Thursday, January 20, 2011


There was a brief time in history when Christians didn’t offend society. It seems that the early days of the very first church were so exactly like Jesus said church should be that everybody, in or out, got it and dug it. My friend Sean Tucker, in his excellent account of moving away from institutionalized religion, “Unlearning”, points to something I hadn’t noticed before in the history of that early church. The book known as “Acts” in the Bible mentions that this early church “enjoyed the favour of all the people”. These early Jesus-followers (there was no such thing as ‘Christianity’ yet) did what they said they would do, and society let them. They met together, shared their stuff, kept their word, helped others, formed a warm beautiful community of peaceful, useful people, and even others who didn’t share their specific religious beliefs liked them.

So what happened?

2000-plus years later, Christians and church-goers are ridiculed and, in loftier circles, reviled. And to Christianity’s great shame, this ‘loss of favour’ of ‘all the people’ is well-deserved. There are 101 reasons for that, and 1001 books written to refute or bolster that argument. This blog isn’t the place for that (knee-jerk reactionary evangelicals: take a deep breath, relax, move away from the computer, breathe… ok, calm? Wipe the foam from your mouth and read on.) Suffice it to say: church has gone wrong. Christians have turned modern Christianity into little more than a cult. How do those of us who still believe that of all the people who ever drew breath, Jesus of Nazareth had the best ideas, live out our beliefs in such a way as to regain that valuable ‘favour of all the people’? How do you make Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins raise an approving, admiring eyebrow when you say, “I think Jesus was right”?


PS. Please check out Sean Tucker's book "Unlearning". You can find him at as well as on Facebook, and he writes a great blog as well.


  1. i guess living it out is the answer.

  2. I like this post.

    I think the answer is fairly simple, clichéd and challenging: a Jesus life of selfless love.

  3. I reckon Jesus was always right, cos he was so selfless... Spot on @Ryan

  4. the question is a bit of a problem for me... you're asking how do we DO? and the answer as all about 'not doing'. brett, ryan and widj say live selflessly. Easy to say, not so easy to do: the clichéd situation of a beggar at the robot. Selfless living would be to actually help the guy (or lady... and her toddler that she's holding). I mean really help them, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I gave a guy at the robot my lunch banana the other morning, does that make me selfless? Jesus taught to give more than is expected? Two Coats… We want to ‘do’ this life. There are right and wrong things to ‘do’. Jesus taught these things so I ‘do’ them. Where is the living, the spontaneous living that isn’t prompted by a set of life instructions? Where is the well of love that I act out of? The question for me is not how do we do, but how do we live?

    I sound like a doos (the oke in the back heckling and throwing tomatoes while everyone asks, "If he doesn't like it, why not leave? Why ruin it for the rest of us?) I know I sound like THAT chop, but I've been struggling with the church for years - the church I love… the church that I work in every day of my life - seeing that institutionalised ‘reliion’ is crap. More than crap, it hurts (often more than it heals) and as soon as we answer the question "How do we follow Jesus, not look like chops and do it meaningfully?" we create the Catch 22 where as soon as we start doing and telling other people to do, we stop being Jesus in the world, Love in the world and start teaching/proselytising/theorising/theologising. And wham! the church is back.

    I think that’s where the first Jesus followers got it right. It wasn’t about the institution, the rules, telling others how to live, it was just about being – being in Jesus and everything flowing out of that… “Have you heard of Jesus of Nazareth?”

    Example of the Catch 22? Bono (that other ou from U2) talks about himself being a "scribbling, cigar-smoking, wine-drinking, Bible-reading band man. A show off (laughs)...who loves to paint pictures of what I can't see. A husband, father, friend of the poor and sometimes the rich. An activist travelling salesman of ideas... Chess-player, part-time rock star, opera singer, in the loudest folk group in the world..." (From the book 'In Conversation with Michka Assayas'). And I think... Ja, that's what I want to be, how do I live that way? And then I realise I've made it about Bono, about what he's doing, not what I'm doing. Preacher men tell you what to do, they don't give you ideas on living... they tell you "This is how to live life", I know, I’m one of them. Jesus on th other hand invited people into a relationship, we (the modern mouth of Jesus) tell people what to do. Jesus called people to be.

    Now’s the point where I want to start preaching, telling us what to do, but maybe I’ll stop now and suggest we already know how to be in Jesus, and to just live that.

    (I feel swak about posting under a pseudonym, but for now I am bowing to the fear of retribution from the hand that feeds me, I work for the church and there are many who would not understand what I’ve expressed here, please forgive me this time)

  5. Probably a bit narrow to aim for being favoured by all the people 'cos in that same book of Acts, not long after that verse, the same group of people were pretty much hated by the same ones who's favour they enjoyed not long before. Which is pretty much the same as what happened to Jesus. He enjoyed the favour of everyone - then they smashed Him. So I reckon being despised is ok - but not for all the stupid reasons that the modern church has 'lost favour'.
    Lets gain favour by doing good. Or lose favour by doing good. Lets do as they did. Honour one another. Help the poor. Share with those in need. Shutup and listen. Some'll love us for that. Some'll hate us for that. Like they did Jesus. Like they did the early church. But they'll be unable to deny or escape the good job we've done!

  6. I wonder if it ever was or is about gaining or losing favour? Or even doing anything?

    Maybe just about being, we are humans beings after all; not human doings...
    Light doesn't have to do anything, it just is...
    Salt doesn't have to do anything, it just is...

    I wonder if half of our "problems" as christians in the world would be sorted out if we stopped making calls on who is or is not going to heaven...

    Don't think we can ever make those sorts of calls...

    Maybe a better question to ask "christians" is: If you got to heaven and Jesus wasn't there, would you leave to look for him? It's all about him... always has been and always will be...

    So i think if i were to take a long shot at your question John i would say...

    Jesus said... Love God and love others the way I have loved you... So justice... And often we think justice of giving people what they deserve but maybe it is giving people what they need... Food, clothes, shelter, a hug... (Matthew 25:31-46) and not a lot of Matthew 23 sort of stuff... which we all need to hear on a daily basis cause we can all be Pharisees if we're honest...

    Then maybe instead of asking God to bless what we're doing maybe we should ask him what he is doing and do our best to bless that...

    I think for me the great thing is i see Jesus popping up in places some would never expect like Hollywood Block Busters, rock stars and the Super 14...

    For me i need to pray everyday day: Jesus please give me ears to hear and eyes to see whatever you are doing around me...

  7. Hmmm.... I'd love you to write a blog asking people to list the things they find most off-putting about Christians/Christianity/Christ. My bet is hypocrisy, irrelevance and benevolence top the list. You know where I stand!

  8. I really like the responses above. Focus on "being" like Jesus and being in Jesus. Don't worry about the favor of others. They enjoyed favor for a while but were eventually brought before courts and magistrates and persecuted as Jesus promised. Persecution is promised for Christians and not just from the religious crowd. Jesus didn't die for having the best ideas. He died for claiming to be King. When we assert his authority (not our own) in our communities by the way we live/love, we will experience opposition by those who are comfortable in the kingdoms of their own making, religious or non-religious.

    Thanks for the link to "Unlearning." The author's video really hits home. I must have this book. Again, thank you.

  9. Interesting "us and them" responses from people. Does following Jesus instantly make you better than someone else? Different? Apart? Holier? Cleaner?

  10. I suppose another aspect of that question is "Does God see christians and non-christians?"

  11. @mission: No i don't think so... God sees his kids... John 3:16... God so loved the world, everyone, you, me, Hitler and Julius Malema... Everyone.

    @John: Better than someone else? No... Different? Yes... Apart? Yes... Holier? No... Holy? Yes... Cleaner? No! Just honest about the dirt... I'm not alright and thats why i need Jesus...

  12. What really happened was that "Christianity" was made cool by the Roman Emperor Constantine.

    "What no more persecution, no more getting thrown to the lions???... RAD, lets build a temple!"

    That meant the community of people who truly believed, because it could have cost them their life, where free to build a church on the corner.

    Over the decades, Christians adopted paganism, law, religion, and the human race birthed church as we now know it... "in the four walls, stain glass windows, dont where jeans, dont play drums or guitar or go to the movies the devil will get you, along with TV evangelists, and not evangelists on TV. "

    Jesus is gracious and does not throw the baby out with the bath water...rather directs and leads into wholeness, waiting for some mindsets to die off, like the Israelite's in the desert, and getting excited about those who, with every breath, live life next to him.

    Stoked to be living in a time like this, where people and communities are questioning why we have celebrate Jesus' birth on the 25th December when clearly... He was born on the 16th April.

  13. Agree Braids. I think the idea of church as a building seems rather ridiculous. So much of Christianity is pagan. I laugh when I hear parents scoffing at Halloween when they are quite happy to put up Christmas trees. People are quite happy to follow the herd and never question a damn thing.
    Church needs to a makeover. I left church 6 years ago, have tried to go back but haven't found anything worth giving up my Sunday morning for. Hanging with mates of all religions over a glass of wine, chatting about life and spirituality is my new 'church' and I get more from those times than I ever got from 27 years in church.

  14. Jesus often said things about the church (by which I mean his followers) that are in tension.

    For example
    "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples"
    John 13:35

    This suggests that a true community of Jesus' followers will attract others because of the love shown within that community.

    However he also says

    "Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me."
    John 15:20

    Jesus and therefore by proxy his followers teach that we as humans are flawed and need to be made right with God, and as Jesus says "I am the way, the Truth and the Life no one comes to the father except through me". This immediately offends people because it says that there is something in their lives that needs sorting and that there is one true way to achieve this. You don't have to read much further on in the Acts of the Apostles to read how christians enjoyed some times of peace and favour (Acts 9:31) but also how there was much disfavour including persecution (Beginning of Acts 8).

    I think as churches we have mostly gone wrong by asking 'what does it do for me'. Mrs E says she gets more from hanging out with her mates than going to church. I believe that Church is not primarily about what you get from it but about what we can give through it. betweenthenandnow rightly points out that the later part of Matthew 25 says that there will be many whom God will judge for not showing Jesus's love and compassion to those so obviously in need right around them.

    If we in churches (Jesus talks lots about doing things together as believers, John 14,15) can reach out in love to those next door, in our town and throughout the world and
    a) show them that God has provided a way back to Him through Jesus and b) also show love in practical, caring, giving ways
    then just as the early church did we will both attract favour and persecution. If christians try less to satisfy themselves and more to show selfless love to others then this will be the church that does the most important thing - not find favour in the word's eyes but in God's.

  15. Hi John! I think Dawkins would be impressed if you said you believed Jesus was right, Dawkins wrote an article entitled "Atheists for Jesus" ( It's amazing that even Dawkins who rejects any form of religion (most certainly Christianity and the Church) or belief in any God(s) still can't reject Jesus.

    I have to say though that the true Church you and I so desire to see in the world today, a community of authentic followers of Christ who fully embody His Spirit, is still His bride and it's our responsibility to heal her scars, sort out her emotional baggage, and present her 'perfect' to the Lord. We have some work to do, but let's be encouraged, in the end Jesus will love His bride to perfection.

  16. John... I'm interested to hear what your thoughts are on the question of us Jesus followers regaining some of that favour with the people? You posed the question, what's your take?

  17. Dear John, you're correct if you're referring to the 2,000+ off-shoots from "the church." It was Satan's pleasure to lead people away after things that they want to hear, that made them feel good. Jesus prayed that "denom’s" & division not happen; the apostasy is even warned of in the N.T.

    What no one asks today is "what does God want?" Because HE clearly leaves us a distinguishable 'tupos,' a mold, a pattern, that shows exactly what His people should do to get to Him, including a pattern for worship, discipline, life & personal responsibility Rms 6:17-18. He's never accepted man's way of worship or their best intentions. (Why should He?) In fact, He calls it 'in vain' worship. He's interested in your heart and if you're willing to follow His tupos or not (i.e. obedience). If one way was as good as another, He wouldn’t have charged man not to teach the contrary. But, as in all of history, most people only want to be entertained, not truly worship. They still follow myths & feelings, rather than facts that can be proven & have been for thousands of years.

    Don't be dismayed, the church of our Christ is still going strong all over the world in homes, buildings or wherever they meet. There are no fancy buildings, robes, titles, or earthly “headquarters”. It is as described in the Bible. That's where we, who love His word, still adhere to it & work hard to submit & be like Him. We still meet as commanded (not when it's convenient for us) & do what is commanded (not what man thinks might be 'better'). Most people are not willing to live a selfless life here, but it is required to one day be 'there.' And by following the tupos, we are assured of having the promise that the apostles attained. 1 Jn 5:13 Why would we do anything more or less? (that is warned against too.)

    Everyday sinners still come here to become more like Jesus (who was not a people-pleaser, if you recall, He DID say that men would hate you because they first hated Him. But those who loved Him, will love His people still. Like those in Acts 2:47 ‘they had favour with the people of the Lord”). Truth is never popular, yet it should be spoken in love). The modern “Christianity” you mention should never be referred to as or confused with His church.

    As you've sung, 'there is a kingdom that cannot be shaken.' It's still alive and always will be. Forget what you've been told or think you know. Grab the Word (a living, reliable, historical, factual text) & reason the evidence, wholly in context, not in part; study prayerfully; if your heart is true, He will lead you home. 2 Cor. 1:13 And don’t settle for anything less! ~ from a fellow journeyman whose been where you are

  18. First off to augment Sean Tucker's book, i suggest everyone read "Forgotten Ways" by Allan Hirsch Its brilliant and suggests how we can go back to the Acts way of doing "it"!

    Answering a Q " us and them" - my personal opinion is this;

    We are ALL the same... I'm just as bad as anyone out there... I'm a sinner deeply in need of something greater than myself to pull me out of my selfish hole. I try everyday as best I can to follow a man named Jesus.. why? because I truly believe that the life he lived is worth following... Thats MY choice! May not be X's choice though?

    I think that choosing to be a better person and working at it everyday is noble... but to admit that you are a sinner and trying your best (while failing a lot) to be more like Jesus does not make you better... it makes you Forgiven!

    PS... I HATE the Pharisees of our day!

  19. I just wanted to comment that it is very encouraging for me to see this type of conversation going on because to figure out what it really means and what we should really be doing when we talk about following Christ takes a lifetime and more to determine. Thanks John for starting this conversation. Thank you all for contributing to the conversation. I agree with one of the statements above as well, that God sees all of humanity as his children. As Jesus said, we must love our enemies as well as our friends. And we he said "love" he didn't just mean to say it, but to show it with acts of love. And to follow Jesus means that you're pursuing how to love, because God is love. I don't even pretend to know what that love means or is in total. I'm only trying to get there as I know all of you are too. I will be praying for you all and would ask that you pray for me as well as we strive toward that goal hopefully together, yes?

  20. Does anyone realize how small we are? But together as one, we are as big as the earth itself. This forum, a community of believers stand tall on the foundation of Christ alone.
    My prayer is that all who enter this community have truely (between you and God) entered His kingdom. There is a lot of wolves out there and we need to keep our guard up. "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." Eph 6:11

  21. sanctuary seekerMay 29, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    The thing is, there are many belief systems that share some, if not all, of the principles that Jesus taught about. So, it's not just about the principles is it? It's also about accepting the one who taught them. And it is here that we hit an impass. It's this part, the part about the 'way the truth and the life' that is the thing that infuriates others (some others). It's the taking a stand for something and Someone as the only "answer to the [begging] question" that makes us 'worthy' of contempt.