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(Continued from Part One)
It seems that over the last couple of centuries the church has become increasingly less “Christ-centered” and in doing so, has completely lost its divine grounding and its sense of direction. I remember spending time as a child on my grandmother’s farm in rural North Alabama. Whenever she wanted to fix fried chicken, she didn’t go down to the supermarket to pick up a fryer. Instead, she sent my father out to get a hen from the barnyard.
I vividly recall that my dad would decapitate the hapless bird and even without a head, the chicken would go flapping around in circles for awhile before finally keeling over. In many ways, this childhood memory is analogous to the present condition of the church. Christ is the head of the church and without a firm connection to the head, the church also runs around in misguided, uncoordinated circles before it eventually collapses. This is a reality we can ill afford in the contemporary Body Of Christ.
The remedies for this situation are multi-faceted and complex. Yet I have become convinced that whatever constellation of strategies we implement in our attempts to rectify this hapless dilemma, one thing remains constant. We must have as the central and defining element an unrelenting focus on Christ, not just as a historical or celestial figure to be worshiped. Instead, we must come to view Christ for the truly magnificent and wondrous being that he is and also come to an understanding and internalization of his role as a living, vibrant agent of transformation.
Centuries ago, for whatever reasons, the church seems to have lost sight of this aspect of Jesus Christ and his mission to this planet. In our obsessive worship of Jesus as “Savior,” we somehow managed to jettison his transformative power as an agent of personal and social change. I think this is the chief reason we see so many otherwise sincere believers walking around in a state of bafflement, aimlessness, and quiet desperation.
Last year, on this site, I posted a piece entitled, A Decapitated Church is a Lifeless Corpse. In that article I discussed these themes at some length. I also included several cogent, powerful passages from the fine book entitled, Jesus Manifesto, written by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It was my intention in that article and this one as well, to get across the same point made by Sweet and Viola in their excellent book. Stated simply, that point is that the primary task of the church in this challenging time is to reintroduce the world to Christ and his kingdom. And sadly enough, this mission begins with the church itself. I daresay that a near-majority of contemporary church-goers have only a minimal understanding of just who Christ was and is, much less what he accomplished and expects of us.
With that being said, it is critical that the church develop workable, practical strategies that will help its own members deepen their awareness of who and what it is they are dealing with. Sweet and Viola, for example, give us this introduction:
Set your eyes beyond the stratosphere and see a Christ who confounds the mind. This Christ is – present tense – the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ displays God’s image visible in the invisible realm, where He is seated in heavenly places at the Father’s right hand. To look upon the carpenter of Nazareth is to discover God in totality. To know the Nazarene is to know the Almighty, the one true Creator – He who was, is, and is to come.
But that’s not all.
This Christ is the firstborn of the entire cosmos, the first person to appear in creation, and He is preeminent in all of it. All things visible and invisible were created by Him, through Him, to Him, and for Him. He is the Originator as well as the Goal – the Creator as well as the Consummator.
But that’s not all.
This Christ existed before time as the eternal Son. He is above time and outside of time. He is the beginning. In fact, He was before the beginning. He lives in a realm where there are no ticking watches and clocks. Space and time are his servants. He is unfettered by them.
This Christ is not only before all things, but the entire universe is held together in Him. He is the cohesive force, the glue and gravitational pull that holds all created elements together. He is creation’s great adhesive, the hinge upon which the whole cosmos turns. Remove Christ, and the entire universe disintegrates. It comes apart at the seams. Remove Him, and creations wheels come off.
But there’s still more.
This Christ is the very meaning of creation. Eliminate Him, and the universe has no purpose. Remove Him, and every living thing loses its meaning.
But more than all this, the One who created the universe watched it fall. He saw the cosmic revolt in heaven and the wreckage on earth. Under the caring eye of the Father, the Lord looked upon His own creation as it morphed into an enemy – His own enemy. And then he did the unthinkable. He penetrated a fallen world.
This Christ pierced the veil of space-time. He became incarnate and took on human flesh. As such, He was touched with the same temptations, the same infirmities, and the same weaknesses as all mortals, only He never yielded. Christ entered into His own creation to reconcile it back to Himself and to His Father. The Creator became the creature to make peace with an alienated creation.
I think Sweet and Viola have put together a positive, creative, and pragmatic way of introducing Christ to those outside the church as well as those inside the Body of Christ who have, for all practical purposes, never met the Master in any comprehensive fashion. Granted, no one definition or description can cover all the bases when we are dealing with a subject that is vast, cosmic, and ineffable. Still, we can create first-rate starting points and I believe this definition by Sweet and Viola precisely this.
I would like to suggest a spiritual exercise that you might carry out in the near future. Using the description of Christ given by Sweet and Viola, take one line a day as a focus for prayer, meditation, and reflection. In a period of quiet time, begin by asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you in whatever way he deems fit regarding that one line. Read the sentence, reflect on what it says to you about the person, the nature, and the mission of Christ. Record what you discover in a journal or notebook that you keep for this particular spiritual practice. If possible, do this in the morning and in the evening. From my personal experience with spiritual practice, I feel confident in assuring you that you will come out of it with a deeper and more life-changing awareness of just what manner of being Jesus Christ was and is.
If the contemporary church is to be healed, this is where we must begin.
© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved