What Would Jesus Do?
Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Mt. 20:25-26 π Mk. 10:17-22 π Lk. 16:10 π Jn. 13:35 π Rom. 1:22-26 π Rom. 12:2 π Phlp. 1:6 π 2 Ths. 2:3; 2nd π 1 Tim. 4:1 π Jas. 1:27 π 2 Pet. 2:3

It is sign of the times when the daily newspaper produces a better commentary on current "church" practices than the men behind the podiums on Sunday mornings produce. For some reason, the local newspaper, the Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal, ran three articles on July 25, 1998 that speak volumes about the "church" and where it's headed. When even the media can discern the truth better than the "church" can, it is time to believe that we are indeed in the period of the great falling away just before the great day of Christ. ( 2 Ths. 2:3; top )

Bar-Code Christianity

Take for example, this excerpt:

Having successfully packaged deodorants, cereals and shampoos, some Americans have moved on to marketing God.

Bumper stickers reduce the gospel to a clever phrase. T-shirts offer glow in the dark solutions to life's deepest questions.

Most see this trend as just another manifestation of an overheated consumer economy. But Dallas Willard [theologian and author of The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines] sees it as something more destructive: the undermining of true Christianity.

Willard is deeply concerned about what he says is happening in American churches. He believes Christianity has caved to popular culture in that the faith is more obsessed with surface- level marketing than a rich, life-changing message. He calls it "bar-code Christianity."

"Some ritual, some belief, or some association with a group affects God the way the bar code affects the scanner..." he writes in his latest book The Divine Conspiracy. "God 'scans' it, and forgiveness floods forth."

It comes as little surprise, then, that people feel unsatisfied with this imitation of God's grace.

Willard says more and more thoughtful Christians are abandoning church because it lacks depth. And he is saddened by the terrible timing.

"Just as there is an increasing interest in God and a realization that secular humanism does not have satisfying answers, the church has lost much of its ability to offer truth," he says. ("'Bar-Code' Marketing Undermines True Faith," Dale Hanson Bourke, Albuquerque Journal, July 25, 1998, B6)

I can only applaud the bold statements made here by Willard. I know how much it cost me a few years back to make similar statements.

But I also know that nearly everyone reading this will assume that Willard and I are speaking of someone else besides the reader. It is the curse on the modern "church" that we hear or read of such abominable things and we automatically assign them to someone else, some other branch or division of Christianity - the Baptists, the Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the charismatics, the non-denominationals, the home-churchers, etc. Anyone but ourselves.

A.W. Tozer preached:

When people in the church only point to others for improvement and not to themselves, it is sure evidence that the church has come to dry rot. It is proof of three sins: the sin of self- righteousness, the sin of judgment and the sin of complacency.

When our Lord said, "One of you will betray Me," thank God those disciples had enough spirituality that nobody said, "Lord, is it he?" Every one of those disciples said, "Lord, is it I?" If they would not have so responded there could not have been a Pentecost. But because they were humble enough to point the finger in their own direction the Holy Spirit fell upon them.

Self-righteousness is terrible among God's people. If we feel that we are what we ought to be, then we will remain what we are. We will not look for any change or improvement in our lives. This will quite naturally lead us to judge everyone by what we are. This is the judgment of which we must be careful. To judge others by ourselves is to create havoc in the local assembly.

Self-righteousness also leads to complacency. Complacency is a great sin and covers just about everything I have said about the rote and the rut. Some have the attitude, "Lord, I'm satisfied with my spiritual condition. I hope one of these days You'll come, I will be taken up to meet You in the air and I will rule over five cities." These people cannot rule over their own houses and families, but they expect to rule over five cities. They pray spottily and sparsely, rarely attending prayer meeting, but they read their Bibles and expect to go zooming off into the blue yonder and join the Lord in the triumph of the victorious saints.

I wonder if we are not fooling ourselves. I wonder if a lot of it is simply self-deception. I hear the voice of Jesus saying to us, "You have stayed long enough where you are. Break camp and advance into the hill country." This would be a new spiritual experience that God has for us. (Rut, Rot or Revival, A.W. Tozer, Christian Publications, pp. 10-11)

Our culture is absorbing the gospel rather than the gospel transforming our culture. I know from personal experience that missionaries in foreign countries are very careful not to present the "American gospel" - a different "gospel" contaminated with extreme materialism and extreme superficiality - to their listeners and converts. If these foreign individuals don't need the American gospel, why do the Americans need it?

One of the biggest reasons revival - using that word in its true meaning of a renewal of holiness, love and power in the people of God coming genuinely and only through Christ Jesus - does not come to America is because we will not forsake our culture, a culture which has trained us in the ways of rebellion and lawlessness for decades. We simply will not repent of our covetousness and lawlessness.

What Would Jesus Do?

The other two articles presented in the local newspaper dealt with the recent phenomenon of WWJD?. Consider this excerpt:

It started with teens who traded bracelets with the acronym WWJD? - What Would Jesus Do?

Now the question is turning up all over the place.

At a Christian retailing association trade show earlier this month, retailers displayed post-it notes, day planners, devotional readers, memo pads, remembrance coins made from genuine, U.S.-minted pennies, necklaces, bracelets and even skateboards asking WWJD?

By accident, not design, the acronym for What Would Jesus Do? represents broader issues posed by the amazing success story of Christian publishing and retailing and the 1,552 exhibitors who set up across six acres of color-coded carpet in the Dallas Convention Center.

What would Jesus do with this $2 billion-a-year industry? ("Christian Retailing Now a Big Business," Cecile S. Holmes, Albuquerque Journal, July 25, 1998, B6)

Actually that last is a very easy question to answer. He would condemn it outright as an abomination.

James wrote, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." ( Jas. 1:27; top ) While all these wealthy Americans are looking chic (worldly) in their WWJD? jewelry and gadgets - at a $2 billion annual price tag - the orphans and widows of the world are still dying of starvation without once hearing of the Jesus who touched lepers and Himself broke bread with sinners.

Peter wrote, "By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber." ( 2 Pet. 2:3; top ) The King James version uses the phrase "make merchandise of you." Those hungering for Christ are being exploited to satisfy somebody's greed. Worst of all, the "Jesus" these people get may not be the real Jesus.

The WWJD? phenomenon is just another example of ways to be religious without having anything to do with Jesus Christ personally. Look first at who the question is addressed to. "What would Jesus do?" It is not addressed to Jesus. It is addressed to the person confronted with a particular situation. In other words, the question really is: "Self, what would Jesus do if He were in my situation?" What does "self" know of Jesus? Oh, "self" may know even hundreds of Bible verses and many Biblical principles, but if "self" is not directly plugged into Jesus Christ through a personal relationship with Him, then "self" has to take its best guesses as to what Jesus would do. Even many supposed Christians don't have a clue as to what Jesus would do.

Consider this excerpt from another article from an independent newspaper:

So what do Christians say Jesus would do? A quick scan of all the related websites and the various books devoted to the matter reveal a disturbing, unflinchingly fundamentalist consensus: that Jesus would do what He was told to do.

One anonymous contributor, identified only as a non-denominational minister, writes on one WWJD message board, "Jesus always did His Father's will. Instead of asking, 'What would Jesus do?' we should ask, 'What is God's will for me?' It's always the same answer."

"Oh, yuck!" shouts musician Marsha Stevens, upon hearing that last quote. "That's terrible. That's exactly what turns so many people off Jesus. What I immediately liked about the bracelets when they first came out was that they said, specifically, 'What would Jesus do?' Not what the church tells you to do."

Stevens, a co-founder and former member of the seminal Christian rock band Children of the Day, authored the song "For Those Tears I Died," a staple in non-denominational churches. After announcing her long-secretive lesbianism, she was given the heave-ho from her church and the band. Still actively Christian, Stevens has since created Balm Ministries, a musical outreach of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. She now lives out of a motor home - traveling, recording, and performing contemporary Christian music for the gay and lesbian community.

"My bracelet is gold and engraved with WWJD," she happily reports. "And my partner Suzanne's bracelet is silver. We had them made for each other about a year ago."

After listening to a joke about a fundamentalist conspiracy that is using WWJD to put over its own dogmatic agenda, Stevens laughs. "I think there is [one]," she replies. "I do a lot of radio interviews because of my music, and a lot of people say, 'Gosh! You seem like such a loving, talented lesbian. What do you want to be a Christian for?'

"And I tell them, 'I think there's been an identity theft. Like on the Internet when someone steals your credit card number.' Look at who Jesus was. Look at what he did. The fundamentalists have turned Jesus into a pharisee."

For Stevens, asking "What would Jesus do?" is no recent development. "I knew Sheldon's book growing up," she says. "When my father was a young pastor, one of the things he did at a church he started in Paso Robles was to have a guy dress up like a drunk and stumble into the church and try to sit next to people. He had it all set up that when the guy finally went back outside - and of course everyone inside had been trying to get away from him - he would suddenly keel over on the steps of the church. Then a policeman would run his siren outside, everyone would come out, and there was this guy - dead.

"So my dad would call everyone back inside and give a sermon about what Jesus would have done," she laughs. "It was great."

Living by Jesus' example isn't all sacrifice and suffering, Stevens points out, adding that following his lead has made her a better person. "Sometimes, anyway," she laughs. "I try to think of what Jesus would do in the real-life, nitty-gritty situations that I don't always handle so well. I think of him when I want to yell at the waitress for bringing the wrong food choice three times in a row, or when the mechanic has just lied to me about what's wrong with my motorhome.

"WWJD, for me, isn't just about huge, life-changing choices," Stevens adds. "It's about remembering Jesus in the little things." ("Plastic Jesus," David Templeton, Sonoma County Independent, June 11-17, 1998)

With this excerpt it is hard to know where to begin. Stevens demonstrates a classic rejection of the falseness of what is glibly labeled "fundamental" Christianity but then embraces her own deceptions regarding Christ.

Fundamentalism's Roots

In segueing into the quotes from Stevens, the author tells us of his findings regarding fundamentalist attitudes about what Jesus would do. His synopsis of the Christian response is, "Jesus would do what He was told to do." This finding only demonstrates the current superficial nature of "fundamental" Christianity. But before I explain that, let us look at the roots of fundamentalism. If we're going to discuss a label (which truly fits very few people perfectly), let us at least have a common basis of understanding what it is that we're talking about. One church historian wrote:

Fundamentalism is usually dated from a series of twelve small books published from 1910 to 1915 containing articles and essays designed to defend fundamental Christian truths. Three million copies of the books were sent free to theological students, Christian ministers and missionaries all over the world.

The project arose in the thinking of Lyman Stewart, a wealthy oilman in Southern California, who was convinced that something was needed to reaffirm Christian truths in the face of biblical criticism and liberal theology. After listening to the Rev. Amzi C. Dixon preach in August 1909, Stewart secured Dixon's help in publishing The Fundamentals.

Stewart then enlisted the financial support of his brother, Milton; and Dixon, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, chose a committee, which included the evangelist R.A. Torrey, to assist in the editorial work.

Sixty-four authors were eventually chosen to appear in The Fundamentals. The American premillenial movement and the English Keswick Conference were well represented. Other conservatives, however, were also among the contributors, including E.Y. Mullins of Southern Baptist Seminary and Benjamin B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary.

World War I delayed the outbreak of the "modern-fundamentalist" controversy in the Protestant denominations. But shortly after the "doughboys" came home from Europe, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and the Disciples of Christ launched their own war of words over the values and dangers of liberal theology in the churches.

In 1920, Curtis Lee Laws, Baptist editor of the Watchman-Examiner, called "fundamentalists" within the Northern Baptist Convention to a conference in Buffalo, New York. This group of conservatives, popularly called "The Fundamentalist Fellowship" were moderate conservatives. They believed that the modernists were surrendering the "fundamentals" of the gospel: the sinful nature of man, his inability to be saved apart from God's grace, the centrality of Jesus' death for the regeneration of the individual and the renewal of society, and the authoritative revelation of the Bible. This group was the first to apply the name "fundamentalist" to itself. They were unable to gain the adoption of a confession of faith among Northern Baptists, but Laws and his associates did not consider their cause a lost one. In 1924 Laws wrote that certain schools of his denomination had checked the inroads of liberalism and that the investigation of the mission societies, advocated by the fundamentalists, resulted in changes that made the creation of a new mission unnecessary. More militant Baptists disagreed with Laws and formed the fundamentalist General Association of Regular Baptists for fundamentalists.

The Presbyterian champion of orthodoxy was Professor J. Gresham Machen of Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1929 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church authorized a reorganization of the seminary. Machen and a small retinue of distinguished professors at the school felt that a merger of boards strengthened the liberal influence in the school. They withdrew from Princeton in protest and founded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

When Machen refused to break his ties with the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions, he was brought to trial in his church's courts and found guilty of rebellion against superiors. As a result conservatives in the denomination founded the Orthodox Presbyterian and the Bible Presbyterian churches.

At the heart of the "modernist-fundamentalist" differences were the conflicting views of the Bible. While a variety of positions could be found in each camp Shailer Matthews and Machen may be taken as representatives of the two parties that emerged.

Matthews was a professor of historical theology and Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. In 1924 his book The Faith of Modernism set forth his case for a view of the Bible based upon "scientific investigations." Confessional theology, he said, considers Scripture supernaturally given. "The modernist uses Scripture as the trustworthy record and product of a developing religion... In discovering this experience of God and accepting it as his own religious ancestry the modernist affirms the trustworthiness of the Scripture... Christianity becomes not the acceptance of a literature but a reproduction of attitudes and faith, a fellowship with those ancient men of imperfect morals whose hearts found God."

All the hallmarks of liberal theology are here: 1) the evolutionary philosophy applied to religion, 2) the optimistic view of man centering in his "religious experience" and 3) the moralistic conception of God, who can so readily be "found" by man.

In 1915 in The Princeton Theological Review Professor Machen, probably the most articulate defender of orthodoxy, answered the modernist's appeal to "historical and literary" methods. "The student of the New Testament," he said, "should be primarily an historian... The Bible contains a record of something that has happened, something that puts a new face upon life... It is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The authority of the Bible should be tested here at the central point. Is the Bible right about Jesus? ...A teacher and example, or a Savior?"

Here, too, are the marks of early fundamentalism: 1) a supernatural Jesus attested by his resurrection from the dead, 2) a trustworthy Bible, the fountain of the Christian faith and 3) the need of men to have "a new face upon life." (Church History In Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley, Word, Inc., 1982, pp. 453-5)

The fundamentalists began with a good idea - as has nearly every Christian movement. They saw a problem and moved to solve it as they thought best. Their very name suggests their intentions.

The word "fundamental" means "something that is basic or central to a system, of major significance." We could possibly learn something from their intent, if not their practice. Most of our culture's ills can be traced to an obsession with things that are peripheral and trivial while ignoring that which is basic, central and of major importance - much like polishing the chrome bumper on our car while the cam shaft inside the engine is grinding away the pistons. In other words, our society is killing itself by majoring in the minors. And it also seems that many who seek truly fundamental answers to serious problems by seeking to recover what our trivial pursuits have cost us are ridiculed. And this ridicule is often labeled "intellectualism." So, while there are indeed many flaws in "fundamental" Christianity, its intent is to return to a basic, foundational Christianity that works in real life. For that, it cannot be faulted.

The "Church" Is Not Jesus

But let us return to the article with Stevens.

One anonymous contributor, identified only as a non-denominational minister, writes on one WWJD message board, "Jesus always did His Father's will. Instead of asking, 'What would Jesus do?' we should ask, 'What is God's will for me?' It's always the same answer."

"Oh, yuck!" shouts musician Marsha Stevens, upon hearing that last quote. "That's terrible. That's exactly what turns so many people off Jesus. What I immediately liked about the bracelets when they first came out was that they said, specifically, 'What would Jesus do?' Not what the church tells you to do."

Stevens shows her classic rejection of fundamental Christianity and inadvertently displays her own error of associating Jesus with the "church" as well as her own tendency to turn to her own ideas of what Jesus would do. Notice that this non-denominational minister has asked a better question than "What would Jesus do?" but he has still not asked the best question. He wrote, "What is God's will for me?" The reason his question is not the best is because it is still addressed to "self." In other words, he is saying, "Self, what do I think God wants me to do?"

Self, however, without a spiritual renewing by the Holy Spirit, cannot even know the will of God. Paul wrote, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." ( Rom. 12:2; top ) The best phrasing of the real question would then be: "God, what is Your will for me in this situation?" This takes away all guess work on the part of "self" and places the matter where it belongs - in the hands of God to answer. All that is required of self now is to await His answer. That so many will reject this as nonsense is only proof that they have no wish to either hear God or obey only Him.

Stevens switches what this minister said for her own attitude. Whereas the minister said that Jesus did whatever His Father said, Stevens reacts to being told what to do by the "church." This is a perfect indication of the sad straits into which the "church" has fallen. Whereas Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you." ( Mt. 20:25-26; top ) Leaders in the body of Christ were never meant to lord it over anyone - and yet Stevens shows the classic "rebellion" against someone who has told her what to do.

Now, as is evident from the rest of the article, Stevens is rebellious against God - a fact demonstrated by her lesbianism (see Rom. 1:22-26 ) - and, seeing that she still considers herself an active Christian, she is under some serious deception as well. But her reaction to the institutional "church" is legitimate in that the leaders of the modern "churches" have, for the most part, usurped to themselves authority that does not come from God. Paul wrote, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." ( 1 Tim. 4:1; top ) The modern "church" structure, which has a CEO ("pastor") at the top of a hierarchical chain of command, is such a demonically inspired methodology that it is incredible that so few see it for what it is.

What Does It Mean "to Live"?

Stevens says one more thing that is worth observing.

Living by Jesus' example isn't all sacrifice and suffering, Stevens points out, adding that following his lead has made her a better person. "Sometimes, anyway," she laughs. "I try to think of what Jesus would do in the real-life, nitty-gritty situations that I don't always handle so well. I think of him when I want to yell at the waitress for bringing the wrong food choice three times in a row, or when the mechanic has just lied to me about what's wrong with my motorhome.

This is a perfect example of what is wrong with our culture. Here Stevens tries "to think of what Jesus would do in the real-life, nitty-gritty situations" - but the examples she comes up with are the relatively trivial examples of yelling at inept waitresses and dealing with dishonest mechanics. And I understand that life is made up of "little" decisions. Indeed, Christ Himself said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much." ( Lk. 16:10; top ) Making the right decisions in the small things is a precursor to making the right decisions in the big things.

But what I am pointing out is Stevens' idea of "real-life, nitty gritty" are only examples of inept waitresses and dishonest mechanics. I am reminded of a time when I challenged the "church" I attended by writing:

"How often do we settle for making Christmas boxes for foreign children and giving hats, gloves and blankets when Jesus wants us out on the mission fields and out on the streets holding hands and healing wounds?"

One of the most astounding remarks I've ever heard was then made by one of the assistant "pastors" of that "church." He said, "How dare you slam little kids who give one of their sixteen Barbie dolls to some kid that doesn't have anything?" This has to be the most perfect example of blind American materialism I have ever heard. This assistant "pastor" had not even thought to ask why an American kid needs even one of those deceptively picture-perfect Barbie dolls nor why an American kid should have sixteen Barbies at over $15 a head while even one other kid dies of malnutrition without knowing Christ. He is so accustomed to the average American shine-on lifestyle that, when truly "nitty-gritty" life got in his face, he didn't know how to handle it.

I recently saw a similar thing in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The picture is about a young private in World War II whose three brothers were killed. The commanding general, once informed by the bureaucratic department that advised families of the deaths of soldiers, quoted a letter from Abraham Lincoln to a Mrs. Bixby who lost five sons in the War Between the State to his aides, and, in a glaze of patriotic and familial duty, dispatches a squad of men to go find Private Ryan who had parachuted behind enemy lines in France.. This squad of men, with the exception of one cowardly translator and one loud-mouthed private, are all killed before the end of the movie. The movie, graphically violent throughout, has a very subtle anti-war theme underlying it but that is not what is most disturbing.

The movie is prefaced by an old man (at the end of the movie you find out it was Private Ryan) falling down before a tombstone in a WWII memorial park. The movie ends with Ryan, who was rescued and sent home early from the war, sobbing in front of that tombstone under which is buried the captain who sacrificed his life to bring him back from the front lines. He speaks to the captain as if he can hear and says, "I've tried to live a good life. I hope I've been grateful for all you sacrificed for me." And then, after his aged wife comes up to him, he asks her if he has been a good man. He is desperate to have her tell him that he has been a good man.

What a picture of the emptiness of America in the half-century since WWII! A man, having lived four decades or more, with kids and grandkids, is haunted by the question, "Have I lived a good life?" If you are driven by desperation to ask this question, then you have not lived a good life. If you must ask your wife or your closest friends, they cannot possibly give you the answer that God alone can give you. Nor will you stand in front of any of these people on judgment day.

This is the same essential flaw in the WWJD? question as well. It turns to the wrong source, commits maybe the right actions, and then expects the wrong people to absolve the guilt. A good life, that is, a life lived dedicated to doing good things is not going to have everlasting results. And it will not get you off the hook on judgment day. The question today is not "What would Jesus do?" - the question is, "Jesus, what would You have me do?" Obedience to Him is what is required, not mindless, "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty."

Belated Effort

The third article in the local paper was about Bob Siemon of Bob Siemon Designs, a "well- respected, long-time player in the $3 billion Christian products market." The article introduces their new product - a WWJD? New Testament that includes "commentary on real life problems, such as temptation, prejudice or being falsely accused and what Jesus did about them in His life. The New Testament also includes examples of how Jesus' disciples dealt with problems after His death." ("Everything's Divine for Jeweler," Jan Norman, Albuquerque Journal, July 25, 1998, D10)

Let us look at another portion of the article from the independent newspaper to get a better look at the history of WWJD?:

"Jesus is a universal symbol," [says Patricia Lynn Reilly, a best-selling author and renowned feminist theologian], turning back to pick through the necklaces, "though fundamentalists have sort of co-opted him for their own purposes. I think it's important to keep reclaiming Jesus from the jaws of the religious right.

"Maybe WWJD is helping to do that."

"WWJD certainly was intended as a way to introduce Jesus to others," affirms Kenn Freestone of Lesco Co., the Michigan-based manufacturer - specializing in promotional items such as golf balls and T-shirts with company logos - that first began distributing WWJD bracelets in 1989.

"It was a Christian Youth group at a local Presbyterian church that came up with the idea of WWJD buttons, and then bracelets, and they brought it to me," explains Freestone, who now heads Lesco's multimillion-dollar WWJD division.

The youth group had been inspired by Charles Sheldon's classic 1896 book, In His Steps. The once-controversial book tells the story of a church whose members turn their backs on a homeless stranger, only to be chastised by the man for not living their lives according to the example of Jesus. When the stranger drops dead, they are deeply ashamed, and vow that for one full year they will make no decision without first asking themselves, "What would Jesus do?"

"The bracelets were intended to be a daily reminder," Freestone says, "but they were also meant to provoke questions from others. I did think it was a good message, so I proposed that we take the idea further and try to promote the bracelets elsewhere."

Still, it wasn't until two years ago - when syndicated radio pundit Paul Harvey began extolling the virtues of WWJD on the air - that Lesco found itself in possession of a certified national trend, and sales began expanding. Last year alone the company sold over 15 million WWJD items. Interactive websites (www.wwjd.com and www.whatwouldjesusdo.com are just two) began popping up all over the Internet, as other companies began putting out their own versions, expanding the scope with T-shirts, baseball caps, watches, board games, and books. A recently released CD of Christian music - titled What Would Jesus Do?, it comes complete with a WWJD bracelet - quickly made it onto Billboard's Top 200 pop albums list. And a couple of months ago, Spin magazine spoofed the trend in a "Gen-X Jesus goes to the Big City" fashion spread. ("Plastic Jesus," David Templeton, Sonoma County Independent, June 11-17, 1998)

WWJD?'s essential flaw is this: men began to look for gimmicks to promote Jesus. They overlooked a very important fact. If you need a gimmick, you don't have the real Jesus. Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." ( Jn. 13:35; top ) If we had the genuine Christ-love that lays down our lives for His friends, there would be no need for $3 billion a year worth of gimmicks.

But with this history of WWJD? in mind, let's look at some interesting facts about Bob Siemon. He became a Christian in 1970. In that same year, he made "a ring engraved 'Jesus Saves' for a class at Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley. ...that ring launched Bob Siemon Designs with $30 million in annual sales." ("Everything's Divine," Jan Norman) Twenty-eight years after becoming a Christian, Siemon was driving home calculating the $40,000 his company had made in their first few shipments of WWJD? bracelets. In his own words, Siemon says, "Just then, a car cut me off, and my first reaction was anger. But then, for the first time in my life, I had firsthand experience with asking myself 'What would Jesus do in this situation?'" ("Everything's Divine," emphasis added)

This man had been a Christian for twenty-eight years and was never concerned with wondering how Jesus would respond to everyday life?!? Wow. It is also unfortunate that Siemons didn't ask the WWJD? question before launching into his WWJD? business venture.

Christian Merchandising

In closing, I want to present more of the second article from the local paper. It reads:

Retailers with softer-sell items - interactive CD-ROM Bible stories for preschoolers and pocket calendars with Reinhold Niebuhr's serenity prayer - believe theirs is a holy endeavor.

This segment of American Christianity - evangelical and essentially nondenominational - gave us state-of-the-art Christian television in the 1970s and a charismatic presidential candidate in the 1980s. In the 1990s, lifestyle issues as disparate as proper parenting and skateboard slogans are their focus. Like other niche businesses, they're eager to respond to a market ranging from spiritual seekers who are aging baby boomers to the punk-rocking Christians of Generation X.

Christian retailers operate as Americans always have: by creating a product to meet a need. But what was once a Christian cocoon of sweet fashions with hearts and flowers and kids' books with Old Testament superhero characters is transforming into an astonishing cultural subset rapidly moving into the nation's mainstream.

"There are several things going on at the same time," said California author Richard Foster. His new book, "Streams of Living Water" was touted at this year's trade show. An earlier Foster title, "Celebration of Discipline," sold more than 1 million copies.

"On one level, you have a great trivialization of the great mysteries of the faith. Three steps to blessing. That kind of thing," Foster said.

"But then there are huge masses of people who've given up on the superficialities of modern culture. They're ready for a life that has substance, to sink down into a deep life with God."

Christian publishing and retailing offers the nuts-and-bolts for building such a relationship.

But there are also how-to books on improving marriage; Victorian flowered angel pins; scented greeting cards; pass-it-on cards alerting teen-agers "to hang in there" and that "this too shall pass"; shorts, shoes and T-shirts promoting Christian values; and Beanie Baby-like dolls of Jesus' mother, Mary. ("Christian Retailing," Cecile S. Holmes)

That all this is so popular and yet contains so few people who are personally loyal to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ is another sign that we are seeing the great falling away from the faith that precedes the day of Christ. ( 2 Ths. 2:3; top )

Foster has said something quite accurate though. Many people are sick of the superficial nature of churchianity and are leaving the "churches" in droves in search of a real expression of the living Christ. The tragedy is that many of these people are not committed enough to forsake their culture as well as the "church." They will be like the rich young ruler who, after being confronted by Christ, went away sorrowful because he wanted his wealth more than he wanted Christ. ( Mk. 10:17-22; top )

Another tragedy is that many people will not know where to look for the real expression of the living Christ. They will travel from institutional "church" to institutional "church" until they are so burnt out that they will think there is no one who truly follows Christ. If you, the reader, are such a one, please stop looking to the institutional "church" to show you Christ. The institutional "church" is the worst enemy of the body of Christ. Look to your close, true-Christian friends and Christian family to become the ekklesia you see described in the Bible. Ask God to lead you to His truly godly leaders in your area. He is faithful. If you need the fellowship and the companionship of other truly committed believers, and if you will obey His leading, He will bring you into contact with the right people - and you will, thankfully, never need to set one foot inside a "church" door!

A Spiritual Journey

This writing may not seem "organized" to you - and it really isn't overly organized. It rather lurches its way through the topic at hand, which, on the surface would seem to be the WWJD? phenomenon. Yet really the focus here is our inability to separate the culture from the real gospel of Jesus Christ. And it has never been more true that we cannot continue to practice anything we know to be a lie and simultaneously believe that we are worshiping God in spirit and in truth.

Until we recognize that our culture is merely another expression of what John Bunyan called "Vanity Fair" in his allegorical Pilgrim's Progress, and until we are determined to abandon all of that to follow Christ, we are merely deceived. And any solution which depends on culturally- developed concepts is going to be tainted and will not bring us into agreement with God's kingdom.

What you see here is not an eloquent piece written from a distant, non-involved perspective. What you see is a step in the spiritual journey, a confirmation of spiritual truths, in the life of an American spoiled by his culture but who is learning to leave that behind to embrace the fullness of Christ. The way is hard and filled with danger. But so long as we look to Christ and continuously set aside our own preconceived notions, no matter how deeply ingrained they might be, no matter that they have been deeply ingrained by people we thought were great Christian leaders, He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. ( Phlp. 1:6; top )

May God grant that each of us be continually taking new steps with Him in our own spiritual journey through life. May we never become complacent in any place where the Spirit of God has already left. May we never settle for asking ourselves what needs to be done when we can simply ask God what He would have us do. And may we never settle for becoming something which our own imaginations or desires construct when we can press on to become that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of us.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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