The contemporary church is in the midst of radical change and it is hard to predict just what the Body of Christ will look like even five years from now. Yet in recent weeks the Spirit has increasingly led me to see that no matter what shape emerges out of the current chaos in the church, one thing remains radically clear. We must return to a Christ-centered faith with the principle task and mission being to educate Christians and those outside of the faith about the true and spectacular nature of Christ.
Many sincere believers frequently say that it is time for us to “go beyond” Christ or to “go deeper” into the mysteries of the faith. While there is some truth in the point that we all need to deepen our walk of faith, we must not lose sight of the central figure of our faith. It is precisely because we have lost sight of Christ that the church finds itself in such a predicament as is seen today. Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet speak to this theme:
The person who believes that a Christian or a church can graduate beyond Christ has never fully seen the Jesus that Paul of Tarsus preached and declared. Instead, such an individual has very small Christ, one who’s far less than the one who fills the pages of the New Testament.
Sweet and Viola go on to illustrate their point by mentioning Paul’s words to the Philippians, written in his waning years:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Phil. 3:7-8)
Religious scholars and church historians are uncertain as to the exact nature of the erroneous teaching that was infiltrating the church at Galatia. Yet whatever the content of the teaching, Paul handled it in a very skillful way. Sweet and Viola point out:
What a unique way to combat error – drown God’s people in a revelation of the image of the invisible God, who delivered us from darkness, redeemed us, and made us part of His eternal kingdom.
This alone should cause us to pause in reflection. In times of crisis, the church doesn’t need rules established, laws passed, or wolves shot. She needs a seismic revelation of her Lord – the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.
The Christ the Colossians knew was simply too small. That was why they became susceptible to chasing other things – including religious ones – in the first place…..
This statement by the authors really speaks to the situation the church finds itself in today. Over the past few decades people, many of them sincere, spiritually-sensitive people, have stampeded out of the church in droves. There are many reasons for this phenomenon and no one answer covers all the bases as to why people are leaving and not coming back. One factor is the reality that the spiritual marketplace is much more competitive than it was even fifty years ago. America is a veritable spiritual smorgasbord with all the world’s major religions are present in significant numbers and lesser known faith systems are thriving as well. As for cults, there are far too many to list.
My point here is this: there is a lot more competition these days and people are more spiritually astute. They are looking for deeper, more life-changing answers and the fact is the church is woefully inadequate on this front. Rather than giving people real bread and “living water,” most churches serve up rubber chicken at Wednesday’s potluck and 2-liter bottles of Pepsi with the fizz long departed. Rather than feeding the flock this tasteless pabulum, it is high time the church returned to offering the real thing, and I don’t mean Coca-Cola. Jesus said that he gave living water and people would not be thirsty ever again. Paul understood that the church at Colasse needed the real Jesus and Sweet and Viola describe his thinking in a very cogent manner:
Paul’s goal was to strip away every distraction that was being held before their eyes and leave them with nothing but Christ. He dared to displace all rules, regulations, laws, and everything else that religion offers, with a person – the Lord Jesus Himself. As far as Paul was concerned, God hadn’t sent a Ruler of rules, a Regulator of regulations, a Pontiff of pontifications, or a Principal of principals. He had sent the very embodiment of divine fullness. So, he reasoned, if the Colossians could just get a glimpse of the glories of Christ, He would be enough. The Spirit would electrify their hearts and restore them to a living relationship with the head of the body. So Paul threw down his trump card – the Lord Jesus Christ. He presented a panoramic vision of Jesus that exhausts the minds of mortal men.
As Viola and Sweet so cogently point out, Paul felt that if the Colossians could gain a true and accurate perspective on the nature and purpose of Jesus many of their issues would be resolved. This dire need that Paul discerned in the Colossian church is also relevant to today’s church. If those within the church rediscover the true magnificence of this being they claim to worship and follow, I am convinced the mass exodus would slow to a mere trickle. Further, if those outside the church come to understand just who and what Jesus was and is, as well as witness the true heart of Christian service flowing from a revitalized, kingdom oriented church, they will likely become less negative and critical toward the faith and more than a few might be drawn to join in the good work that is taking place.
To be continued…..
(c) L.D. Turner 2013 / All Rights Reserved