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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
June 09, 2014
On Campus and Off, We’re Sticking with Jesus
Jesus says some hard things. He wants to know who is really serious about following him. Who will trust him when adversity comes? Or when he’s unpopular? Or when obedience to him comes at great cost to us?
One time, when Jesus was speaking to a crowd, he said this: “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:53-54).
Today when we read John 6 we know that Jesus was alluding to his death and resurrection that made reconciliation with God possible for us. True, eternal, full life is only found when we acknowledge Jesus as both our Savior and Lord and invite him to come into our lives and reign.
But for the Jews listening that day, Jesus’ shocking words were nothing short of heretical. Offensive, even. Many who had been following Jesus deserted him, saying, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”
At that point Jesus turned to his twelve disciples—his closest friends and seemingly most devoted followers. “Are you also going to leave?” he asked them.
It was a legitimate question. And this wasn’t the first time the Twelve had had to answer it. Jesus often said or did things that shocked the Jews of his day. He blew their neat, orderly, controlled world to smithereens with his truth. And each time, the disciples could have turned back. Each time, they had to choose whether they would follow the crowd and desert him or stick with Jesus (and thereby be ostracized and excluded from their fellow Jews).
Would they allow the religious leaders of their time to threaten them into submission or would they submit to Jesus?
Would they return to their families when life on the road was hard or trust Jesus to provide what they needed?
Would they buy in to an easier, more comfortable gospel or stick with this revolutionary Jesus?
In answer to Jesus’ question, Simon Peter gives one of the most beautiful statements in Scripture: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
Life on Campus—and Off
InterVarsity is facing a question similar to the one Jesus asked his disciples in John 6: Will you keep following me when adversity comes, when others want nothing to do with me?
More and more frequently, schools are threatening to derecognize student groups who require their leaders to affirm the organization’s core beliefs. Because InterVarsity requires its student leaders to affirm InterVarsity’s Doctrinal Basis, a summary of core Christian beliefs, and to attempt to reflect biblical standards in their choices, some universities have labeled us as discriminatory. And so, on a few campuses, we’ve been dismissed. Derecognized as a student organization. Denied the rights given to other campus clubs.
So what do we do now? What happens when the campuses we’re called to, the campuses we love, want nothing to do with Jesus?
We do what the disciples did: depend on God for courage, continue to invite others to hear Jesus’ (sometimes offensive) message, and continue to act as salt and light on campus and in the world. We believe, like the Twelve, that Jesus has the words of life. And we believe that every time we choose him over the flavor-of-the-day or the easy-way-out or an I’ll-do-it-my-way attitude, he makes us stronger.
Indeed, we know from Scripture that the disciples who stuck with Jesus experienced radical transformation and growth through his Spirit at work in them and through them.
We’re seeing nothing less in our students.
Growing in Faith
At Bowdoin College in Maine, where the InterVarsity chapter was just derecognized, longtime volunteer staff members Robert and Sim Gregory said that “students responded [to the news of derecognition] with faith that God provides for his people.”
“It was tempting to seek unity at the expense of truth,” Robert added. “But the students . . . [understood] that the truth about God and his kingdom announced by and through Jesus was built on truth.” They continued to receive awards for public service on campus. They became even more intentional about showing grace to others as they studied the parables of Jesus. They learned about patience and perseverance and courage.
“Our students spent concentrated times in prayer examining the Scriptures about spiritual courage, and prayed for each other when courage failed,” Robert said. “There were valuable times [in the midst of derecognition] for us to come together to pray for God to address fear, discouragement, and failure . . . when we were tempted to be embarrassed by the gospel and its radical demands.”
Growing in Relationships
Similar things are happening at Rollins College in Florida, which derecognized InterVarsity in 2012. Students faced outright hostility from other students and faculty for appealing the derecognition decision. “It would have been tempting for the students to respond in anger and defensiveness,” Kim Koi, the area director for InterVarsity’s Central Florida region, said, “but instead they chose to respond with grace and compassion, sharing the story and message of Jesus.”
And, in fact, the chapter at Rollins grew during the 2013-2014 school year, even though they could no longer host events on campus or advertise to freshmen. InterVarsity students intentionally invested even more time and energy in relationships with others and, as Kim said, “have learned to walk the line between the hard truths of Scripture and Christlike love for a campus that outright declares they are unwelcome.”
One Rollins student, after wrestling with whether or not he wanted to belong to a group that was clearly hated on campus, chose to become part of InterVarsity anyway. Kim explained, “He knew the gospel is good news, even if it is offensive to our modern sensibilities.” Throughout the year, he developed relationships with atheists and other skeptics on campus while also diving deeply into Scripture to better understand and articulate his own faith. Eventually he and another leader started a discussion group—a safe place for these skeptical friends to ask questions about faith—and they’ve seen a new openness to God and Jesus emerge among the group.
Growing in Influence
At Chico State in California, where derecognition of all InterVarsity chapters at California State system schools seems imminent, students and staff are helping change the culture of the campus.
After five Chico State students died from drug- and alcohol-related causes last fall, the administration began to seriously look at the school’s party culture and ask how it could be changed. The InterVarsity chapter had been reaching out to partying students for years and was thus invited into the conversations taking place, even while the college was simultaneously threatening to derecognize them.
“Students are stepping up to share their transformation stories [of how God used InterVarsity to help them stop partying and find new life in Jesus],” InterVarsity staff member Liz Thrasher-Wheatley said. “In one meeting [InterVarsity staff and students had] with the student body president, she told us that out of four other meetings to do with party culture in Chico, our conversation was the most genuine and compassionate one by far, and we are now included in all alternative event planning for major party weekends.”
What Is—and Isn’t—Changing
As we face derecognition on some campuses and threats of similar decisions on other campuses, many things about our ministry are not changing. We’re continuing to choose to follow Jesus. We’re continuing to call others to follow him. We’re continuing to study Scripture and pray and love students and faculty on college campuses.
A few things, however, are changing. At some schools, we’re now meeting off campus. We’re facing increasing resistance.
But students are changing as well. They’re becoming bolder in sharing about the life they’ve found in Jesus. They’re learning what they believe and why, as well as how to articulate it to others. They’re learning to love others with more intention and grace, even those who don’t want them around.
It’s these things that make us emphatically declare again, in the midst of new challenges, Peter’s powerful words: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”