In my last Blog I described the all-too-familiar phenomenon of the ecclesio-centric church in which a church communities become focused primarily on their own communal life: church activities, their buildings, professional staff, etc. …and in which Jesus is relegated to the margins. At the end of that Blog I tossed off the proposal that in my next (this) Blog I would attempt to spell out what a Christ-o-centric church might look like.

I think that in such a proposal I have bitten-off more than I can chew, and will certainly raise more questions than I can answer. But let me dive in anyhow. A Christ-o-centric church would look like a community of Christ-o-centric disciples!

The very reality that there are so many such ecclesio-centric churches (especially in the western world, and in our post-Christian North American scene) makes insistent upon us that we realize that we need an alternative imagination in order to see beyond what is, and what is deficient, … to what an authentic Christ-o-centric (Christ-centered) community might consist of.

[First of all, we need to disabuse ourselves of what Christ-centered means. To be Christ-centered absolutely does not mean some otherworldly, church-ified spirituality. Quite the contrary to be Christ-centered is to be very much this worldly, it has the meaning of earthiness and reality all over it. Jesus Christ was the one who consorted with real sinners: crooks, prostitutes, profane fishermen, and all manner of broken human beings.]

First, a Christ-centered church can only become a reality if it is composed of Christ-centered men and women who are intentionally formed by the data of the life and teachings of Jesus, and such formation makes them to be totally counter-cultural. They are formed by knowing the data of his life and teachings. They are formed by the promises of Jesus with all of the accepting, forgiving, grace and love which Jesus offers to such real broken folks such as we. They are formed by the demands of Jesus to the effect that they are called to a life of obedience to his commands, to his Sermon on the Mountain lifestyle, and to his requirements of being engaged in his mission of demonstrating and heralding his New Creation to the whole human race, beginning right where we are.

Such formation is called: disciple-making. We are to become those who are imitators of Christ because: we are inhabited by his own Spirit.

Paul reinforced this goal when he tells the Ephesians that all of Christ’s people are to be equipped “for the work of ministry, for building up of the body of Christ [the church] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ …” (Ephesians 4:12ff).

Now take note: Here is where the breakdown comes which produces ecclesio-centric churches. When this primary discipline of disciple-making is displaced, or diluted, or marginalized, or forgotten, … then participation in the church doesn’t require much besides our membership. And what happens is that: churches become inhabited by unconverted believers, and church communities become only what Bonhoeffer described as religious Christianity, which is so conformed to its social context that it becomes of no effect as a Kingdom force.

(To be continued)

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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