Posted by: Veroni Kruger | October 14, 2014

What Has Your Church Become? (Excerpt 2) Available on Amazon.com and Kalahari.com

what has your church become

5. “A Fellowship Centring on the living Christ”

Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the US Senate is quoted as making the following profound statement.
“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centring on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”4

If the church is a group of believers around the person of Jesus Christ, its very existence is dependent on the grace of God. In the core of the description lies the fact that it is only by faith in Jesus Christ that one may become a member of the church. The church only exists by virtue of its relation to Him and those who are in that relation are believers. It is faith alone that brings them into any relationship. Any consideration of deserving works is absolutely excluded.

There is therefore no room for legalism or arrogance, even of the spiritual kind. Spiritual arrogance is a feeling of superiority based on supposedly better doctrine or higher degree of sanctification, or whatever aspect of one’s Christianity one perceives as justification for considering oneself to be better than others. It is only through Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, that we can be members of his church. Nothing else will do. Nothing we do other than believing in Jesus Christ can obtain for us the privilege of being part of his church.

To understand … the characteristic of being Christ-centred, it is necessary to refer to the sociological distinction between different kinds of groups. The two that are most clearly opposite are the “centred-set” and the “bounded-set” models. (For a detailed description of these two models as well as a third possibility, the so-called “fuzzy-set”, and how they apply to church life, see Alexander Venter, Doing Church Building From the Bottom Up, 50-58)
In the bounded-set model, the group is defined by outside boundaries. These can be any kind of characteristics that are used to distinguish the members of the group from all others. The distinction is between the “we” group and the “they” group. Everything in the relationship with anybody outside of the bounded group is defined in terms of this distinction.

In churches that exist as bounded models, the boundaries may be social, liturgical, or doctrinal. The people who belong to the church are characterised by a certain lifestyle, usually regarded by the members of that church as being “holy” or sanctified.

The members of such groups generally use “holy” incorrectly, with the meaning of “blameless” or “sinless” . (This incorrect interpretation of the concept “holy” is not limited to groups such as these, but occurs widely among Christians.) Only God can be holy in this sense. People are sanctified through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, when this is accepted by faith. The correct application of the word “holy” to human beings is that of being dedicated to God.

Avoidance of certain activities or foods etc. is often employed to denote the members of the group, and all who do not live by these “principles” are considered outsiders. Certain rituals or activities that once again distinguish the members from other groups characterise meetings. It is usual, of course, for groups that meet with any regularity to have a certain ethos. However, in the church this unavoidable phenomenon should never be allowed to determine the characteristics that are conditions for membership of the group, or are considered to be indications of superiority. They are then obstacles to, rather than facilitating factors for, the development of that group as part of the church of Jesus Christ.

The church should rather strive to follow the centred-set model. In the centre should be none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Christ-centred churches are just that: Christ-centred. The dynamics of the church centre on Christ, his Person and his work of redemption. He is the reason for the group’s existence as well as the motivation for their activities. He is also their source of energy. In this sense, the church and churches are a microcosm, as it were, of the universe. The church and its manifestations fit the Biblical description of creation as having been “created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1.16, 17). It is in this context that Paul speaks of the relationship between Christ and the church: “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1.18).

In this model, the requirement for membership is the commitment to strive toward Christ. There is no stage indicated where a person is “officially” recognised as belonging to the church. What members require of each other, and what the church serves to encourage, is following Christ. This is all done in the realisation that nobody is perfect and that everyone struggles with his or her own weaknesses. Everyone’s hope is in Christ alone, who is known to be the only one who can perfect the saints, first by faith and then by the process of sanctification.
There are two things that are eliminated by adherence to this model: the focus on what is considered to be “absolute” sins, and the arrogance often experienced among Christians.

The former is a phenomenon that often occurs among minority groups in the church. I mean by this movements that do not consider themselves part of the mainstream in any particular tradition. In what is apparently related to their struggle for recognition and/or the right to exist as a separate group, they often identify particular transgressions that they emphasise radically. Abstention from these sins then becomes the badge of belonging to that group.

The serious fallacy in this phenomenon is the shift of focus away from the person of Jesus Christ to things, whether they are objects or practices. Given the fact that our only hope is Jesus, it is easy to see that focusing on anything else leads to distraction at the least, and destruction at the worst. Of the people of Israel it is said that they “followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless” (2 Kings 17.15). We become like the ideals we set for ourselves. If the ideal is Jesus, we will become like Him. If the ideal is some other, materialistic or pietistic ideal, we will become as shallow as that ideal.

God’s ultimate purpose for us is to become like his Son. Paul states this clearly in Romans 8.29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”

I want to return now to the quote from Halverson. As long as the church continues to be a “fellowship centring on the living Christ”, we will be achieving what is God’s ultimate ideal for us, namely to be transformed to be like Jesus. Focusing on anything else will merely lead to our becoming like whatever it is we focus on.

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Responses

  1. Alarming truths! I wonder if it is possible for churches to turn bach to be Christ centred?


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