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Most adult Christians I know have a peculiarly Christian hang-up that Jesus didn’t have. No matter what good news is shared about someone’s encounter with Jesus, there is an immediate doctrinal or “right beliefs” comparison that kicks into gear. If I share my personal experience with Pope Francis and his teachings about Jesus and his lifestyle of doing his best to live like Jesus, someone inevitably brings up the doctrine of Mary, the doctrine of speaking infallibly as the Pope, the doctrine of Holy Communion or whatever else doesn’t fit into an evangelical Christian’s comfort box. If I share how my Muslim friend just experienced the inner transformation of the Holy Spirit in his heart and now follows Jesus as his master and Lord, but does he still read the Qur’an or follow Mohammed or pray 5 times a day? Or, when I share about my dear Mormon friend who loves and follows Jesus, the response is to ask whether or not he has left the Church of the Latter Day Saints or does he still adhere to the Book of Mormon?
None of this kind of response ever came from the lips of Jesus. If we are going to do our best to be followers of Jesus, it seems important to me that we do the things he did and say the things he said. In conversation with a person from a non-Jewish (non-Christian) culture, Jesus never added anything on to the primary issue of that person’s heart of faith. Jesus never said, “I accept you as you are, BUT!”
In Matthew 8, NOTE the Roman Centurion. No doubt the Roman Centurion grew up with the Roman gods, yet Jesus does not speak to this at all. His concern was his faith. When Jesus declared the Roman official’s faith as outstanding, even greater than he had seen among the house of Israel, Jesus didn’t tell this man to make sure to repent and go renounce the many Roman deities or his faith would be for naught.
Further in the scene in the healing of the Roman Centurion’s servant, Jesus says: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Non-Jews or in our vernacular, non-Christians are going to be at the Kingdom feast. How can this be? It can only be through a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ strategy was not conversion, but conversation.
This is why we are so bent on advancing the conversation of Jesus without religious baggage. When people encounter Jesus, lives are transformed inside out-forever-without any conversion assistance from us! In the spirit of Jesus, let’s advance the conversation of Jesus in every culture.