Jesus doesn’t need clones.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be like other Christians, and he doesn’t call other Christians to try to mold us in their images. Yet sometimes I read articles by someone famous and it sounds an awful lot like “If you would only live the Christian life exactly how I tell you to, the way that I tell you I live mine, then you’ll be the person God wants you to be.”
Those leaders appear to want to operate a disciple machine like this:
That’s not what really happens in God’s family, though. In fact, the family aspect of belonging to God is the first clue that we are not to be clones, but rather individuals. When you look at a family you don’t see people who are indistinguishable from one another. Sure there are similarities and family traits, but families do not consist of absolute identical beings.
Consider the people Jesus drew alongside him. The twelve disciples who were closest to him included fishermen, a tax collector, a political/religious activist, and more. After spending three years by Jesus’ side they continued in their individuality. Even after the Holy Spirit came on Jesus’ followers following his resurrection, they still showed remarkable diversity in the way they lived out their faith.
Peter and John preached together for a while but eventually split up and Peter settled on the coast, while John traveled far to the north to reach out to people completely unlike the neighbors he grew up with on the shores of Galilee. John’s brother James, on the other hand, stayed in Jerusalem, the big city also so unlike their home town, to lead the infant fellowship of believers. It got him killed. The government didn’t like this new movement of faith and went right to the top to stop it by getting rid of the person who seemed to be in charge. James was dead, yet the church continued to grow even without his leadership.
That’s the thing about belonging to Jesus. No one is really in charge, and no one really has a say in how everyone else is supposed to behave. Any time I see a new church or movement claiming to be Christian, I figure I should wait to see if it can survive the removal or death of its founder. One thing I’ve discovered is that if there is a leadership crisis and the church closes up shop or the movement folds, then it was probably more about the leader trying to make people do things his way (and usually it was a man in charge) rather than pointing people to Jesus.
Christianity survived the death of James – and Peter, and John, and Phoebe, and Priscilla, and Aquila, and Lydia, and Paul, and Timothy, and Barnabas and all the other people we read of in the Bible – because our faith is about Christ and not about them. It continues to survive despite what some leaders today are trying to do in making their followers in their own images. Their movements might fall, but the church will stand.
And as people who belong to Jesus’ family, as the people who each make up the body of Christ, as the church universal that stands for eternity in God’s kingdom, we also will not fall but forever remain with God.