Update: See also It’s Not About Us
I am a long-term staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ who has believed that it was time for a change in our movement’s name. Last Monday the announcement was made that our U.S. ministries would become “Cru.” In this article I am speaking for myself and not for Campus Crusade’s senior leaders.
For me the change was welcome. Not all are so convinced it’s a good thing. Some observers in the blogosphere have taken a cautious stance—Touchstone, for example—but a few members of the press and some bloggers have been sharply critical of Campus Crusade’s dropping “Christ” from our movement’s name. I’ve seen headlines like, “The Beginning of the End.” I’ve seen dire warnings that we are falling away from Christ. I’ve seen pastors writing that their churches could no longer support us in our apparent apostasy.
No Place for Pride
We recognize that anything is possible: there is no guarantee that God will keep his hand of blessing on our ministry, and those who think they stand must take heed lest they fall. When Bill Bright left Campus Crusade’s presidency, I wrote up a study for leaders on how prior movements had come and gone, and I learned there were more than a few that had slipped away from their founding vision in Christ. Possibly the greatest missions sending movement of all time is one that’s all but lost to memory today: the Student Volunteer Movement. For decades around the turn of the 20th century it had been vibrant, world-changing, sending thousands around the globe;, but theological liberalism led to its downfall around 1920. The Y (its official name now) was originally the Young Men’s Christian Association. Its Christian roots are all but invisible now.
We’re Holding Close to Christ
Still, as I wrote yesterday, I wish everyone could have experienced what we staff members did on the days this name change was announced. It was above all a time of worship, repentance from sin, exalting the name of Christ, re-affirming our commitment to our mission, and learning new ways to advance the glory and knowledge of Christ. We spent hours on that. Included in that mix there was also about 60 or so minutes on the new name, but even that was positioned in context of our continuing mission to reach the world for Christ. For that reason, even though I know anything is possible, I remain convinced Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) will stay focused on knowing Jesus Christ and making him known, for at least as long as the current generation of leaders is with us. And because of their leadership, and because of the biblical reverence and worship expressed among our staff members, I believe we’ll continue on track with Christ for years beyond that.
A Biblical Perspective
What does the Bible say about our name, though? Much of the debate I’ve seen centers around one question: should we bring the Name of Christ with us as a banner everywhere we go, or can it stay in the background for a while sometimes? As “Campus Crusade for Christ,” we see the banner effect all the time: people see our written material or signs, and they form impressions of us right from the start, based on whatever impression they might have of Christ or of other Christians. The same thing happens to us when someone asks us who we work for.
Is there a problem with that? Some bloggers think we’re “backing away” from the Name of Christ because of shame. Not by any means! It’s no accident that one of our leaders focused on Romans 1:16 at our staff conference this week. And there was nothing extraordinary about him doing so: it’s engraved on all of our hearts. Still the question remains, is it necessary or even helpful, though, to present the name of Christ at the beginning of a conversation with a non-believer? Let’s look at the New Testament witness.
John chapter 9 is devoted to the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. It begins with Jesus and the disciples having a short theological discussion with this man in the background. There is no indication that the blind man knows who Jesus is. Then He heals him. A spat with the Jewish leaders ensues: who was this man who did this, and why did he do it on the Sabbath? This newly-sighted man knew very little: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25, ESV).
When Jesus meets him again at the end of the chapter, the conversation goes like this:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus ministers first and reveals His identity later. All of His ministry, in fact, could be seen as a gradual unfolding of his identity. The disciples finally caught on to it at His resurrection; but even then we have instances of Jesus ministering first and revealing later who He was (Luke 24:13-35, for example).
When He was in dialogue with the Pharisees toward the end of His ministry on earth, He often withheld from answering their full questions. He seemed to follow a rule of revealing as much as they were ready to receive, but no more than that.
The Apostles’ Example
There was no named ministry organization in the early church. There were only men and women who followed Christ and ministered in his name. Wherever they went they carried the Name of Christ with them, but not on business cards—and not always at the start of every conversation.
At the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13ff), Paul started on common ground with his Jewish listeners, reviewing their common history and scriptures together. He took some time preparing to introduce the Name of Christ. The Phllippian jailer experienced an encounter with Christ’s power and was ready to be saved before he heard the Name (Acts 16:25-31). Although it’s possible he heard Paul and Silas singing hymns to Christ, more likely he was out of earshot until Paul called out “with a loud voice.”
On the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34), Paul doesn’t even mention the Name. He starts from common ground with the Greeks, and moves on to preach of One God and of the Resurrection.
Forming a Biblical Principle
Of course it’s true that on many occasions the apostles began their messages by naming Christ openly. It’s just that they didn’t do it every time. They were flexible according to the audience’s needs, which in every case was to hear of Christ in the most accurate and winsome way.
We 21st century believers ought to follow their example of flexibility. Ephesians 4:29 tells us to tailor our words according to the need of the moment, to give grace to those who hear. It is not the case— it cannot be—that we must always—inflexibly—bring up the name of Christ at the start of every conversation. To do so would be to adopt a strategy that is not only ineffective, but contrary to the biblical example.
Now, do we always move toward the Name of Christ? Of course, and as quickly as possible. There is no Good News without Jesus. Cru has no mission apart from Jesus. No mission or church does. We have no life apart from Him. But it is not always necessary or wise to begin with the Name. Consider for example the rough unbeliever whose only experience with the Name of Christ is as a cuss word, along with an impression of holier-than-thou sanctimony and conservative politics. When he hears Christ brought up in conversation with no context or preparation, he’s likely to run away. If instead he receives some ministry first, or maybe hears the message told in story form building toward Christ (as the Bible does it, in fact), there’s a much greater chance he’ll be open to listening.
So the principle in summary is: Talk about Christ, share his good news in the power of the Holy Spirit, urge others to follow Him; but do so wisely; be flexible to do it in a manner that is least likely to raise needless barriers and most likely to win them over.
One blogger said this was sneaky and underhanded: “stealth” ministry, he (or she) called it. If so, then Jesus and the apostles are guilty of the same. But that’s not what it is at all. Cru will not hide our devotion to Christ any more than Campus Crusade for Christ has done, which is not at all. It is not deceitful to use wisdom in how one brings forth Christ’s Name in conversation; rather it is (by definition) the wise thing to do.
Campus Crusade for Christ staff members have known this for a long time. When a seat-mate on an airplane asks, “What do you do?” I usually answer, “I’m a writer and a strategist.” I know that’s likely to open the door for a longer talk: “Oh, really? What do you write about?” From there the conversation flows, and there’s plenty of opportunity to introduce Jesus.
Applying the Principle
There are times when the first thing I want to talk about with someone is Jesus Christ. There are other times when I know that beginning there would shut down all conversation from the start. For the sake of being biblical and for effectiveness in my mission, I need to be able to be flexible in my approach. That’s not easy when the first thing the person knows about me is that I work with Campus Crusade for Christ. It takes that conversational option away from me.
The same thing that happens to me individually also happens in larger contexts. If the poster for a meeting includes, “Sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ,” some people will run away as far as they can get—because of the Name of Christ there. They’ll continue to believe whatever false view of Jesus they might have, and they’ll miss the opportunity to hear the truth about Him.
Does this mean we absolutely had to drop the name “Christ” from our organization? No; the real problem with our name (as I saw it, at least) was “Campus,” which overlooks a large proportion of what we do, and “Crusade,” which has gained serious negative associations as awareness of Islam has increased. Those two terms were the reason we needed to change. Once the door opened for a change, though, our leaders judged correctly that there is nothing unbiblical in not having the Name of Christ in the name of our mission. It can actually free us up to become more effective and (in the sense I’ve outlined above) more biblical in our witness.
For sixty years, Campus Crusade for Christ has partnered with thousands of churches and mission agencies in taking the name of Christ to billions of people around the world. Cru is committed to doing the same for as long as the Lord allows.
(Cross-posted at gilsonministry.org, where I have included a link for CCC/Cru staff members to borrow this material if they wish, and at First Things: Evangel)