Do you have Mere Jesus Syndrome (MJS)? It’s a highly communicable disease that causes individuals to say things like: “As long as we both believe in Jesus, everything’s okay” and “why can’t we commune together, since we both believe in Jesus?”
It stems from the belief that “Jesus” is all that matters for Christians. I admit, when one first hears the symptoms, one might be tempted to say, “What’s the big deal? Christians have to believe in Jesus to be saved; isn’t salvation the most important thing?” And who can argue with that? In terms of my individual person, my salvation certainly seems to be the most important thing. And to some extent, this is true. But there are some assumptions that go along with MJS that must be challenged.
First, sufferers of MJS assume that Jesus can be divided from His teaching. It might sound like this: “We both believe that Jesus died for our sins, right? Why do we need to worry about whether we teach different things about communion and baptism? We’re both saved. All the rest of that stuff is secondary.” And, of course, that’s true. It is all secondary–but only if it is assumed that, one, Jesus brings His salvation to you in some ethereal, spiritual way apart from means; and, two, that Jesus’ salvation ultimately has little or nothing to do with the rest of what He said. MJS inoculation number one: Jesus never works apart from His divinely ordained means; and He does not say anywhere that if you’re saved (whatever that might mean and whatever it might look like), you can call relatively unimportant what He calls part of “everything I have commanded you.” Finally, it makes no sense for a Christian to divide up Jesus and His gifts and pick and choose among which he will receive. Can you really say that you’ve confessed Jesus as Lord if you refuse some of His gifts?
Second, MJS sufferers have been known to be overtaken by the delusion that they, being “saved,” can now decide which parts of Jesus’ teaching are church divisive, and which are not. This symptom must be observed very carefully, because it looks very similar to the non-MJS assertion that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are very important, and other things less so. The decisive diagnostic is whether the person in question holds to the same things to which Jesus holds. If the person holds, with every Christian denomination of which I know (minus Rome and the other five sacraments), that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two gifts which Christ Himself explicitly instituted, it seems strange that he or she would then go on to deny that they are unimportant next to salvation. This, of course, contains the assumption that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are somehow disconnected from salvation. If they are not salvation-bearing and salvation-bringing, then they are indeed secondary. If, however, they impart forgiveness of sins, new life, and closer fellowship with God through His Son Jesus in the Spirit (what else is salvation?), then the question of whether they are essential to any discussions of salvation and Christian unity is moot. MJS inoculation number two: Baptism is how God brings you into His life of salvation and the Supper of His Son is how He constantly renews that relationship and keeps you in it (along with confession and absolution). Without a doubt, if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive it, and He does as we are drowned in repentance and rise to new life daily. But, what MJS sufferers often fail to recognize is that baptism is not a one-time event, but a daily renewal. So then there really is nothing outside baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are promised nothing else and we can be certain of nothing else. Even private confession and absolution, where forgiveness is promised by Christ, is but an exercise of our baptismal promise.
Third, the MJS sufferer will often speak in terms of “I” and “you” and “me.” There is little to no recognition of the whole Body of Christ, though statements are often couched in terms of the minimum for belonging to the Church (a condition which is closely related to MJS: Mere Church Syndrome [MCS]). Rather, what really counts is whether you and I get along and whether we know each other to be Christians. It doesn’t really matter whether you attend a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Non-Denominational congregation; as long as we all believe in Jesus. MJS inoculation number three: ask the question, which Jesus do you believe in? The answer should get you further along the road to discerning whether the person actually has MJS or, as in some hypochondriacs, only believes he or she has it.
Fourth, to be as explicit as possible, those afflicted with MJS assume that Jesus’ doctrine is divisible. They ask the question, implicitly or explicitly, “Jesus, did you really mean this to be that important?” Of course not! (That’s what I thought.) But you essentially deny Jesus when you deny His teaching. Jesus is what He says and He says what He is. They are inseparable. Thus, those who disagree about His two explicitly-instituted gifts are disagreeing about who He is. Until that disagreement is worked out, there is no unity. Thus, regardless of whether we all get to heaven in the end, we cannot bring the eschaton before Jesus does by assuming that all of the rest of Jesus’ teaching is secondary. He will tell us at that time whether we have erred or not. Until then, the best inoculation for MJS is to take Him at His Word.