The New Testament is unequivocal and repetitive: that this whole creation exists by and for Jesus Christ. Everything before Jesus’ reconciling work on the cross points toward him, … and everything since then points back to him, and to his cross. Paul says that Jesus is the one in whom the “mystery hidden for the ages is now revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:26). He is called: “the alpha and omega of all things.” … and yet how easily, or how inadvertently that role as the One who is the center of time and eternity is marginalized inside the church community in its priorities and in its self-understanding.

In the eighteenth century, in the middle-Atlantic states this marginalization was surfaced by a couple of “new-light” Presbyterians, William and Gilbert Tennent, who preached and published a famous sermon: “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.” They saw in the “old light” (or traditional) Presbyterians an indifference by the clergy of the need of new life in Christ, and so saw in the ministry only a role as ‘church professionals’, and so lived very non-exemplary lives and muted their role as models and mentors to the church.

When the Tennent’s sermon began to take effect, the public began to respond and an awakening took place among the clergy, and as their lives of joyous faith and obedience emerged they began to preach the need of a joyous assurance of salvation. This became a wave of life and was part of the ‘great awakening’ in those middle colonies.

It behooves every church community, and every participant to do regular inventory on how faithfully we are incarnating all that Jesus came to be and to do … beginning with the church leadership. We are not called to a sterile sort of institutional faith, but to joyous new life and assurance of our place in God’s mission that is visible and tangible and contagious. This includes, especially, church leaders. A divinity degree or a diploma from a theological school does not guarantee anything other than an academic accomplishment. Seminaries are often the breeding grounds of a kind of ‘Christian agnosticism.’

You might do your pastor a favor by inviting him/her for coffee or drinks, … and then asking him/her about their faith-relationship with Jesus—become pastor to your pastor. After all, all things exist by and for Jesus Christ. He/she should gladly share with you his/her joy in their new life in Christ. My late-wife and I were visiting a seminary some years ago, and were having dinner with a couple of friendly professors. When there came a lull in the conversation, my Betty asked the tenured professor of New Testament: “Marty, how did you come to know Jesus Christ as your savior?” His mouth dropped open, and then he laughed and replied: “Betty, I have been a professor here for several years, and that is the first time anyone ever asked me about my relationship to Jesus Christ.”

The New Testament teaching about the centrality of Jesus and the One by whom and for whom all things exist is like the sunshine that brings life and blessing, that creates us and the community as “the sweet aroma of Christ unto God.” Jesus Christ should be the passion of every participant in the church by the working of the Spirit of Jesus in their lives. Our faith is one of the heart as well as the head. Yellow lights should begin to blink and signal to us when Jesus is marginalized or taken for granted, and should instigate a self-correcting course.

He is, after all, the center of time and eternity. We need to be in-synch with him individually and communally. That is what conversion creates: joyous new life and obedience to Jesus. There are a lot of church communities that have long-ago ceased to have integrity, ceased to be salt and light, because they haven’t kept the glory of Christ as their basic motivation. Meanwhile, new joyous Christ-centered communities sprout up and flourish. Christ is irresistibly building his church, and he is its chief cornerstone. Amen.

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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  1. Craig Wertz says:

    Nice post. Thanks

  2. Jermaine Ladd says:

    but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,-1 Cor 1:23

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