Study Guide: Risky Church

Sunday October 9, 2016 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

In this final sermon of the Worth the Risk series, we look at how the cross offends our worldly values, and how we as followers, and the church as a whole, are called to respond to this confrontation.

Extended Summary:

In our culture, personal preference becomes the all important factor for many of our decisions. We live in a consumer society which promotes a consumer mentality. We bring this mentality to purchases, relationships, and even marriage, in that we use a cost-benefit analysis to make choices and determine whether to stay with a given choice. This is a key characteristic of the contract society we live in.

We bring this kind of thinking into our faith too. We define truth according to whether we agree or not, or whether it “feels” true, (which usually just means whether it agrees with us) such as interpretations of the Bible, whether God would approve of certain actions or align with certain values, etc.

People naturally use this same consumer criteria when selecting a church. They weigh how far of a drive it is, how much fun the kids have, whether the speaker was likable, the music, etc. It’s a cost-benefit analysis. To some extent this is normal, but as a result many churches feel pressure to cater to this, where the goal becomes to attract and keep as many people as possible, based on worldly, superficial measures. This consumer economy has created the “McChurch.” They mold the whole experience and often even their message so that pleasing their congregants, not challenging them, is the highest priority. So the gospel that they teach gives people what they want, but not what they need, to hear.

The problem with this is that Reality itself does not conform to our preferences! We are reminded of this in a rude way every time something sudden or bad happens that we were not expecting, like an accident. Reality does not conform to us, we have to confirm to it. And of course we know this, but our world’s consumer mindset lulls us back into the false sense that we have all the control, and that everything should conform to our wishes.

But this is counter to the real message and purpose of the gospel. The message of the cross is the reality that we must conform to, and the truth is that it’s not always pleasant.

A good example of this is found in Galatians 5:10-12. This community was being influenced by Jewish Christians who taught circumcision (according to the Jewish law). But the gospel was teaching that the cross replaced the law, which would have made circumcision optional, at best. This was not what these people wanted to hear. So in his letter, Paul tells the Galatians that the “offense of the cross” must never be abolished. Yes, the cross *should* be offensive!

Another example, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says the cross should look foolish and weak to those who live in the world. The view of God as someone who would be willingly killed for the sake of others, was absurd and offensive to people. And this is the point! The “power” that God rules by is self-sacrificial love, which is not how the world operates. The ways of God are foolish and offensive to the ways of the world. It *should* look foolish and offensive to our worldly minds.

Our call as followers of Christ is to not just agree with this but to live this out. Ephesians 5:1-2 tells us to be imitators of God, who gave his life for us. We are called to love our enemies, not fight them. We are called to be willing to suffer and die for others, while the world itself teaches us to cultivate safety; to shoot first, ask questions second.

The message of the cross is going to offend people who live by the world, and chase after wealth, security and power. What we see on the cross is radically different than what we see in the culture, and it’s offensive because it means we must be willing to lose everything. It fundamentally confronts the consumer mindset. The message of the cross is not what we want– but it is exactly what we need.

In Phillipians 2:6 we read that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to cling to. He chose to empty himself of his significant advantage to serve us. And we are called to imitate this.

For us, this translates into a call for solidarity with others who do not share our advantage, like those who are discriminated against, or the homeless or friendless. We must leave our “bubbles–” our places of privilege, comfort and security– and let others affect us. We are called to live in service to the world and be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.

The cross is going to confront you if you get your life from wealth, beauty, guns or being right. If you are clinging to worldly things for life, then the cross is going to offend you. And it should — it’s for our own good. We need to get our life from God and stop clinging to things of the world. So the gospel is always going to have an edge to it.

It may sound bad, it may offend us. But Jesus himself assured us that if you lose your life you will find it. What otherwise are we offering God? Live according to the world and offer Him a perpetually searching, empty, desperate, self-centered soul? Romans 12:1 tells us to offer our body as living sacrifice. This is what he meant. When we let that old, broken, world-obsessed self die, we become truly free!

Reflection Questions:

The message of the cross pushes us to ask ourselves three difficult questions:

  1. Are you still chasing after stuff? What do you still chase after? Are you willing to die to these external idols and give yourself over to God?
  2. Are you pouring yourself out to others? We are called not to go to church, but to BE the church. The Bible has 57 occurrences of the phrase “one another.” It challenges us to ask ourselves: how am I meeting other people’s needs? How do you currently live this out? Could you do more?
  3. Finally, are you getting out of your bubble and entering into solidarity with others and sharing your fullness with them? This does not necessarily just mean financial, it’s in whatever form we have abundance. If we have the good fortune of friends, open that circle and welcome new people in. If we have the good fortune of a light heart, listen to others, and share a supportive thought and a smile with someone that needs it. If we have the fortune of societal privilege, share compassion and advocate for with those who do not.