“The Jesus Proposal” (ch. 4-5, pg. 51-104)
These 2 chapters are the meat of this book. Shelly describes more clearly what he is suggesting. The church is not a physical institution. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world (Jhn. 18:36). His church is alive in the spirit of those who are its citizens (Jhn. 3). A sign outside of a door is completely irrelevant to the spiritual kingdom of God. One could be the only New Testament Christian in her city and worship alone and still be part of the church. That same woman could meet with the local Methodist church for edification, benevolent work, and reminders of godliness and still be part of the church. One could worship in a building labeled “church of Christ” full of New Testament Christians and not be a Christian. Signs mean nothing. Buildings mean nothing. Spirituality means everything!
The church is spiritual. If one receives the free gift of salvation by accepting the essentials for entering into said church, then one is a citizen. If this person strives to grow in mind and deed, then they are still a member regardless of ignorance or weakness. The only way a Christian can fall away from the church is if the Christian stops believing the essentials or if the Christians rebels against the image of Christ. The problem is defining what the essentials are.
Shelly wants the readers to consider who is in your own physical family for a moment. He says some people look alike but have different ages, interests, and personalities. Some family members look nothing alike, but they are close and act alike. Some family members don’t look or act anything alike, but they are still related by the blood of their ancestors. There are even family members that you have not met. In fact, we are all family from our mother Eve. We might have different names and characteristics, but we are one not in uniformity, but in blood.
Rubel says that it is sad that a movement (the Restoration Movement) that started in order to bring the family of God together was divided into its own divisive tribe instead. We used to claim “Christians only, not the only Christians.” Now we seem to say we are the only Christians. Our circle of fellowship gets smaller and smaller and smaller. 1,2, & 3 John shows us that there is a correct form of division. This is caused by heretical teachings and actions. However, there is also wrong division. God expects us to be balanced and fair about our judgment on these matters; realizing that we cannot perfectly execute this exercise because we cannot fully know the heart of man. We cannot know every detail and context behind situations or perceived beliefs. Fellowship must be judged in favor of grace and prayer.
We are guilty of making nonessentials essential and, therefore, withdrawing fellowship from someone who is actually a child of God. This is cultish, dogmatic, and sectarian. We should not be so audacious. Yes, we are to strive to be balanced in our judgment on fellowship, but at the end of the day, the Lord knows whose are His (2 Tim. 2:19). Our framework in the churches of Christ is one of unity and love, and that is beautiful and worthy of commitment. However, it has surely evolved (generally speaking) into something far from that original cause.
The following will be Shelly’s 6-step outline of the concepts behind the Jesus Proposal.
First, Jesus invited everyone to the table of worship and learning. It did not depend upon whether or not they were a Christian. It depended upon whether or not they were seeking truth. we should create this kind of environment. Allow non-Christians to feel like they are wanted.
Second, We should also create an atmosphere that people, Christian or not, can grow and learn while they are with us. Teach them, and remind ourselves, that there are weightier matters (Matt 23:23). Yes, we should strive to do all of God’s will, but some things are of primary importance. Some things help us be like Jesus. This builds us to be closer to God, and it is the most important evangelistic tool. We should teach unbelievers, and remind ourselves, that Romans 14 tells us how to deal with subjective issues. And it tells us that, because we are human, there will be subjective issues.
Third, We should rely on the Spirit to perfect our unity. If He does, then we will bear His fruit (Gal. 5); not our own. Along with this point, Shelly talks about 1 Corinthians 12, John 17, and so on, to remind us that skills, actions, and knowledge do not have to be the same for there to be unity. Our unity is in our cornerstone, Jesus Christ. He then ties this to the idea that although denominations are not ideal, there can be value in them. They can reach different people from different perspectives. Denomination does not mean to divide, but to name.We can have different names and still belong to the same spiritual body (1 Cor. 12).
Fourth, Salvation starts at the point of conviction, according to Shelly, and it is an ongoing process. He talks about this in greater detail in later chapters. Right here he is simply saying that we should have an atmosphere that is welcoming to those who are seeking the eternity that is within their hearts (Ecc. 3:11; Deut. 4:29).
Fifth, If someone is for the cause of Christ then they are not against the cause of Christ (Mk. 9:38-41). Work with people claiming to be of the same cause even if you do not agree with them on every detail. Our unity is our witness to the world (John 17). If we come together then people will see us as the light of the world.
Sixth, When we come together and “be Jesus” to the world we glorify God. The glory and power of God’s Holy Spirit and love is seen by all those who witness the occasion. When people see the family of God, they will want to Join. Be like Jesus, be with Jesus, think like Jesus, and bring people to Jesus. This is the Jesus Proposal. – Jesse