In 1933, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in Germany and began to systematically transform Germany into a totalitarian state. They eliminated all opposition, and all power was consolidated within the Führer himself. From there, he proceeded to implement his nationalistic, militaristic, and racist policies. As part of his agenda, Hitler saw the local churches of Germany as an important ideological battleground. In order to increase and galvanize his influence, he sought to unify all of the Protestant churches of Germany into one state-sponsored, pro-Nazi Church. And thousands of churches and pastors caved in under the pressure.
But from the very beginning there was also a resistance movement. Many churches and their leaders stood in opposition to this development on moral and theological grounds, eventually calling themselves the “Confessing Church.” They recognized that capitulating to the power of the Nazi state would eventually eliminate their doctrinal freedom, corrupt their theology, and compromise their prophetic witness.
Therefore, in May of 1934 these Christians gathered and drafted a document known as the “Barmen Declaration.” Against a climate of totalitarian control, the Barmen Declaration was an unmistakable resolution of absolute surrender to the supreme authority of Christ. Through this document, these opposition leaders were issuing a clarion call to the churches of Germany to repent of their cowardice and to pledge their allegiance to Christ, not Hitler.
This prophetic boldness is possible only for those who clearly understand and embrace the gospel announcement of the New Testament. Though we live in a world that is fundamentally broken and beyond human repair, the good news is that God intends to salvage and redeem it. Through his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Christ has defeated the powers and principalities that keep the world bound in evil and has now ascended as Lord of all, ruling heaven and earth and making all things new. The Confessing Church understood the implications these truths had upon their lives—that God cares about the current affairs of the world, the risen Christ has given us a path we must follow, and our devotion belongs to him who reigns over all. Because the Confessing Church had a deep grasp of these realities, they were able to resist the evils of their generation and embody a faithful witness for Christ.
Now it is our turn. In the midst of the moral darkness of our twenty-first century world, Christians must pledge our allegiance to Christ as our reigning king and embrace his vision for human life and society right now. The people of this world need more than a get-out-of-hell-for-free card. They need a new Master. A new Ruler. A new Teacher who can show us the path that leads to life. His name is Jesus Christ. And everything about our lives must orbit around him.
In the midst of a culture characterized by power-hunger, greed, pride, violence, lust, celebrity-worship, and unbridled ambition, we must live the way our Master taught us to live and trust his agenda for the world right now. Our churches must gather around his teaching and become crucibles of transformation where people are learning how to walk with Jesus on the path of peacemaking, mercy, forgiveness, longsuffering, self-denial, and love of enemies.
As we fully embrace this vision, we may discover that not every churchgoer may actually be interested in being formed in the Jesus way. Nevertheless, our commission remains unchanged. Jesus bluntly told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). These are not the words of a slick salesman attempting to bait-and-switch his audience. This is a straight-forward description of the deep-rooted commitment Christ expects all of his apprentices to share. Granted, it would take years for these original disciples to fully understand this calling and live with radical fidelity to Christ. And Jesus was certainly patient with them along the journey. But from the very beginning, he was always leading them towards this trajectory of self-denial and obedience unto death.
Our mission is not to simply secure decisions for Christ in order to save souls for the afterlife. This language would have sounded quite strange in the ears of the apostles, and it bears little resemblance to the content of the message found in the New Testament. Our heavenly task is to be communities of people who are following the path of Christ, adhering to the way of life that he taught and modeled, and leading others in the same. Our primary aim is not to cure social ills. Nor is it to numerically grow our churches. Nor is it to expand our influence over culture. To be clear, these effects are certainly not wrong or evil. In fact, they are often the eventual byproducts of true kingdom advancement. But none of them define the target of our heavenly assignment.
The mission of our churches is quite simply to come under the reign of Christ and learn to walk in his footsteps wherever they may lead us. He is our rabbi. And we are his apprentices who have gathered together to learn his way of life in an age of individualism, consumerism, and secularism. Rather than allowing “isms” like these to pervert our precious faith, may we recapture the radical and subversive character of authentic Christianity encapsulated within the Beatitudes.
I have come to believe that the greatest and most effective witness for Christ in the twenty-first century will not emerge from the stylistic appeal of our worship gatherings. Nor will it emerge from some brilliant outreach program or assimilation strategy (though these may be vital components).
It will emerge from gathered communities of people who have become so thoroughly formed in the way of Jesus, and who have allowed the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to so infiltrate every fiber of their being and every extremity of their lives, that the society around them cannot help but sit up and notice, “These people have been with Jesus.”
[This excerpt is taken from the the Afterword of Jesus People: Communities Formed by the Beatitudes which releases September 18, 2021. The e-book version is now available for pre-order. The hardcover and paperback editions will be available for purchase on the release date.]
 See Revelation 21:5.
 See Matthew 28:18-20.