By Adam Tyler
When I was a teenager, one of the things I did every summer was go to Eagle Eyrie for a Virginia Baptist mission camp with my family. It was something I looked forward to each year:
I had friends from other parts of the state that I got to hang out with, the swimming pool was a lot of fun on a hot summer day, and the ice cream parlor was a sweet treat after worship.
I also enjoyed the official reasons we were there, of course: to learn about how missionaries were serving God around the world, to engage in hands-on, local missions myself, and to worship together with Christians from around the state.
One of the things I remember from that annual camp experience and others like it was the plethora of merchandise that the contemporary Christian subculture promulgated.
Everywhere you looked, there were t-shirts “borrowing” secular symbols from the Reese’s logo to the Nike motto, “Just Do It.” Perhaps most ubiquitous were the multicolored fabric bracelets with four simple letters emblazoned on them: W.W.J.D.
This simple acronym stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” and you weren’t “with it” as a Christian teenager if you weren’t wearing at least 1 or 2 of these bracelets at all times.
The bracelets’ genesis was a Christian book first published in 1897 and updated regularly throughout the 20th century. In the book, a church is turned upside down by the appearance of a homeless man in worship who dies in their midst.
Convicted by this tragedy and the church’s inaction in the face of it, the pastor challenges the church to do nothing without asking first, “What would Jesus do?” for an entire year.
Drawing from this challenging message, the W.W.J.D. bracelets were intended to be a constant reminder for Christians who wore them to be thoughtful in their actions and behave as Christ would behave – although for many teenagers, the bracelet became just another fashion accessory.
I bring up this Christian fashion trend of my youth to illustrate a larger point: for the church of my life experience, the evangelical Baptist church in America, Jesus is uniformly and unalterably at the center. His life, his example, his divinity, his authority, and his indwelling presence in the life of the church are all essential to Christian existence.
In my own church, Grace Hills Baptist, this cornerstone of Christian thought is visible in many ways. Firstly, we call ourselves “Christians,” which means “Christ-like” or “little Christs.” Our very identity and understanding of ourselves is tied up in what we believe about Jesus.
A commitment to and relationship with Jesus – that is what binds us together: old and young, man and woman, Appomattox native and come-here alike. Political affiliation, sports team preference, education level, cultural background – it doesn’t matter, because we all look to Jesus as the common thread, the thing that identifies us all.
Another way Grace Hills sees Christ as the center of everything we are and do is the authority we give his words. Regularly, the church’s Sunday school literature, sermons, and Bible studies focus on the commands of Jesus: seek first the kingdom of God, love your neighbor as yourself, whatever you do for the least of these you did for me, proclaim good news to the captive, suffer the little children to come to me, go and make disciples.
The repetition and study of these commands and teachings insinuates itself into the minds and hearts of the congregation’s members, because they are the words of Jesus and, as such, are authoritative. They should be remembered. They should be considered. They should be obeyed.
A final way in which Christ is at the center of Grace Hills’ identity and experience is the desire of the church to share Jesus with others. As followers of Christ, and not just fans of Jesus as a historical teacher, we believe that Christ is still alive today.
We believe he calls us to have a relationship with him, not just a relationship of worship and awe, but also a relationship of intimacy and friendship. For many of us, this relationship gives shape to our days and meaning to our lives. It makes life full of joy and worth living…and we don’t want to keep that joy to ourselves.
This is why we support the work of missionaries in our community and around the world who introduce others to Jesus. This is why we reach out to our friends and family to let them know what a difference Jesus has made in our lives. We don’t do it out of a sense of manipulation or of self-perpetuation as a church.
We genuinely want as many people to have the opportunity to experience the joy and love and hope and peace that we have as possible. We don’t want to force it – we just want to make an introduction.
Jesus is the center of what it means to be Christian – and he is the driving force at the center of what it means to be the church. At Grace Hills, we hold this as a core, perhaps even the core, of our identity and purpose.
Dr. Adam Tyler is pastor of Grace Hills Baptist Church, Appomattox, and a member of the BGAV Executive Board.
This post originally appeared at his blog, Thoughts from the Pastor’s Moleskine.