himself, rather He has desired to fully dwell with us physically. God, who is Spirit, has desired a body to fully express Himself. This is exactly why God the Son broke into our realm and came to the earth. In Christ, the fullness of all that God is fully dwells in bodily form! He is the real temple that the Old Testament temple was simply a picture of. Consider this passage of scripture that gives us a hint of just how big this Christ is:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him…For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Col. 1:15-16, 19-20, NASB)
Before sin came on the scene (Genesis 1 & 2) we see that God and man dwell together. Obviously, sin separated God and man. In Christ, however, man and God fully dwell with one another. After the death and resurrection of Christ in which Christ’s followers were literally grafted and immersed into His body (1 Cor. 12:12-13, Rom. 11:17), believers are now described as being ‘in Christ’ over 200 times in the New Testament. We have become limbs, so to speak, of Christ’s multi-membered body! He (Christ) is the location in which God and man fully dwell.
Can you believe it?
The point is, a body gives life expression. For example, my arm does not ‘do’ anything to be my arm, rather, its location and connection to the rest of my body give my arm life and expression of me. This is true of all my body parts. The same is true of Christ’s body.
When Christ walked this earth, His body gave expression of the Father’s life that dwelt inside of Him. He also said that as as He lived by the Fathers’s life, so we too would live by His life. He was speaking of the future when His followers would be grafted into Him and empowered with His divine life. Christ still has a body on the earth today, and His mission has not changed! Although God’s mission is expressing His Son through His Son’s body (us), we have changed the Mission of God into a work we must ‘do’. Christ said that when He is lifted up, He will draw people to Himself. If we believed that, we would be free to know and express Him. Instead we have occupied ourselves with building His church, something He said He would do.
When it comes to ‘mission’, there are a couple of ’buzz words’ out there today that sound good on the surface. When these terms are examined more closely, however, we’ll see that the focus actually leads away from God’s mission of expressing Christ. It is a tragedy indeed.
Buzz word #1- Making Disciples
Without repeating the bulk of what I said about this topic in my last review of ‘Radical’, there is something that I feel desperately needs repeating here. Most of what is taught about ‘making’ or ‘training’ disciples comes from an individualistic standpoint that is blind to our glorious multi-membered body of Christ that is revealed through Paul’s letters to the churches.
Jesus desires to be expressed in every place among every nation. Jesus also said that when a disciple is fully trained, He will be like His master. If the New Testament only contained the four gospels, then I would have no problem with approaching ‘making’ disciples from an individualistic standpoint. As you know, however, it takes much more than individuals to fully manifest the person of Christ now. He is much bigger than we have known.
Christ went from being a single individual (before Pentecost) to being expressed through a multi-membered body after Pentecost. Those who were separate individual disciples before Pentecost, are now grafted into Christ Himself and have become members of His very own body. Revealing this multi-membered body of Christ was the essense of Paul’s gospel that he presented to the churches. This multi-membered body is entirely different than Christ’s body before Pentecost.
This is precisely why Paul told the Corinthian community not to view Christ according to the flesh as they once did. Consider this verse:
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.” (2Cor. 5:16)
Not looking at Christ from the standpoint as He was before Pentecost (according to the flesh) changes everything. The problem today is that the mystery of the post Pentecost Christ who is now represented by a multi-membered body is still a mystery that much of the church is blind to. This is why we keep approaching Christ and ‘disciple-making’ from an Old Covenant perspective. This is the problem with much of the ‘Making Disciples’ conversation. Our view of Christ has been too small. He really is the foundation that has been missing.
Unlike our modern day celebrity preachers, Paul did not preach a message of more ‘doing’ (making disciples) to the churches that were caught in crisis and sin in his day. In each of his letters, he presents the person of Christ to them (gospel), and reminds them of their righteous standing in Him. The person of Christ is the solution to every problem as He is the source of life. After all, it is only when we are ignorant of or forget the person of Christ that problems arise. When a group of people learn Christ in this way, realize their identity in Him, and begin to function together by His divine life in community, then we see Christ fully manifested in an area. Simply put, Christ is the sum of all His body parts. The heart of a ‘disciple’ is all of Christ, not simply one part of Him. Individually, we are only one part of Him. (1 Cor. 12:12)
Buzz word # 2- Gospel Centered / Gospel Focused / Gospel driven
This is another phrase that can easily mislead us. After all, isn’t the gospel good? Of course, as long as what is being presented is actually the gospel. In my experience, the circle of the evangelical system that focuses on being ‘gospel’ centered actually knows the gospel the least. I say this for two major reasons:
1. The ‘gospel’ is not an action or a message about an action, but a person!
Much of American Christianity is based around preventing people from going to hell. As a result, the American gospel has been boiled down to presenting Jesus as one who remedied the problem of going to hell. The American gospel can be summed up as a message containing facts about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection so we can have eternal life by accepting Him. Although this is true, this is NOT the gospel of the New Testament.
Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:2 that he was determined to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified. To be honest, I never understood what Paul meant by this.
How many times could Paul tell the Corinthian church that Jesus died on the cross for their sins?
Wouldn’t the church get tired of hearing the same thing over and over?
What about all the other topics of scripture such as; how to use our money wisely (or) how to stay pure (or) how to have a great marriage (or) how to reach our city & world (or) how to make disciples (or) how to pray and fast more (or) how to study the Bible etc…
The reason that I had these questions was because of my small view of Jesus Christ. I did not know that He is so big that He could literally be our focus and theme continually. A friend of mine recently said that he could talk about the mysteries of the person of Jesus Christ everyday for a year and never repeat himself. This same friend also paid a visit to our church community and proceeded to talk with us about the person of Christ for only two days. After the two days were over, we were so full of Christ that we could not contain any more. My friend did not share about our need to be ‘gospel’ focused, rather he just shared Christ. That’s when it hit me…
The gospel is a Person!
2. The Gospel is not just a ‘message’ to be delivered, but a person to be expressed! (1 John 1:1-3)
Remember, in times past God talked about Himself through messengers and prophets, but now He fully expresses Himself through His Son. The Son gives the invisible God visible expression. If you want to know if a community is truly ‘Gospel’ focused, look for Christ’s expression. To be honest, this is quite rare. Sadly, the institutional church cannot do this.
A ‘gospel’ centered church is not one who talks about being ‘gospel’ centered, rather it is a church community in which all the parts are visibly expressing the portion of Christ in them. In the institutional church setting, only a few selective persons are allowed to express themselves. Unfortunately, many times even when those few select people express Christ from the stage, they are not expressing Him, but information about ‘doing’ in His name.
When the mystery of Christ the person is truly presented, the whole body comes alive and begins to express Him. This is how we know if the ‘gospel’ has actually been presented. This visible expression by all the body parts of Christ is how the gospel is ‘proclaimed’. This is exactly why New Testament church communities were instructed to speak Christ (truth) to one one another in church meetings and outside of church meetings. (Eph 4:25)
Remember, the gospel (good news) is a person (Christ) who expresses Himself. It takes the body to do that. This is not a ministry we ‘do’ as the religious system incorrectly teaches, rather it is a state of being that naturally flows into expression. I challenge you to take a hard look at those whose message is about being ‘Gospel Centered’ or ‘Gospel Focused’. Look at the institutions they lead. Visit their church meetings and ask these questions:
1. Is Christ the functional head of their local church community, or has a select person or group assumed that function (clergy / elders)?
2. When the body gathers together, is the whole body allowed to express Christ freely, or is that only reserved for a qualified few from the stage?
3. When / if the members of the body do express themselves, do they express the person of Christ or something else?
If Christ is not the acting Head and the body is not functioning and expressing Christ, that community has NOT yet been built around the gospel (Jesus Christ).
While we must recognize the foundational problem that exists today, it is imperative that we do not keep attempting to fill this void with that which cannot and does not fill the void. Our good works, and our messages about the person of Christ cannot replace the person of Christ Himself. May He truly be the foundation we are seeking. I’d like to leave you with a couple of important questions:
Has your life been built on this foundation? Has your church community been built on this foundation?
May this just be the beginning of our journey, not the end. There is more than we have seen.
(For further reading about this, here are a few recommended articles)