I have been helping some of my fellow pastors prepare for their theology exams which are given in preparation to become Elders in the United Methodist Church. One of the questions that is asked concerns how do we interpret the concept that “Jesus is Lord.” It seems to me that our position on that question strikes at the root of many of the problems in the American Christian church today.
First of all, there was a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used by the writers of the New Testament and it used the Greek word for “Lord” in several places for God. Therefore, when the New Testament writers applied the word “Lord” to Jesus, they understood that they were, in effect, linking him to God Almighty. In addition, there was the common understanding that one’s master in a slave-master relationship was “lord.” To apply the phrase to Jesus Christ was to acknowledge him as God and to state that he was the ultimate ruler of one’s life.
This type of relationship with Jesus Christ was the reason that early Christians refused to bow down to Roman emperors who demanded to be recognized as gods. Most of the emperors realized that they were not really gods, but they wanted to use the recognition as a type of loyalty oath. Christians often tried to avoid confrontation but, when put to the test, stood fast and said that their true loyalty was to Jesus as Lord.
If you read the New Testament, you surely will recognize that the whole thrust of the testimony is geared toward this confession that Jesus is Lord. It is not about the individual believer. Let me be even more blunt: it is not about us. Of course, God loved us enough to send Christ as our Savior and he died for our sins. But we owe him our allegiance as Lord.
In the modern church, we have turned this completely backwards. It has become more and more about what the church can do for us. If we do not like the youth program, then we will go up the street to the Presbyterian Church. Don’t like the new preacher? Well, there are dozens around. Make a commitment to the church? If something better comes along, then why should you have to miss that opportunity? Church is not important. Or you might go all in and simply criticize the church on Facebook. You can be the best Christian in the world on Facebook and never have to go to church at all.
Somewhere along the line, we might want to remember that “Jesus is Lord” was the bedrock confession of the early Christians. Does it even ring a bell to us anymore?