Is What You Have ‘Sneezable’?
Viral faith is exactly that—viral. It spreads like a contagion and creates an entire movement. These viral movements are not and cannot be controlled by human intervention. In fact, one of the worst things we can do is try to control them.
his is the gospel set loose, the gospel moving so fast that we aren’t concentrating on preaching the gospel. Instead, we’re focused on the issue Jesus actually told us to concentrate on: making disciples. Jesus’ Great Commission tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
In the original language the command is to make disciples. The other actions describe what that looks like. Jesus is the one in control here. He’s the one with all the authority. We just play our part, which is to make disciples. We baptize them. We teach them how to obey everything Jesus commands, but we don’t control what is happening. Every move we make is done in His power, under His direction.
As we make disciples, they then become the newly infected ones with the Jesus virus, and they start to “sneeze.” Alan Hirsch explains this in his book, The Forgotten Ways: “This reference to sneezing is not just whimsical. We know from the study of ideas that they spread in patterns very similar to that of viral epidemics. We also know that in order to really take hold and become an ‘epidemic,’ they have to be easily transferred from one person to another. And to do this they need to be profound and yet simple—easily grasped by any person, and in many cases illiterate peasants.”
True discipleship—led by Jesus Himself—is “sneezable.” It spreads just like a highly contagious disease spreads. And as Hirsch points out, for something to be contagious it has to be simple. Simple is not the same thing as simplistic. Simple means that it is clear, understandable and uncomplicated. Simplistic, on the other hand, means that it has been dumbed down. It removes anything that is hard to understand or tries to explain it to the last detail. Christianity is quite simple, but it is not simplistic.
What happens when someone begins to follow a Jesus he or she is actually encountering? What happens when Jesus begins to actually lead small gatherings of believers? What happens when they all start obeying Him, even when it seems foolish and counterintuitive, even irrational? What happens is that the gospel begins to spread like a contagion. It spreads easily because what’s being spread is Jesus Himself, not a complex set of systematic doctrines. Yet what is being spread will be doctrinally sound because it is the Jesus of the Bible to whom new Christians are being introduced. It is His Spirit who inspired the writing of the Bible. He won’t contradict His own writing.
New Christians in this type of simple viral gospel movement come to know Christ personally, often through experiencing a miracle, sign or wonder. From that point on, they expect Jesus to be supernaturally powerful. They don’t need to be convinced; they’ve already experienced a vital and viral Jesus. And as a result, they begin to tell their friends. They don’t need to be told what to do; Jesus is doing that by reigning in their hearts. That’s why the gospel begins to spread like a virus. The new Christians are out sneezing it to all of their friends.
Once a movement like this gets started, those of us who have more experience will have our hands full just teaching the new Christians how to obey Christ in community. We’ll need to teach them to distinguish which of their experiences is actually Jesus and which is the world, their flesh or the devil. That is simple, but it won’t be simplistic or necessarily easy. It will be a lot of hard but rewarding work. It will be messy. It will be taxing, and it will be exciting.
Our Humanistic Problem
To carry a viral faith and to guide others toward one that’s equally contagious begins with simple, viral discipleship. My first experience with discipleship was with a well-known campus ministry. As a new Christian, I was given a series of topical books to look over that would introduce me to the basic doctrines of Christianity. These books were short-answer books where a question would be posed, a few verses would be suggested, and I would fill in the answer. I learned many more things from this study than was intended.
I learned that Christianity was boring. Actually what I learned was that this aspect of Christianity was boring. I was excited about Jesus saving me from my sin—that I could start over and that I finally felt clean. I didn’t desire to do the things I used to do. Particularly God had taken away my desire for alcohol, carousing and swearing.
What amazes me now is that no one actually explained to me that this was evidence of the Holy Spirit working in my life. No one explained to me how to access and walk in supernatural power to overcome new areas of brokenness in my life. I was told about confessing sin and asking the Spirit to control my life, which was good. But nobody explained to me what the control of the Spirit really was. No one explained and trained me to hear God’s voice, to discern God’s voice, to trust God’s voice and obey. Instead, I was told to read the Bible. I was trained that if I knew my Bible and its doctrines I would be a good Christian. I actually had more of a relationship with the Bible than I did with Jesus.
Much of what I learned at this time was good. Bible knowledge is a good thing. So is memorizing Scriptures, studying the Bible and all that I learned about prayer. I’m deeply grateful to the campus ministers who poured their hearts and souls into me. Looking back now, I know they truly loved me. The problem wasn’t with the campus ministers, nor was it with much of what they taught or modeled.
The problem was the underlying system and worldview that was being unintentionally taught along with all that was good and right. Further, it was what could and should have been taught and modeled but wasn’t. I was taught the rudimentary issues of following Jesus (prayer, Bible study and memorization), but it didn’t go very deep. I was taught that Christianity was basically informational. What I didn’t learn was how to listen to Jesus’ voice in the myriad ways He can speak to us. I was not taught to compare what I was hearing to the Bible, nor how to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit to obey God’s communication with me. I wasn’t taught to discern God’s voice from my own, or the world’s or the evil one’s. I wasn’t taught the life of faith as I learned to trust the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. In effect, I was tacitly taught to be a follower of the evangelical branch of Christendom’s system, as it is currently expressed in the West. What I wasn’t really taught was how to have a deep, abiding relationship with God.
This is largely due to how deeply humanism has crept into our modern, Western understanding of Christianity. As Brother Yun says in his book, Living Water: “Today much of Christian activity seems to originate with human plans, and it is then carried out in human strength, with human results. It has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. The world does not need any more religion! It needs Jesus Christ.”
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines humanism as “a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially: a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason.” The basic issue of humanism is that humans make the decisions and cause things to happen by their own will and ability, using their own rational intellect. We may do this for the best of intentions, but since we started from the wrong place and are functioning with the wrong operating system, we end up in a very desperate situation. We’re lost in the woods thinking we know where we are going; yet all the time we’re moving farther and farther away from home, away from God.
We’ve brought this same humanism into discipleship. Hence we focus on such things as witnessing techniques, small group dynamics and biblical doctrine. None of this is wrong, in and of itself. The problem is the source of our accomplishment. We aren’t asking some prior questions. Rather than asking what is a good technique of sharing the gospel, perhaps we should ask: Did God set up this witnessing situation? How is He leading us to share the gospel? Instead of asking how can I utilize good small group dynamics to lead this group, perhaps we should ask how is God leading in the small group? Through whom does He want to minister? How is the Holy Spirit activating the truth of the Bible into our lives though His power?
Humanism strips away from us the tendency to look to God instead of ourselves. It isn’t that God has lost contact with us; rather, humanistic Christendom teaches us to rely on our own abilities.