What, pray tell, is an ecclesio-centric church?

Allow me to tread on some delicate territory here, but for good reason.

An ecclesio-centric church is a church focused on its own institutional life, prosperity, and survival. It heralds its commendable preacher, or choir, or youth program, or mission trips to some needy areas, etc. (all of which are good in themselves) … all you have to do is to read the church page (for those who still run such) in Saturday newspapers, or check out a church’s web-site to see this in spades. What comes across is an invitation to “make this church your church home.”

What does not come across as a priority, and as their thrilling raison d’être, is Jesus Christ, who is the reason for, and focus of any authentic church.

What does not come across is the passionate love of God for broken people, for those searching for meaning and hope and future, for those who know they are really screwed up but are too proud to admit it.

What does not come across clearly is that the church (to borrow from my Latin American brothers and sisters) is the “missionary arm of the Holy Trinity” in God’s great search-and-rescue mission in and through Jesus Christ.

Ecclesio-centric churches, like the church at Laodicea (Revelation, chapter 3), have become so unwittingly pre-occupied with their own inner-life and comfortable social relations with each other, … that Christ has been left outside the door, and no one seems to notice! (Even though they would hasten to deny such a charge).

The church is to be the restored community of God’s New Creation (kingdom) in Christ. As such it exists to be the demonstration of that New Creation in communal form. It is to be the demonstration of the welcoming grace and love of God in the behavior and thinking of those who compose it. It is to throb with Christ’s own zeal to seek and to save real messed-up, blind, captive sinners (such as you and me).

So, when that which presents itself as the church is focused on its own inner-life and activities and desirability as a religious institution … and not on its God-given purpose, it is an oxymoron. Right? It becomes a church centered church. Yes, there certainly are almost certainly those smouldering embers of true life and faith in Christ in such, but they tend to be out of sight.

The question comes: Were one (of us), out of some spiritual hungering on a quest to find meaning and hope and forgiveness/acceptance for our lives, … to venture into such a scene, one would most likely find or hear or observe what?


Maybe in my next Blog I will be more positive and seek to spell out some of the life-giving dimensions of a Christ-o-centric church, and communal practices that communicate the sweet aroma of God’s love in Christ.


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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