I’ve been thinking about Jesus’s words to the Pharisees, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Mt. 23:15) The image is stunning, isn’t it. Imagine the group of Pharisees going away on mission to find one convert and coming home to tell the story of how they reached one. “It was all worth it,” they might say, “because we reached one. All of those miles, all of that trouble, for one.”
Jesus, in essence says, “It would have been better to leave him/her alone.”
The thread-count involved in unwinding an issue like this is overwhelming. One thing that I can sense as a warning from Jesus to us in our current day from this text would be, “be careful what you brand.”
Branding is in; it is powerful and can move mountains. But it is safe to say, branding makes a person a slave, to the brand. Over time, we de-humanize people for the sake of upholding the brand. Even if you hate the brand, the brand has a hold on you. There was once an attack on a Nike headquarters, a protest towards Nike because of the way workers are treated in overseas factories. However, whenever the news cameras caught footage of the protestors who were leading the protest, they found that even the protestors, ironically, were wearing Nike shoes and thus affirming, through their purchases, the values of the Nike brand.
When Christianity, or streams of Christianity, become brands, things become awkward. It is interesting when we think about how discipleship goes these days. A person chooses to follow Jesus thinking that the Christian life is simple: love God and love others. However, over time, they begin to pick up new vocabulary and terms, causes, lines of argumentation, etc., that they never imagined they’d have to. “Our brand prefers Free-Will over Predestination, etc.” The rest of his/her Christian life, more or less, is about learning the techniques and lines of argumentation to defend my brand of Christianity over and against the rival Christian brand. All along, being distracted towards being on mission.
The culmination of this is an acute form of martyrdom. We think that faithfulness to our brand is a sign that we are the only faithful ones to Jesus. “We are being faithful to the Scripture text because of our Biblical theology of women in office… we are alone in this one,” or my favorite, “I’m going to take one for the team, here.” (i.e. I really don’t want to believe it, but I need to defend my brand)
Branding is another form of consumption, which isn’t the new humanity Jesus is constructing in our world. Branding isn’t Christianity and if a church/ministry is operating on Branding principles, they may be making their converts a twice a son/daughter of hell, and it might be best to have left them alone.
The pattern of the NT church appears to shatter brands and rhythms whenever possible. Read through the book of Acts again and we’ll see that almost every figment of the brand of God’s people is challenged and pushed aside in place of building the Jesus community. The tomb is empty; Jesus can’t be trapped in anyone’s brand. May we not be resurrection phobic.