On a cold Halloween night long ago a lone figure walked along the path near the Elbe River in what is now Germany. As he neared the door of the Castle Church, parchment in hand, he knew his action in the coming moments would cause a stir. But he certainly could not have imagined the impact of the movement he was about to advance. Weary of the institutionalism and failed theological views of the established church of his day, this young monk had seen enough. He had written what became the manifesto of the movement soon to be called the Protestant Reformation.
The young monk’s name (he was 34)? Martin Luther. His document? The 95 theses. His movement literally changed the world. Many besides Luther had problems with the Catholic church of his day. But his theses proved to be the match the set ablaze a movement for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a movement that would go through various phases, to John Calvin in Geneva, the Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation, and Zwingli, to name a few.
It is one thing to sense the need for change. It is another to have leaders able to state what and how change should come. For a movement to captivate others who will join in spreading its message, clarity matters. It is one thing to see the need for a movement. It is another to clarify a vision to accomplish the movement. Luther could do both. Today we need both again-a gospel-centered movement led by those who can teach others how to effectively advance that movement today.
For a movement to succeed someone has to articulate an idea in a way that is winsome and easily communicated. We see such an effort in the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in the SBC just now. Leaders on this strategic team have sought to articulate with clarity the need of the hour in the convention. As in Luther’s day and others (Wesley, Edwards, etc) who led a time of spiritual renewal, even a well articulated call for change will not please all. In a convention like ours driven more by a methodological than theological consensus. this reality is clear. But this fact only demonstrates the need for bold leadership in our time.
Today articulating a vision for change becomes somewhat easier because of the internet and tools such as Facebook and Twitter. In a centralized organization change faces almost insurmountable odds. Thus most historically successful spiritual movements came outside the center with people like John Wesley, George Whitefield, and yes, Martin Luther. Luther used a form of social networking in his day, the nailing of a document on a door; we have far greater tools today. Social media today allows for many voices to speak, new constituencies to form, and for the formation of groups to foster change. One need not have a multitude to spark a movement. But for a movement to spread it takes others. It takes, in the words of Seth Godin in his book Tribes, a tribe: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”
We will see in just a few months if a group as large and as somewhat disconnected as the Southern Baptist Convention will demonstrate our ability to connect to an idea as great as the gospel, setting aside differences, and getting busy about the things that matter most to followers of Christ. Tribes need to be led for a movement to matter, Godin notes: “Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change.” The most obvious conviction I have seen over the past three years traveling all over the SBC is this: we must change to become more effective in reaching people.
Many movements have come and gone, some of which had clear statements of belief. Marx and Engel penned a Communist Manifesto, and the communist movement influenced much of the world with dire consequences. Today, however, no matter how well articulated communism may be, the only places where it finds acceptance are where totalitarian leaders rule with an iron fist. If the core values of a movement ultimately are shown to be wrong, the movement will eventually fail.
But if the movement clearly speaks truth and gives a vision for living in light of that truth, even when it requires a great cost, it becomes an unstoppable force. We have a commitment to an inerrant Bible, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and a stated commitment to fulfill the Great Commission. When the gospel has been at the center of the faith of believers, Christianity has been a remarkable force for change. I pray the GCRTF will lead in such a force today. I am sure that is their motive. I believe in their leadership.
We stand on the gospel-the unchanging good news of Jesus Christ and the life that He provides. Sometimes our problem lies less with the assault from the outside than the more subtle institutionalism and sentimentalism from within which turns our attention from a risk taking, sacrifical mission to maintaining what we have. When faced with uncertainty people default to the status quo. I pray and believe the GCRTF will give us a vision worth following.
We must take care to remember that the focus of our lives should not be on a movement, but on the Master of that movement. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He did not say to follow a movement. Many have been led astray by zeal to follow a movement whose leader took them down a path of harm, from Islamic terrorism to White Supremacism. We must consistently, clearly articulate what our movement is about and what it is not about. But let us not be mistaken: if we will follow the Master, we can never be satisfied with maintenance as our ideal.
It is about Christ. It is not about our preferences.
It is about the gospel in its raw, amazing grace. It is not about our sentimental idea of Christianity.
It is about worshiping God. It is not about a style of music.
It is about telling others the gospel. It is not about our political opinions.
It is about paying any price, doing whatever it takes to be effective in our time for Jesus. It is not about preserving someone’s job, including mine!
Certainly the movement of the gospel will speak to preferences, style, and politics. But we too quickly lose sight of Jesus in our haste to address issues of secondary importance. We would do well to heed the words of Paul, a notable advancer of God’s movement: “I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
When we become followers of Christ, we become a part of the global movement of the mission of God in this world. Make no mistake, the gospel IS advancing globally. There are at least 3 house church networks in one large Asian country all of which are larger than the SBC. We are not in danger of being irrelevant; the gospel is relevant! We are in grave danger of becoming insignificant to the spread of the gospel here and abroad.
Let us take time to pray this week for the GCRTF and their critical work. Let us take time to speak to someone about Jesus to remind us what is at stake. And let us, when we see leadership we can follow, choose to follow hard. This is not the day of putting your finger in the wind to find direction; it is time to lead, to follow, or get out of the way. God is moving, let’s advance the gospel!
Note: the above is adapted from my free ebook Advance and is available at http://alvinreid.com/ebooks.