What Happens When People Believe Jesus is Lord of All?
Ask a Christian Reformed Church member what it means to be Reformed and one of the answers you'll probably get is 'It means to have a world and life view" or "It means to recognize the Lordship of Christ over all things." That's a good answer, but what does it mean? Do we understand what that means today? Does it make a difference in the way we practice our faith?
In this article I want to answer those questions through the lens of a powerful experience I had a few months ago. Along with four seminarians and retired seminary professor Mel Hugen, I went to Uganda and Kenya to observe the Timothy Institute, an innovative leadership training program for pastors and other Christian leaders primarily in African churches.
In the middle of a war-torn, disease-wearied, economically depressed land, these pastors embraced a fuller understanding of the Lordship of Christ and dared to dream about the difference it could make to their people and nations.
Jesus Is Lord
The words "Jesus is Lord," of course, come straight from the Bible. Paul concludes that great hymn of praise to Christ, "At the name of Jesus every knee should bend and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11). Another biblical phrase that Reformed Christians use to make the same point is "Our God reigns."
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Isa. 52:7) This affirmation that Jesus is Lord runs up against a tendency in our modern world to compartmentalize Christ's rule, to split the world into two parts— the sacred and the secular—and claim that Jesus is Lord only of the sacred. In this view it's fine for Christians to have their little Jesus in their little sacred world. Christians talk about Jesus in their homes and at church, but that's their private business and has no impact in the public square.
But when Reformed Christians hear such sacred/secular, private/public talk, they remember the words of Jesus: "All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18); and the teaching of Paul that God "raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come" (Eph. 1:20-21).
All of Life
In Uganda, it was delightful to see pastors discern that Christ's Lordship over all of life affects not only Christians' worship but also their work—that, in fact, worship on Sunday and work on Monday are both acts of service and obedience to God. We could see the look of discovery in their eyes as they learned that hard work, and honest work, and fair treatment of workers, and sharing what one earns from work are all as much a part of being a Christian as showing up at church on Sunday. These pastors learned that because all people are imagebearers of God, they deserve to be treated fairly and humanely. They also learned that Christians may, indeed must, call upon their government to be honest, their police to treat people with respect, their judges to be impartial. All because Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
I could see these pastors' understanding of their Christian faith expand before my very eyes! The Pentecostal pastors began to see how much bigger the Christian faith is than ones interior religious experience. The Anglican pastors began to see how Christianity should be affecting how the rich and powerful in their congregations run their businesses and the government on Monday.
What Happens ...
Davis Omanyo, CRWRC consultant in Uganda, explained why this fullorbed Christianity, where Jesus Christ is Lord over all spheres of life, is the only hope for Africa—and why the rulers of Africa fear this Christianity. He explained that only Christianity awakens in people a deep sense of dignity and self-respect—dignity and self-respect born of being royalty, children of the King—that translates into a call for justice and freedom, a positive vision of life as God intended it, a Shalom vision where peace, justice, and righteousness reign. Davis explained that Christianity is the only power that can overcome the hopelessness and despair of people who have been oppressed and abused by their leaders for centuries. Only Christ deals death to old ways of living and raises peo-ple up to a new life, a new community, an alternative way of living that shines as light in the darkness, and that makes clear to everyone that there is a better way to live! It was heartening to hear Davis tell many stories in which the African churches have declared Jesus' Lordship and communities have been renewed.
Back in North America
It was a powerful experience to have a front-row seat as these African pastors discovered fuller dimensions of the Lordship of Christ. It was equally powerful to reflect, from the vantage point of my Africa experience, upon the truth of Christ's Lordship over all as it is claimed and lived out in North America.
I was struck, first, at how often we Christians in North America who profess Christ's Lordship over all often live with a pretty diminished, shrunken view of his Lordship. We talk about a world and life view, but how does our Christian faith actually impact the way we run our business, use our time, spend our money, impart values to our children? How, and how often, do we call our leaders to a higher standard of peace, justice, and righteousness? Are we aware of how North American governmental policies often work against the basic welfare of people around the world? How much do those who govern in North America really fear Christianity? Is Christianity in North America a lion that commands fear and respect from the principalities and powers because they know they will be held to higher standards of justice and truth, or is Christianity more like a harmless cocker spaniel that mainly keeps people in a good mood and self-absorbed, but more "of the world" than transforming the world?
At the same time I also appreciated anew, from the vantage point of the Africa crisis, how indebted North American society is to a Christian world and life view for the very foundations of its common life. North American Christians are often sharply divided on political and economic approaches, but all would agree, I think, that it's easy to take for granted a government built up upon principles of human dignity, liberty, and justice. It's easy to take for granted a general internalized respect for authority as ordained by God and expressed through government that actually leads most people to stop at stop signs, not steal their neighbor's lawn chairs, and pay their taxes. It's easy to take for granted a deep cultural value that creates a court system with pretty honest judges and a decent, though not perfect, record of just and fair decisions. Although racism and prejudice are major problems in North American society, it's easy to take for granted the very principle of equal protection of the law for all people, regardless of skin color or economic status. Although police sometimes do terrible things to citizens in North America, it's easy to take for granted that as a society we deplore such behavior and do our best to stop it when we hear of it. Although the U.S. system of medical care is broken, I was thankful, after watch-I ing women dying of AIDS stumble out of a clinic and begin a six-mile walk back home in the burning sun, often carrying a child, for laws that prevent hospitals from refusing medical care for the poorest of the poor. In short, it's easy for us in North America to so focus upon our shortcomings that we overlook societal values of human dignity, justice, and compassion that are the cultural capital, in part, of Christians whose vision of life and society has been shaped by the claim of God upon all of life.
What Happens When People Believe Jesus Christ Is Lord?
Finally, I was struck at how this Reformed vision of the Lordship of Christ so powerfully affects the way Christians practice their faith. I thought of the activities of fellow Christians and church members that I have observed across the CRC:
• A local congregation rehabilitating a boarded-up house
• Deacons maintaining a food pantry
• Christians praying for the poor
• A college student being a big brother to a kid whose dad is in jail
• People volunteering their time to put a new roof on the house of a family whose medical bills leave the family destitute
• An experienced mom mentoring a single mom who courageously bore and kept her baby
• A business owner taking a risk on hiring someone just released from prison
• A Christian school meeting the needs of people with physical and mental disabilities
• Church members tutoring neighborhood students in math and reading
• A group of farmers harvesting the crops of a widow whose husband died three months ago
• Christian pediatricians and lawyers and optometrists volunteering their professional services in a Christian community center
• A support group for persons struggling with substance abuse
More than merely believing that Jesus is Lord of all, the Reformed Christians I know put that belief into practice in amazing and life-changing ways.
Back in Africa
It's difficult for North American Christians to appreciate the staggering challenges of the African church. But Jesus Christ is Lord. Because Christ is Lord, African Christians worship with infectious joy, strong faith, inexhaustible hope, and sacrificial love for one another. Because Jesus Christ is Lord, these pastors went back to their churches full of courage and confidence. And the faith of our African brothers and sisters strengthened our faith. By the end of our time together it was no longer clear who was ministering to whom. And the question wasn't important. The church of Jesus Christ in North America and Africa was stronger because together we affirmed that Jesus is Lord.