In 1985 the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formula for its flagship soda. Perhaps this may not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind I'm not talking about adding a new product like Cherry Coke, Diet Coke, or Vanilla Coke. Coca-Cola did the unthinkable and decided that the original Coca-Cola needed a new formula.
Obviously, we can guess how America would react to such a decision.
I'm not old enough to remember such a suggestion, but based on my reaction when my soda at McDonalds doesn't have the right carbonation, I have a feeling that I wouldn't have been too fond of the changed formula.
What did Coca-Cola do wrong?
Think about it; where did Coca-Cola go wrong? They didn't make an advertising mistake. They didn't misappropriate their advertising funds and not get the word out appropriately. It wasn't an innovation problem; they have been and continue to be a company that innovates—innovation in their business wasn't the issue. It wasn't even a flavor problem; the new flavor may have actually been better tasting.
In 1985 the problem that Coca-Cola was experiencing was that they suffered from a severe case of corporate amnesia. Coca-Cola forgot what makes Coke, Coke. Today when you buy a Coke, you'll see on the can clearly written, "Coca-Cola Classic." This is the brand that Coca-Cola had forgotten when they made the tragic decision to change the formula.
You see, even before label "Coca-Cola Classic," they were always the classic, tried and true soda experience. And when Coca-Cola changed the formula, they were abandoning who they were. This is why a can of Coca-Cola today will have a little note reminding you, "original formula." Because Coca-Cola eventually had to admit, "We screwed up. We forgot who we were." Coca-Cola, for a moment in 1985, tried to act more like Pepsi than Coke.
This same thing happens in the Church all the time.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 that the Church exists around one simple message:
"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
The brand, if you will, of the Church of Jesus is "Jesus Christ and him crucified." Paul understands that as he preaches. It's not about how catchy his speech is or how captivating the music is. It's all about one thing; Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
But throughout the history of the church, we routinely forget what makes the Church, the Church. We forget what sets us apart. We forget that we exist to declare and demonstrate the forgiveness of sins. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, reformers have had to step in a remind people that we have drifted away from the message of Christ for sinners. When the message of grace gets abandoned, we forget what makes the Church, the Church. When the message of grace gets forgotten, we transform our preachers into motivators, congregations into clubs, and the good news into good works.
When grace is replaced with works, hope is replaced with despair. When "it is finished" is replaced with "Just do it," we are given a task list instead of Gospel rest. The message of forgiveness of sins is and will always be what makes Church, Church.
May our churches and our people find themselves captivated by the one thing that makes Church, Church. May our people find themselves furious when their congregations suffer from a Gospel amnesia that forgets the God who rescued them. And may we, as Christians, be resolved to stick with the original formula of what makes us Christian—Jesus Christ and him crucified.