The early Jesus movement was a revolutionary force for good. Though it didn’t spread across the Roman empire without stirring up a good deal of trouble (as we saw above). Consider Paul’s visit to Thessalonica described in Acts 17. When the Jesus-movement came to town the whole city knew about it; but they weren’t rushing over to attend a potluck dinner and craft sale! Luke tells us how the town responded to Paul’s message:
“And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things” (Acts 17:4-8).
Turning the world upside down? Now that hardly sounds dry, irrelevant, innocuous or boring. That doesn’t sound like a sleepy church on the corner. That sounds like a revolutionary movement sweeping across the empire and calling for one’s allegiance. They were “claiming another king named Jesus.” It was a message that was “disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed” as they say. It sounds like an all-or-nothing call to join up or miss out on something truly revolutionary and world-changing.
Believe it or not Acts 17:6 would be the basis for the new youth ministry I was attempting to start at Bethel Methodist. I called it Revolution and our tag line was “Turning the World Upside Down for Jesus.” (Let me tell you, the older folks in the congregation were not too thrilled about this motto. It didn’t sound very biblical to them.)
My main goal was to recapture the revolutionary nature of the early Jesus movement and invite see to themselves as carrying the Revolution forward here in our community. My key targets were teenagers who were bored and turned off from a bad experience with church-as-usual.
I, too, wanted to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. And I was surrounded by people who were far too comfortable around this revolutionary Jesus who intends to turn our own personal worlds upside down in order to turn them right side up again.
A book that had been hugely influential for me in seminary on this topic is Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. The revolutionary Christian colony they describe in their book I was working hard to bring to life:
“The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief. As a society of unbelief, Western culture is devoid of a sense of journey, of adventure, because it lacks belief in much more than the cultivation of an ever-shrinking horizon of self-preservation and self-expression . . . . When we are baptized, we (like the first disciples) jump on a moving train. As disciples, we do not so much accept a creed, or come to a clear sense of self-understanding by which we know this or that with utter certitude. We become a part of a journey that began long before we got here and shall continue long after we are gone” (Resident Aliens, 49-52).
As I drove around in the car listening to teenager after teenager tell me they were bored by the dull enterprise the church had become for them, I longed to prove them wrong. For many of them, church conjured up images of dead rituals, potluck dinners in a muster old basements, a stained glass Jesus and flannel graphed disciples telling ancient stories far detached from the here-and-now.
I was determined to repaint the faith as the fast-paced adventurous journey it is meant to be, and invite them into a larger Story far greater than their own. Above all, they needed to know that Jesus anything but boring! As many have said, you don’t get crucified for being a boring, nice guy.
As for the reputation of Christians themselves, David Kinneman’s book UnChristian has clearly shown that outsiders view us primarily as “anti-homosexual”, “hypocritical” and “judgmental.” I wanted to raise up a Jesus-movement in Mound that would shatter these stereotypes and instead be known for our love of neighbor and service to others.
Like Paul in Thessalonica, I wanted to be part of a revolutionary movement that stirred up mobs in the streets; not violent mobs that intended to do harm, but mobs that gathered in the center of town to worship God and spread His light and love to those in need. I wanted to inspire teens to begin “turning the world upside down for Jesus” in ways that would leave this town forever changed.