Christianity Shouldn’t Be Centered In Christ

by Joel on July 20, 2006

Over the last few years, I’ve become convinced that one of the major weaknesses of Christianity as practiced is that most Christians consider Christianity to be centered in Christ. It shouldn’t be. Rather, Christianity should be centered in the Church, of which Christ is the head. Christianity centered in Christ results in either too little Christ, too individualistic a Christ, too impotent a Christ or even the Christ of civil religion.

Many will protest, perhaps, that the Church is an all-too-human institution. That it is, but one nevertheless ordained by God for witness and mission in the wake of Christ’s death and resurrection. Anyway, we weaken and make all the more fallible that precious institution when we center Christianity in Christ. For when we do that, we don’t fully allow Christ to lead his Church. We can’t truly be the Body of Christ, unless Christ is our head, and by that I mean the Church’s head. When Christianity is centered in Christ, Jesus becomes my personal guru. Then I will participate in the Church to the extent that what you believe about your personal guru matches what I believe about my personal guru. At the point of diverging views, my arm doesn’t need your leg because I have my own little Jesus tucked under my pillow.

No wonder that so many people believe you don’t have to be in church to be a Christian. Here I didn’t capitalize “church” because those non-goers don’t regard it highly enough for it to have a big “C” in its name. When salvation is reduced to “going to heaven when I die” it is understandable that many folks don’t see church as relevant to salvation. They aren’t really thinking of God saving and transforming the world, but only of whether or not they will “get theirs.” Maybe they will, but in the process they will have to watch the world continue to groan. Wars will continue. Famines will be an ever-present reality. Greed will rule. They might even make that simplistic statement that “if only everyone were a Christian the world would be at peace.” Only it won’t, because they will erroneously believe that one is a Christian when one accepts Christ. One may be saved when they accept Christ, but they are a Christian when 1) they are in and of a church that agrees to be part of The Church as headed and led by Christ, and 2) they are part of a church that seeks to enact Christ. Is it really possible to believe in Christ but not in the Church?

Not being entirely in command of proper theological expression, I’ve probably expressed myself inexactly. On the other hand, I think I have explained why so many who claim the Christian faith offer so many prayers that are so parochial. Further, if Christianity were centered in the Church, perhaps American church people would average more than a 3% tithe and we wouldn’t have the embarrassing United Methodist minister (whom I won’t name) who actually wrote in a comment that the church was getting sidetracked by minor issues such as social justice and mission work.

Imagine for a moment that a very popular person is elected president or prime minister, only to find out that his or her powers have been greatly diminished by the abolition of government. Then, the leader could have followers, but no mechanism to govern, no institution through which to enact programs. Of course, Christ is God, and God’s ultimate purposes can’t be thwarted by human shortsightedness. In the meantime, though, the human condition will continue to be that of great suffereing and injustice.

As to our faith, that is what should be centered in Christ — not in Christ alone, but in the Triune God. And then if we truly place our trust in the Savior of the World and the Lord of All Creation, wouldn’t/shouldn’t we also trust that Christ will lead through the Institution he ordained and not merely via a ragtag collection of folks each with their own personal “Jesus”? Of course, we will still have differing Scriptural and theological understandings. However, as Richard has written (sort of, I think), our unity isn’t ultimately in agreement, but in Christ. Christ is the unity.

In a nutshell, here’s my proposition:

Center your faith in Christ, but center Christianity in the Church.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1

DH 07.20.06 at 2:43 pm

I really liked this post. My view is that the center of our Christian Faith and walk IS Christ and the Triune God andthat everything we do should center onChrist. However, I feel the problem the church is facing is in the area of discipleship. Much of the problem is not only the church not preaching God’s Word but also the congregation doesn’t feel the need to pursue discipleship and the responsibilities once a person becomes a Christian. Salvation is by Grace through FAITH and without Faith it is impossible to please God. However, Paul commends us to “walk according to His calling.” or my favorite Scripture “I press toward the goal to win the prize…” These things are things as Believers we must pursue in which we live for Christ for Sanctification after Salvation. When we look at Salvation alone and not the responsibilities after we receive Christ we are disobeying God.

I don’t believe the view you have promotes individualism for individuals must have Faith in Christ for Salvation but it is the lack of promoting the responsibilities and the willingness therein to do those resonsibilities that is the problem . We can have an equal focus on Evangelism and discipleship as presented by Joel without the mutual-exclusivity presented by Joel. However, he wordedthis very well and it has encouraged me. I personally feel Evangelism and Salvation of souls canbepursued with equal and non-detrimental focus as discipleship and the responsibilites therein and viceversa.

2

Kim 07.20.06 at 4:10 pm

Hey, Joel, next stop Rome? :)

After reading your first paragraph I was getting ready to huff and puff, but then I cottoned on to what’s bugging you. You have identifed the widespread heresy of “Jesuology”, i.e. the worship of Jesus apart from the Trinity - and apart from the church. The totus Christus, however, is always Christ-with-the-Father-and-the-Spirit - and Christ-with-his-church.

There is ceratinly no such thing as individualistic Christianity (Wesley’s “solitary religion”). Christianity is an inherently social (and, probably, inevitably institutional) phenomenon, quite simply because God himself is not individualistic (God is Trinity), and because persons themselves are not individualisitic (humanity is co-humanity). But, more, the church is not just a “voluntary association” (a particularly American Protestant heresy), rather the church always precedes the believer (with its scriptures, proclamation and sacraments), so that to come to faith and to become a church member through baptism is, really, a single indivisible event. “The community lives in Christians, Christians live in community” (Barth).

To be sure, the Christian does not believe “in” the church as she believes “in” God (the language of the creeds make this crystal clear), but without the church there would and can be no belief, which is the truth behind Cyprian’s dictum extra ecclesiam, nulla salus. And we are not talking some ideal, “invisible” church here, we are talking real warts-and-all “visible” churches - like the one down the road with six old ladies, each a justified and sanctified sinner, huddled together beneath a leaking roof. This church is the “body of Christ”, which is no “mere” metaphor but the literal truth of the fact that the church is “the part of humanity in which Christ has really taken form” (Bonhoeffer), the social shape of revelation, reconciliation and redemption..

That should oil the conversation!

3

Richard 07.20.06 at 4:18 pm

I thought it was very well put, Joel - but then, I’m no theologian either! ;)

I’m not entirely convinced that you can really seperate ‘faith’ and ‘Christianity’ in any real way. The church is both a source and a result of faith — having faith compels you to the church, and being in the church compels you toward faith I reckon. Even so, the seperation you’ve made makes a good rhetorical point and I like that. I particularly appreciate the Jesus as personal guru line, reducing the church to a collection of individuals rather than the body of Christ. Good stuff — thanks.

4

Mark Dobson 07.20.06 at 4:34 pm

Afternoon.

I found this post through http://catholica.pontifications.net/, a Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox blog on my blogroll.

I just wanted to point out (perhaps there’s some reason I shouldn’t) how incredibly Catholic (or Orthodox or Anglican - only I’m Catholic) it all seems to me.

I was genuinely surprised to find myself on the blog of a Methodist minister.

Just thought you might like to know.

5

Joel 07.20.06 at 4:52 pm

I’m not saying that faith and Christianity don’t go together. I’m just lamenting the tendency to make the Church optional to Christianity. In other words, “be a Christian, and then if there is any time left over, do something regarding church.” So, if I left a contrary impression, then I goofed.

6

Richard 07.20.06 at 5:26 pm

Mark - no reason to be surprised. Methodists are very catholic. :) We do have inherited a ‘high’ view of the church from John Wesley, though we are also good at forgetting our inheritence.

7

DH 07.20.06 at 6:51 pm

Joel thanks for the latest clarification. With that clarification in mind great post.

8

Kim 07.20.06 at 10:29 pm

Following on from Richard:

Wesley himself was very knowledgable about - and influenced by - Catholic tradition, especially its devotional/spiritual classics. Indeed, writes Theodore Runyon, “With his championing of Catholic authors, it is not surprising that Wesley was accused of being a crypto-Papist. One man shouted out in the midst of Wesley’s preaching, ‘Aye, he is a Jesuit; that’s plain.’ To which a Roman priest in the audience replied, ‘No, he’s not; I would to God he was.’” :)

9

Eugene McKinnon 07.20.06 at 10:54 pm

I think Joel is definitely on to something there. Good blog. I notice that a lot of individual Christians like to single out other Christians and judge them as ‘not Christian,’ but they don’t understand the other person and why they observe their faith differently from theirs. But if the individual met with the other individual, ate with him, and spend time to get to know him better instead of constantly harping on Jesus as his personal
Saviour then we would truly have church.

Good Blog Joel,

Eugene

10

DH 07.21.06 at 2:37 pm

True but “harping on Jesus as his personal Saviour” we must admit is so important.

11

Eugene McKinnon 07.21.06 at 4:22 pm

DH,

What I meant about that is there is too much emphasis on the concept of personal Saviour to the exclusion of other Christians. It’s as if a person has a monopoly on him instead of recognising that he is a mutual friend not solely one Christians friend. And that is where Joel is saying the doctrine of church is breaking down because too much emphasis is being placed on the Jesus as personal saviour.

Eugene

12

DH 07.21.06 at 5:54 pm

“….to the exclusion of other Christians.” What do you mean by “other Christians”? I don’t think any Christian believes in an individualistic Faith outside of the Body of Christ. Noone is trying to downgradethe importance of the Body of Christ. I guess for me the most important thing is by the holy spirit share the Gospel so people enter the Kingdom in the first place and then on a seperate but equal basis learn to live as a Christian within the Body of Christ with the Body of Christ together as Believers doing the same. I’m affraid that under a situation where no “personal Savior” is mentioned that there would be people who are good people but never made a profession of Faith for Salvation. I know many good people who do Christian type things but who aren’t Christians themselves. We must live for Christ like you say AND share the Gospel for people to have a personal relationship and work as a community as the Body of Christ but the body of Christ is a Body of Believers. We are a group but we are also a group of individuals working together.

13

Rick O'Donnell 07.22.06 at 2:05 am

Joel,
I especially liked your concluding sentence, “Center your faith in Christ, but center Christianity in the Church”. We as believers are called upon to be the body of Christ, not individual atoms floating about in our individual worlds.

If a complete body requires a collection a parts, a working Church requires a collection of believers—working together here on Earth toward the ultimate goal of completed salvation.

Loved the post.

14

sally 07.23.06 at 2:39 am

Very thought provoking, Thank you

15

Michael 07.23.06 at 9:05 pm

I think I see where Joel is going in this individualistic faith that proclaims Christ as one’s “personal” Savior. In my experience, this mindset has produced a very narrow theology that insists that since Christ is “their” personal Savior then He can be yours as well - so long as you believe the same things in the same way. Anything else is heresy.

16

Joel 07.24.06 at 12:20 am

Michael,

True. Instead of Christ being our unity, in fact all unity, unity becomes based on agreement on theological matters and Scripture interpretations.

I wouldn’t deny that I find it more of a challenge to find common purpose with some believers rather than others. In the church, though, I am accountable not only to God, but to fellow believers. Church helps to keep faith from being an entirely subjective matter.

17

DH 07.24.06 at 2:35 pm

But didn’t Paul warn of those who “..preached another Gospel”? When Jesus says”I am the Way the Truth and the Life…” then to say there is another way than what Jesus and Scriptures state seems strange to me. If you read my latest post you can see that there IS a focus on the Body of Christ but it is a Body of Believers. I think for unity sake Iwill say one shouldn’t go overboard on ones individualistic soul then the responsibilities of the Body are missed andif you go too overboard on the Body then unbelievers never hear the Gospel or understand how one receives Salvation and be Born Again. It isa balance. For me my Faith within the Body of Christ keeps it subjective because it iswonderful to know without a shadow of doubt how consistent God and Scripture are.

18

Milton Stanley 07.26.06 at 7:32 pm

Good word, indeed. I quoted liberally from your post at my blog today. Peace.

19

Joel 07.27.06 at 12:58 am

Thanks, Milton. And also to you.

20

Glenn Kaiser 07.27.06 at 10:02 pm

Brilliant Joel and great posts all!

Psalms- I am a friend to all who fear Thee… Those who reverence Christ as Lord are my friends- whether or not I am theirs (by their way of thinking) is not within my ability to dictate, as such. I must love regardless of whether we agree on every jot of doctrine or certainly, methodology. I by the way LOVE Wesley, one of my favourites.

Community indeed, but the cost is larger ears, a bit less talk (we Americans should have learnt that by now but alas) and of course, time! Takes time and this too must be shared.

Then I forget who it was who said “To accept Christianity one has to forget almost all the Christians”. Sad but at times, it holds weight, that.

Thanks, great reading today!
-Glenn, Chicago

21

Martin Pitcher 07.28.06 at 12:06 am

Enjoyed the post and the lack of theological verbage. Many times we get jammed up in the language instead of looking at the process.

All those who accept the gospel are still growing, stretching, and reaching out. We must all “work out” our salvation as Paul puts it. Some have mentioned “Catholic” overtones; that’s cool; I know true believers who are a part of just about every denomination you can pick out and the usual cry I hear is that the Church isn’t doing anything.

Well, why don’t we all just start to BE the church. You know, the stuff that God told us about in the New Testament in that book we leave on the table as a dust cover so the wood looks good under it. But not just on a personal level (though very important in and of itself), but as believers united in a local assembly sharing, crying, encouraging and loving each other and those in the locale were we live.

But alas, we are to intellect to think that God could use us, Right?

Thanks for the post; thought-provoking I’d say

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