Thursday, March 30, 2006

What's in a phrase? Sometimes everything.

I ran across this article today. In essence, the author argues that when Christians use the phrase "a personal relationship with Jesus", they are treading wearily in deep water. I believe the author is trying to present a dangerous situation Christians may fall into with the use of this phrase. Some evangelical Christians use the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ exclusive to any other mode of relationship. This exclusive mode of relationship results in frustration at not being able to have a "lasting" relationship or anger at being "rejected" in the relationship. It births doubt when thoughts would turn to our own fault for the relationship not being what it should be. This is starting to sound a lot like relationships with my college girl-friends.

But I get the author's point. The exclusive mode of "personal relationship" is limited in understanding who Jesus Christ is in the fullest sense. I know that many find this mode of relationship comfortable, but let me challenge you to think with me for just a minute. The earliest confession of faith was "Jesus Christ is Lord". The hymn of praise in Philippians 2:9-11 makes it clear that "...God exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." This hymn gives us the ultimate mode of relationship with Jesus which we should consider. He is Lord, not friend. He is Lord, not brother. He is Lord above all other relationships.

Consider also the mode of relationship Jesus asks the apostles to develop in others when he is gone from them. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.... (Matthew 28:19a)" Jesus is not instructing the apostles to go make disciples for themselves. And while there is evidence that some followers wanted to attach themselves to apostles, the apostles understood their mission as making disciples for Jesus Christ. Our second most important mode of relationship is that of a disciple. We follow the teacher. We learn from the teacher's words and examples. The greatest compliment to a person desiring to be a student was to be taken in by a great teacher as a disciple. We have been taken in by Jesus Christ as disciples.

These two modes should form the foundation of understanding our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is Lord of all creation and is owed our allegiance and obedience. He is the great Teacher and we are his followers and disciples.

But I think while evangelicals have played the "personal relationship" aspect up too much, the author discounts it just the same. As a United Methodist striving to live in a Wesleyan tradition I believe that there can come a time in our lives when our life with Jesus is marked more with a personal relationship mode. That time in our life is sanctification. Wesley talks about sanctification as being completely filled with love for God through Jesus Christ and love for our fellow humans. That love is perfected and guides our actions that they can be expressed as being deeds of love. Our motives are tempered by the fullness of that love for God and others. And in that mode of love we are able to experience a more abiding presence with God.

This is what I believe. May God make it so in my life.

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