Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Hard Sell

Jesus may have been a good teacher and all, but he was a terrible salesman. I say that, with the current idea of churches as a multi-level marketing scheme in mind. Some churches try to go so far to make the gospel (the story of Jesus and his plan of salvation) acceptible, that they practically tell the listener anything they want to hear, just so they will "become a Christian" (note that I put this in quotes because I believe that it is that local church's description of becoming a Christian, not the on presented in orthodox Christianity.)

First, why do I say that Jesus was a terrible salesman? Well, the idea that modern society has of a salesman is someone who (1) is completely sold on his product ... at least as far as the buyer can see, (2) presents all the positive aspects of that product to the buyer and convinces them that this represents the best of all possible decisions which they can make, to the point of smothing over any negative aspects of the product, and (3) presses the buyer to make that decision now, before they have a chance to change their mind and possibly reassess their priorities.

Jesus had (1) pretty much covered. In St. John 14:6 he says, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father (God) except through me." That sound like he has complete belief in his method of salvation. However, let's look at a couple of other chapters and see the other points. In St. John 6, Jesus feeds over 5,000 people. Think of it. Never having to collect taxes to feed the poor and hungry because the king can just wave his hand and feed everyone out of one lunch box. They were ready to make him their king right there. So, now that he has the crowd eating out of his hand (literally!), how does he capitalize on the situation? He tells them that he is the bread of life, and that if they truly want to belong to his kingdom, they must drink his blood and eat his flesh. Oh yeah, that's going to be a crowd pleaser! We realize that it was a metaphor, but as the folks were grumbling and leaving in disgust, he didn't try to recover, calling to them, "hey folks, wait a minute, it was a figure of speech ... I didn't mean you had to become cannibals." All he did was to look at his confused students and ask them, "well, are you going to leave me, too?"

Jesus had no problem with large crowds, but he realized something that perhaps today's mega-churches need to begin to learn. With the body of Christ (the Church) and the local church, God is not looking for quantity. He is looking for quality. That is not to say that he is looking for CEOs and professional people, the things that our society thinks of when we think of "quality people". He is looking for a quality of the heart. Someone, who once they have taken the step of faith and found God to be trustworthy, is willing to commit the rest of their life to him (as St. Paul says in Romans 12:1, "living sacrifices".)

Jesus could have probably had 15000 followers in the few years he preached. He could have healed a lot of people, fed a bunch, and kept his metaphorical outbursts to himself. And, had he done that, he might not have been executed, and the church probably would have died out before 200 AD.

As it was, he trimmed his followers down to a few fanatics who were willing to march into hell with him, if necessary (St. Matthew 16:18). Everyone of them and most everyone in their circle of friends to a level of four or five deep at least, were executed, and yet the Church built on those few is still alive today.

Maybe our modern churches need to re-examine the idea of "selling" the gospel.


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