hristianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right, and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ’n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”*
These controversial words were spoken in 1966 during an interview given by the late John Lennon, British musician and popular member of the Beatles. They raised the hackles of thousands of American Christians when they appeared in a teen magazine. Most believers were outraged and resented the sacrilegious nature of Lennon’s remark. But they missed an important point that is as true today as it was then: Christianity is not making the gospel come alive in the hearts and minds of the young as is mind-rotting, popular music.
It’s been 47 years since Lennon threw down a gauntlet to Christians, who protested and called for a ban-the-Beatles campaign that apparently went no further than a few local churches. Yet things seem unchanged or have gotten worse when it comes to making the gospel attractive to young people.
When Lennon’s words were made public, they seemed ridiculous to some, but in retrospect they were ominous. For today, according to presentations on YouTube that garner millions of hits, a majority of children and young adults in America, where at least 56 percent attend a conventional church each week, know secular music and musings better than John 3:16. In fact, many churches have sold their gospel birthright (John 1:13) for the gospel according to the American dream in values and ideas that not only are unbiblical, but contradict the biblical truths they claim to believe.
We Adventists have to embody and proclaim an explicit commitment to the person of Jesus Christ as the essence of our message, even before, beyond, and above all doctrinal directives. For as Brennan Manning noted in Souvenirs of Solitude
: “Beautiful liturgies; mass regional, national, and international meetings; crusades against immorality are good and have their place, but none of them is an adequate substitute for dying to self” so that one may live exclusively for Christ. When Jesus isn’t explicitly the center and circumference of our evangelism, people become confused about the commission of the church (Matt. 28:19, 20).
My grandmother had a quip for every occasion. One immediately comes to mind. She warned, “To come see me and to come live with me are two different things.” In this context, I would say her words are a warning that people may be attracted by our powerful preaching and video illustrations when they come to “see us” in our evangelistic meetings. However, when they accept our unique brand of the “message,” are baptized, and “come to live with us” and realize that what we preach is not always what we practice, they quickly move out of their new home.
Because of this, we cannot continue with business as usual in our lives as Christians or as a church. We must deny demands that keep the saints shiny and happy based on standards defined by the culture around us rather than the principles of Him who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34, 35).
Men and women around the world are risking their lives and fulfilling these powerful words to live and share the good news about Jesus. The Christian church in North America should, but we Adventists must avoid cheap caricatures of Christ and instead present Him as “the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
The time for talking is over. That’s why I pray continually that my beloved church will wake up from the stupor of the Americanized gospel of material acquisition to consistently preach and teach Christ, and Christ alone, in these desperate last days.
Hyveth Williams teaches homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was published October 17, 2013.