For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
— Mark 10:45
I think we all have heard “What would Jesus do?” or WWJD as the bracelets that were popular when I was in high school said. I recently read a quote from the novel Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, in which he writes, “Just keep asking yourself: What would Jesus not do?” Choke itself seems like an odd book (and was made into what sounds like an odd movie), but it is from the same guy who wrote Fight Club, so take that for what it’s worth. However, the quote had me thinking about what it said.
The phrase “What would Jesus do?” comes from Charles Sheldon’s 1896 book In His Steps was subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?” Many years before Sheldon, the Catholic Church emphasized the concept of Imitatio Christi (imitation of Christ), which is summarized well in the English phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” In Sheldon’s popular novel (it had been translated into 21 languages by 1935), Rev. Henry Maxwell encounters a homeless man who challenges him to take seriously the imitation of Christ. The homeless man has difficulty understanding why, in his view, so many Christians ignore the poor:
I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night,
“All for Jesus, all for Jesus,
All my being’s ransomed powers,
All my thoughts, and all my doings,
All my days, and all my hours.”
and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin.”
This leads to many of the novel’s characters asking, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with decisions of some importance. This has the effect of making the characters embrace Christianity more seriously and to focus on what they see as its core — the life of Christ.
It’s one thing to base your decisions on what Jesus would do in the situation, but “What would Jesus not do?” is also an interesting concept. It’s the same phrase just in its prohibitive (negative) form. It’s all well and good to ask yourself what Jesus would do, but have you ever considered what Jesus would not do? Consider this for the moment, Jesus was known to help the poor and downtrodden when no one else would. Growing up in the Church of Christ, we were taught that if it wasn’t in the Bible then we shouldn’t’ do it. A prime example of this is that musical instruments are not mentioned in the New Testament, so we do not use musical instruments in our churches. All singing is done a cappella. So, asking “What would Jesus not do?” would not be part of the Church of Christ theology. However, I stray from that theology sometimes, though at the heart, I follow the basic tenet of having the New Testament as my guide and not adding to what is not there.
If you look at much of Christianity today, it is very easy to ask, “What would Jesus not do?” In too many churches, we see hatred and prejudice. We see theology that has no basis in the teachings of Christ. We see churches picking and choosing what they want to follow and making up the rules as they go along to justify their warped religious and political ideology. So, what would Jesus not do? First of all, he would not turn his back on anyone because of their sexuality or race. He would not sit idly by and allow the hypocrites to dictate His teachings while breaking everything He has taught. He would not allow modern Pharisees to butcher a religion in His name. He would not ignore the poor or downtrodden. He would not seek revenge on those who wronged him. He would not profit from His teachings or use the church to make himself rich. He would not take ideas that are nowhere in the Bible in order to harm or subjugate women, minorities, or the LGBTQ+ community. He would not condemn someone because they had a problem with drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Jesus would not hide the pedophiles and rapists that we hear about all the time in both Protestant and Catholic churches. There is a lot that Jesus would not do.
Think about the churches today. Too many of them are doing things that Jesus would not do. Too many churches are not welcoming or open to those they perceive to be immoral or against their teachings. They fear truth and intelligence. Jesus would never do this. Jesus would want us to be accepting of all people, to work every day for the betterment of humanity and the earth, and to live by His example, not by the example of men who have twisted His words for their own perversion.
November 20th, 2022 at 9:25 pm
This is timely as much of the current research around the reasons people leave church indicates that most, but certainly not all, churches are no longer following Christian ministry. People in Christian churches are deciding that Jesus would not condemn LGBTQ folks or women or those who were poor or needed healthcare or were addicts or were not Christian or were emigrants. That some claim to be Christian and condemn all of these groups ignores the message that Jesus taught and incarnated. It is not that people are leaving churches because they are no longer Christian, but rather they are leaving churches because they believe that the churches are no longer Christian.
November 20th, 2022 at 9:41 pm
I completely agree, Beau.