I grew up in the Bible Belt. In those days, almost nobody worked on Sundays. We prayed before class, ball games and meals — even in the name of Jesus — whether we believed it or not. We proudly displayed the Ten Commandments in our courthouses — whether we obeyed them or not. These were the days when nearly 75 percent of the population went to church on Sunday morning. I’m eternally grateful for my upbringing. But the truth is, living in the Bible Belt didn’t make me a disciple of Jesus any more than standing in my garage makes me a Ford F-150.
Jesus grew up in the Bible Belt, or at least the first century version of it. He constantly confronted a civic religion built on the traditions of man rather than the commandments of God. Jesus pulled no punches with this civic religion, saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Matthew 15:8, NASB). According to Jesus, the mouth is way too quick to confess agreement with religious traditions while hiding a heart that’s in full rebellion against God. Jesus called men and women to a radical faith that stood in contrast to the religious traditions of society. Needless to say, Jesus’ group of followers looked remarkably different.
Jesus called men and women to a radical faith that stood in contrast to the religious traditions of society. Needless to say, Jesus’ group of followers looked remarkably different.
Consider the local churches that dotted the landscape of the Roman Empire. Roman civic religion separated people by age, sex, class, profession and race, just to name a few. But the Christian churches brought them all together. Here, in Christian fellowship, people from every walk of life found unity in Christ. In Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church he calls this unity the “attraction…that must be guarded at all costs” if the Christian mission is to succeed.
So what does that look like in the 21st century? The gospel truth is that followers of Jesus in rural North Carolina have more in common with black, Hispanic and Asian believers than they do with unbelievers from their own race.
I don’t need to tell you how remarkably different this type of fellowship will look to your neighbors. And this is only one example where the commands of Christ confront those religious traditions so common in the Bible Belt. But until the followers of Jesus demonstrate this level of radical obedience, the noise of our behavior will speak so loudly that the world will not be able to hear our Savior calling, “Come follow me, and I’ll make y’all fishers of men.”