Christ the Center

Christ the Center– The Journey from Religion to Relationship

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Paul, First Letter to the Corinthians

It was a few years ago that I first began realizing that American Christianity does a fine job of polishing its rhetoric to reflect a Christ-centered creed, but its practices are far from resembling Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. It speaks of spiritual things and words that have not been taught by the Spirit.

Human wisdom has produced a religion founded on doctrines and teachings about Christ, and we are continually being diverted from knowing Christ by way of relationship.

Having spent seven years in vocational ministry within the institutional church, I can personally attest to the constant struggles that come by attempting to implement a New Testament church life in the present model of institutional Christianity. I learned all the right words, memorized all of the correct doctrines, and made the Bible the passion of my life.

I (like so many others) believed that the more Bible I could master the sooner we would see “revival” and a restoration of the church. If this passion for the Bible became contagious throughout the entire church (I thought), then the church will be what she was created to be. Everything will come together, right? Quite the opposite for me.

This is when everything fell apart.

Leaving Religion

I left vocational ministry in September of 2006 to follow Jesus in search of a religionless Christianity. In a relentless pursuit of the Person of Jesus in the Gospels, I found that I could no longer be faithful to Christ within a system that makes a nice living off of talking a great deal about Jesus, but seemingly unwilling to follow him beyond the boundaries of tradition and empty clichés.

I had my fill of religion and felt like I was only spinning my wheels. I was exhausted in my efforts to see any kind of resemblance to the simple yet powerful church life described in the book of Acts. I was tired of feeling that all my efforts were self-defeating. I was burnout and more than willing to rethink everything I knew about Christ and his church.

I have only Jesus to thank when it comes to the strength it took to leave this burdensome life behind. It was a little scary, but my knowledge of the Scripture told me there must come an exodus and an exile before there can be a restoration.

As religion becomes smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of this vehicle called “my faith.” I am finding the call of Jesus a satisfying cross to embrace.

I am finding that my past burdens were largely brought on by self. I had a work-centered faith that I passed off as “Christ-centered” while living amongst many folks that were largely self-centered and disinterested in knowing Jesus beyond the Sunday school quarterly.

All of this produced in me an experience of extreme highs and lows. Everything about the way we taught and practiced our faith kept God at a distance it seemed. This was my greatest frustration.

I am happy to say that the Prozac popping Santa Claus god is now dying a slow death. I am learning of a Lord that loves me beyond anything I have ever known. And this love attracts me to his Person. It calls to me and tells me there is more. It tells me that I will never be able to experience the full depths of his being, but that I should continue trying evermore.

The Word Became… Ink?

“Bible instruction can easily be diverted from its God-intended purpose: love of God and fellow human beings. In its place is a new, lesser purpose: the Bible as an object of curiosity and fruitless spiritual debate.”
Tom Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees

As I look back on my journey with the Lord, I see his wonderful patience with me. My spiritual birth began with an intimate knowledge of him in my spirit. How else would any of us receive eternal life without this engagement with Christ? Yet, this relationship, this intimate knowledge of the Person of Christ, quickly became secondary to the things I could learn about him with my mind.

I didn’t understand Paul’s words, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him…” (Col. 2:6).

I do not mean to present some false dichotomy between me learning about Christ with my mind and knowing him in my spirit, but let’s be honest, you can easily do one without the other. And I would venture to say that most people confuse the first with the later.

The Pharisees did this and Jesus called them out for it. They studied the Scripture, but did not know the Lord. They did not recognize God in the flesh. They were zealous for the written word but rejected the Word made flesh.

Despite their expectations about Messiah, they were given ample opportunity to embrace the living Word, but instead chose a religion filled with human rules and regulations. What was intended for life only brought death. It enslaved the people and kept them from knowing the Lord (Matt. 23:13-39).

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jesus, The Gospel of John

I have found that we can still read the Scriptures like these infamous Pharisees. I obtained a degree and spent years studying the Bible. Like the Pharisees, I believed that a strict orthodoxy was the key to revolution.

Like so many popular reformed theologians today, it is believed that correct doctrine and defending the “truth” in the culture is the secret to God’s Kingdom coming to earth. These men boldly rebuke “heretics” and don’t mind offending you for the sake of their personality. And of course, all of this is done in the name of Christ. This is what so many believe to be “Christ-centered.”

When Sola Scriptura (i.e. Scripture alone) is your war cry, you have no choice to make for yourselves a Bible-centered life that is disconnected from Christ the living Word. A faith built on a passion for doctrine demands the same attitude that put Jesus on the cross.

In this kind of life, the Bible becomes an end unto itself. And whatever a person needs to do to further “correct” doctrine and defend the Bible is permissible in certain circles of evangelicals today. They are quick to denounce the sincere pursuit of others who seek a Christ that is more than a few theological bullet points and sin-centered sermons littered with meaningless clichés.

The least we can do is question the approach of these modern-day Pharisees who are Christ-centered in their language, but only promote teachings that disregard the way of Jesus. These men use the Scriptures to defend Christ, but do so in a manner that offends the heart of God.

“The holy writings are valuable for those who use them right,” testified one Anabaptist at the Regensburg trials in Bavaria. “But their misuse is the source of all heresy and unbelief. To the scribes and the Pharisees the holy writings were not a guide to Christ, but a hindrance and eventually a punishment.” Peter Hoover, The Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptists Tell This Generation

Wait! Isn’t doctrine important? Yes, but right doctrine comes from a close examination of the Person and work of Christ in the Gospels. It comes from an intimate knowledge of the indwelling Christ. From my own personal experience, I believe it is because of our failure to give attention to Jesus in the Gospels that we have interpreted the letters of Paul as merely instructions on doctrine instead of an exposition of Jesus and his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul, Letter to the Colossians

I don’t know what I did with verses like the one above before the Lord gave me eyes to see and ears to hear. It wasn’t until I became intrigued with Christ as Person that I began to see a spiritual revolution in my own life. When I made Christ my only doctrine and concerned myself with the fact that his very Person lives within me, I was then able to begin a journey from religion to relationship; from rhetoric to revelation; from intellect to indwelling; from academia to apprehension.

I was trained in the historical-grammatical approach to studying the Scriptures. Mostly due to immaturity, I had not learned to bridge my intellect with my spirit. Bible study was simply an intellectual exercise.

Sure, there were many times I had some sort of spiritual encounter and sensed the Lord working in my life through it all, but I now see that the written word of God had become a substitute for actually knowing Jesus in spirit and in truth. The Scripture was not ushering me in to knowing Christ in personal experience. Therefore, my transformation was slow and my strength was limited to what I could do on my own. The Lord allowed this for a time.

This Bible-centered life was evident in my passion for doctrinal purity. I was not yet aware of the full measure of the indwelling Christ and how to study the Scripture out of that life. It was like living with someone in your house but rarely speaking to them.

I was learning a great deal “about” Jesus, but had a difficult time making it to the couch to sit and chat with the lover of my soul. I allowed my analytical mind to be entertained by theology, but my spirit was desperately longing to kiss the face of God.

“The word of God states that the truth shall make us free, but how many times truth is merely a doctrine to us. Our eyes have not been opened to see Christ.” Watchman Nee, Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things

I did not feel free in my spirit. My soul was restless. I believed that all I could aspire to was to be filled with more Bible and great theological ideas. I constantly struggled with a distorted view of God. I knew what the Scriptures said about the closeness of God in Christ, but I didn’t have the experience to go along with it.

I just kept yearning after the Lord and seeking to find him in one teaching after another. And when the Lord is a teaching instead of a Person, you die for teachings (believing them to be Christ) and you attempt to rid the church of all who disagree with you. I don’t believe I ever gave myself over to that completely, but I did see plenty of older folks that had.

When the Lord is found in a teaching and you have no working knowledge of Christ, you are not content to let the Person of Jesus deal with the shortcomings of others and the errors of the church. When your God is restrained to paper and ink, you can’t know him in the flesh. And you must know, the Word “became flesh” (Jn. 1:14).

The incarnation of God is mankind’s only hope. This is becoming less and less something to simply “Amen!” and move on about your business. It is for me, becoming everything.

Bible-Centered or Christ-Centered?

“The cumulative effect of all parts of the Word of God is to bring you to Christ.”
T. Austin-Sparks, The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ

Is there a need for proper interpretation of the Scriptures? Most definitely! However, we must understand that this interpretation does not end in a study of the context of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It ends in a dazzling display of Jesus! It culminates into a spiritual apprehension of Christ. And this is something only he can give you when the “Divine quest” for the Person of Jesus is at the center of your being.

Until Christ is all that you desire, you will continue to know frustration and heartache.

We can’t gain knowledge of Jesus and an inward apprehension of him and receive shady theology in return. It is in knowing Christ that we understand what birthed the writings of the apostles. It is only then that we may receive proper instruction on worship and how the believer is to relate to a world marked by estrangement.

Christ is not a teaching or a “Bible-study”, he is a person to be cultivated in human experience. This may begin out of a sincere longing to know Christ in our mind and much study of him with our intellects. But in the end it ought to lead us to a knowing him in the depths of our spirit. It is only then that we partake of the bread of life. It is only then that everything finds its proper place.

This is where evangelical Christianity has fallen to its greatest depths. Since the Protestant Reformation, it is the written word of God that has become the highest attainable goal. The Anabaptists believed this to be the mightiest error of Luther and company.

The “Reformers” of the Catholic Church clung to Scripture, not to Christ. They rested in doctrines alone and thought it strange to speak of Christ as your closest friend. Folks that talk this way, these “mystics”, were burnt alive and met their end in martyrdom. And they are still to this day read with caution and some with disdain.

According to the testimony of those they persecuted, the Protestants rested in grace and did not live in the power of the resurrection. Their strict interpretations of the Scripture and their zeal for orthodoxy actually led them down a path of anti-Christ. Their failure to let go entirely of the church that Constantine built produced in them a deception that can only be matched by the men that cried out for the death of Jesus.

Knowledge that comes to us apart from the indwelling Christ will puff up the most sincere of men (1 Cor. 8:1). Knowledge obtained without first having passed through the cross of Jesus will always lead to sin. It is here where many believers find themselves. They have learned the appropriate rhetoric of Christ-centeredness, but their words are not born out of a revelation from the Lord himself. They easily find themselves continuing on with right speech, but their actions actually begin to prove that something else is at work.

It is not long and this person finds that their faith is filled with all kinds of contradictions and empty clichés that have no practical meaning for their lives. They sound holy, their words reflect a sort of biblical Christology, but their spirits are not governed by the life of Christ. They have not experienced the faith that is continually being born from above. What they have has not been given to them by Jesus in their spirit.

There is no inward reality of the indwelling Christ shaping them and molding them. The Person of Christ is not guiding their every step and speaking to their hearts. They have a few momentary spiritual glimpses into the Lord but the rest is just adrenaline and good intentions.

What is the Bible? Simply stated, it is the Spirit-inspired written testimony of men about the living God coming to earth and revealing himself in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. How has this collection of writings we call “The Bible” become the object of so much division among believers? “Is Christ divided?” What have we done with Paul’s warnings of division in the Body of Christ? We have celebrated them in what we call “denominations” and we treat this as a good thing.

Our passion for doctrine has blinded us to the many contradictions we have embraced. And we continue to find reasons not to abandon 1700 years of institutional Christianity founded on the ideas of men that can’t be justified by the Scriptures.

This is another piece of twisted evidence that the Bible is not being read as a testimony of the Christ presented in the Gospels. It is not being studied and read for the purpose of apprehending Christ in community, but for the mere propagating of a doctrine, a mission, a program, a ministry or a movement. We are guilty of worshipping the biblical text instead of the One it reveals.

We can know we have done this by the many ways we have violated the Person of Jesus and contradicted his example left in the Gospels. Having lived this way, we may only say that we are “Bible-centered” or “Paul-centered” or better yet, “Mission-centered.” But we dare not say we are Christ-centered when Jesus is not our only concern. If the Lord has not yet revealed to us that out of Christ comes the church, then we must wander a little while longer.

“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 and be found in him…” Paul, Letter to the Philippians

Conclusion—Christ the Center

We may say Christ is central and supreme in our lives, the church, the world, and the cosmos, only after we have put our hand to the plow of his Person and work; after we have forsaken all others for his namesake. Once we are willing to lay all else aside to experience the depths of who he is, we may call him “Lord” with complete assurance that he is indeed the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, it is in these things that the Lord says, “Yes!” The Son has been exalted that we might know him “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). He has become flesh that we might know that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives” (2:9). It is not a method we seek, we seek Christ. Any “good” thing outside of Christ is dead! It is not a thing we desire, it is a Person. Will we continue running after dead things in Jesus’ name?

On this journey from dead religion to a living relationship, I have occasionally asked myself, “Am I making too much of Jesus? Is it all really this simple?” And I hear the Lord speak, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28; 30).

Well, I must say I am finding that “yoke” much easier than before. But, could I be oversimplifying things and reducing the Gospel message? (I smile with a faint chuckle) What else is there but Jesus? Very confidently I reply, “Nothing of any worth.”

Let us press on in the journey of experiencing the depths and riches of Christ Jesus our Lord. No other purpose will satisfy the heart of God or our own groaning for a savior. May we give up our Christ-less “Bible studies” and our foolish church practices that not only hinder, but replace our Center.

Through the power of his resurrection we may break free from religion’s chains and discover a truly Christ-centered faith.

Suggested Reading:

“The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ” by T. Austin-Sparks
“Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things” by Watchman Nee
“The Secret of the Strength” by Peter Hoover
“The School of Christ” by T. Austin-Sparks
“Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees” by Tom Hovestol
“Christ the Center” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee
“Bethany: The Lord’s Heart for His Church” by Frank Viola

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

64 responses to “Christ the Center

  • David D. Flowers

    Thanks for stopping by, Stew. Peace, bro.

  • Neal Taylor

    David this was so succinct and spot on. I have also been on a remarkably similar journey and questioned this very matter on my own blog in much less words and finesse! I asked if we had intellectualized the gospel and forgotten that it was heart space and not head space that the gospel was transforming.

    http://www.nialltaylor.com/2008/09/17/intellectualising-the-gospel/

    I am a struggling writer – more a people person than writer I must admit – so it’s not as elegant as what you have written. But it seems we are on similar journeys!

    Shalom!

    • David D. Flowers

      Thanks, Neal.
      It’s nice to hear from folks on similar journeys. I would consider myself a “struggling” writer as well. Honestly, I am humbled that Christ would use my words to work his mighty power. Blessings to you, my brother. We press on in him.

  • janthonywalker

    “It was a little scary, but my knowledge of the Scripture told me there must come an exodus and an exile before there can be a restoration.”

    Wow! Why don’t you just come over and smack me right in the face next time?! 🙂 This is exactly where I am. The exodus is largely complete and now the exile has begun. This is the part I don’t like. I find myself in the same place Israel found herself in the wilderness. Sometimes I think it would be easier to “go back to Egypt!”

    Ultimately, though I always seem to find my way back to reality: Egypt was a bad place and a bad time. To go back is to invite more heartache. My only choice now is to view this time and USE this time in exile to reaquaint myself with Christ the PERSON.

    We have a shared history, brother…you and I know the ups and downs of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION. I thank you for being a willing servant for a real Savior! You point toward the Jesus that all of us need to get to know again.

    God bless you!! …..and thanks…..

  • David D. Flowers

    Jason, didn’t mean to “smack” you. 🙂 However, I am glad the Lord spoke.
    Happy to walk beside you in our discovery of Jesus. I hope you are well, bro.

  • Joel

    Brother, I have only been able to give the latest blog a cursory reading but I can tell it is SPOT ON! I believe you have captured in a more polished form the things we, as the church, have been working through and dialoging about in the past weeks. The posting reminded me anew that I truly desire everything out of my sightline except for Jesus the Christ. The rest, even the well meaning stuff—is just subterfuge, noise and gravel. He is enough. Your brother in this mindblowing journey that will end at his scarred feet. 🙂

  • janthonywalker

    I’m doing good, man…really good. Thanks!!

  • David D. Flowers

    Joel,
    May the Lord continue rocking our face off until he comes! 🙂
    I am so excited to be in fellowship with you and your family. I look forward to the days to come. Thanks for sharing, bro.

  • Seth

    Brother, thank you for the article. Many times I have so much going on inside that I can’t even begin to express it. When I read this it was like a release to me for what I have been experiencing and meditating on. The truth that Christ is all is what has been overshadowing my life and exile as well. may the Lord continue to bless you and those in your local felloship.

  • Jill

    Thank you for your article, David. It really spoke to my heart. I just finished up your book “Knowing Christ in Divine Order” and recently read Sparks’ book on Christ’s Centrality. THIS is what the Lord desires for His children. Keep letting the Lord speak to you in that quiet place-we are blessed by you sharing your portion of Christ with us.

    Also, have you read T. Austin Sparks’ book “God’s Spiritual House”? I was perusing your recommended list of his writings and didn’t see this one. Incredible book.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey, Jill. Wow! Thank you for your encouragement in the Lord. If you are willing, I would love to post your endorsement with the others here at the blog.

      I’m not sure if I have read the book. I have all of his books, but reading through all of them and taking them in takes time. 🙂

      I appreciate your portion of Christ. Peace.

    • Kari

      Hey, thank you for the article! I had a rough day, and ended up ignoring God for no good reason at all. And this blog really helped me out.
      So thanks!
      And if it’s alright I just wanted to recommend a book that changed my relationship with Jesus, called ‘Kisses from Katie’, about a young girl serving Christ in Ughanda and her choices to serve, instead of just being a “fan” of Him. It is amazing!
      And thanks again! This blog was a blessing!! Peace out homies!

  • Gordon Brock

    Wow, lots of stuff there David! No wonder it took you so long to get it out! Another good read, my friend. I too was pleased with ‘Knowing Christ in Divine Order’. I passed the link on to the couples that my wife and I have fellowship with. Keep the insights of the journey coming, as the Lord directs. Thanks so much!

    • David D. Flowers

      Thanks, Gordon! If anyone that you know is willing to give their endorsement on the book, I would love to post it here at my blog. Just e-mail me and I will update the endorsements. Keep me up to date with what the Lord is doing in your fellowship. Peace, bro.

  • J. R. Miller

    I am thankful for your heart David to keep Christ at the center of our Faith.

    Quick question… are you still teaching at a seminary?

  • J. Marcucci

    Thank you for this overflow of a living Person!It this kind of word, the revelation of Christ, the Son of the Living God that He builds His Church. He is our person and He lives in us.Let us let Him live. I don’t think He calls us to revolution though. Rather He unveils to us what His goal is in the universe. May there be more eyes to see this unveiling of Christ as He is. It is the heavenly vision that governed the life of Paul and when we see what he saw it governs all our living. The Lord bless you David.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey J,
      I use “revolution” to speak of a return to Christ from a human perspective, not a tweaking of religion through “reformation.” I am contrasting in order to point folks in a different direction. The word “revolution” is a strong word that has major implications. And that is why I believe this word describes the kind of “spiritual revolution” we need in Jesus.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Gordon Brock

    Agreed. We need to look at all the labels we used in ‘the system’ and determine if they are appropriate to our Christiology.

  • J. R. Miller

    ah, okay. I am with you on that distinction. I always used to challenge my youth kids with the question, “Is there such a thing as Christian music?” It was always a great discussion and got them thinking about the meaning of the word Christian. Take care brother.

  • Gordon Brock

    Clarification; my ‘Agreed’ was for David’s comment on “christian”, and not on J’s comment on “Revolution”. I already knew what David meant by revolution….any fan of Frank Viola knows what it means.. 😉

  • Neal Taylor

    David – just finished your book, “Knowing Christ In Divine Order” – and loved it. Funny thing is as I was reading it I began to realise that, as I have mentioned before, I have been going on that journey to place Christ at the centre of my life and the book was, for me, naming, the process and journey I had begun several years ago.

    Blessed be brother! I hope you will let me pass the PDF on to others for discussion and reading. BTW – gave the above post a plug on my blog and will write about the book shortly.

    Shalom

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Neal, I’m so very blessed that the Lord used the book in your journey. Feel free to pass it along to others. Yes, please send your endorsement to me and I will post it with the others. Thanks for the plug on your blog. Blessings!

  • Ken M.

    Hi David,
    great article! enjoy reading your testimony within it as well. loved this partial qoute “but seemingly unwilling to follow him beyond the boundaries of tradition and empty clichés.” I’ve seen many get the revelation of Christ being the center but are unwilling or unable to allow Christ to lead them into a practical experience with Him being the center. It’s neat to see how the Lord has been leading many on this journey of being Christ centered. I wrote a note in my blog not to long ago called “From Shadow to Substance” which had some similar ideas to which you wrote it’s great to see the Lord confirming this to so many

  • David

    David,
    Powerful thoughts… I was moved to stop and pray in the middle of it. I believe we have been through more similar journeys than we might realize, though it has led us different directions. I believe the same Christ has led us away from bibliolatry to an experience true Living Water, even if we’ve found it in different forms.

    On a side-note, I suspect you’re being a bit unfair to Luther himself, for whom I believe Christ was most assuredly the center. As for the people who followed him, I think you’re pretty much spot on.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey David,
      I do wish that I was being unfair to Luther. My study of the reformers has revealed the ugliness of their actions as the radical reformation of the Anabaptist continued. It is very disappointing and humbling as well. If getting older means we flip our lids… then I welcome martyrdom for sure.
      Thanks for stopping by the blog. I respect your perspective and I am grateful for your input. Peace, bro.

  • David

    Well let me clarify what I mean about Luther. I think he and the Reformers did some awful things, and it is totally fair to call that like it is. But as far as his view of the relationship of scripture and Christ, I think he’d agree with you more than you allow above. I really do think it’s only later that “Sola Scriptura” comes to mean what it now means.

    • David D. Flowers

      David, I do believe Luther was sound in his understanding (authority) of Scripture, but I will still have to disagree with the later. It was Luther that first proclaimed “Sola Scriptura” and it was Luther that accompanied this proclamation with actions that trampled down believers whose view of “reformation” went a step further. I think the following excerpt is spot on:

      “The Protestant reformers, the Anabaptists believed, got the old and the new covenants of God confused because they did not enter the holy writings through Christ. They tried to climb in some other way, through the “doctrines” of Paul, through the laws of Moses, or through the Old Testament prophets. This made them “thieves and murderers.” It made them take wrong examples from the wrong people, and led them to use the written word in a way that did more harm than good. The Protestant reformers failed, for instance, to follow Christ’s example in loving his enemies because they looked to David’s example of war. They did not follow Christ’s example in economics because they looked to Abraham and Job. They did not understand the kingdom of Christ because they looked to the kingdom of Israel.” p.81 The Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptist Tell This Generation by Peter Hoover

  • Rod

    David, this is a very good post, and I enjoy your Christ-centered Anabaptist reflections, but I have to say, even though I am recovering froma bad experience as a Calvinist, that I still believe that the Reformers were Christ centered. These were not perfect men, but in the end, who is but Jesus the Messiah himself? I also get a little nervous these days when Christians point to the Pharisees as the “religious.” I believe that Jesus himself was a Pharisee, for in the 1st century, the people who you dialogued with were your peers, your equals. The Pharisees believed in the bodily resurrection and the Messiah, yet they misinterpretted Scripture (the LXX or Masoteric Text, whichever came first). My point is, I think we as Christians should be more critical of the traditional relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees. Lastly, I think I may understand what you mean by institutional religion, but according to James 1, there is a True religion that the Father approves of, to look after the orphan and widows,living life pure before the eyes of God. I do not know what it is lately, but I get scared and even irritated when I hear: Christianity is all about relationship, and not religion. I do not think it is either/or, it is both/and. Perhaps people should define religion with less ambiguity. What say you?

    • David D. Flowers

      Thanks for sharing, Rod.
      I have dealt with James’ use of “religion” in my post, “Religionless Christianity.” I have also addressed “religion” in my posts, “Religion’s Chains” and “The Unnatural Nature of Religion” here at the blog.

      I could not disagree more with the idea that Jesus was a Pharisee. I wrote an article that I have yet to post entitled, “Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth.” In the article, I draw attention to how Christ did not associate himself with any political or religious group of his day. And he did this on purpose.

      It all depends on how you define “Christ-centered.” The way I have defined it leaves the reformers out in the cold with only the Bible to cover up with. I hope you will check out some of my other posts on the issues. Hopefully, they will give you a better understanding of where I am coming from. I have written more of my own journey out of institutional religion in my “Confessions of an Ex-Clergy Member” at http://www.housechurchresource.org under the Ex-Pastors section.

      Thanks again for sharing Rod. Let’s spur each other on to Christ! Peace.

  • Rod

    Thank you, David my brother in Christ!

    I went back and read your posts on Religionless Christianity and Religion’s Chain. I now understand more clearly where you are coming from. The Christian faith is about being (God’s work in us), not doing (which depends on human works).

    As for Jesus’ association, I am not absolutely certain that he was 100% a Pharisee, but his theology certainly leaned that way with his own words. I do recognize that any reconstructive statement we make about the historical Christ and his associations is really just a reflection of our own preferences and beliefs.

    I look forward to reading more on your spiritual journey.

    Thanks again.

    In Christ,
    Rod

  • J. Marcucci

    Amen to Rod and David. Thank you that though you may not agree on everything one hundred percent that you still found your common ground. It is Christ Himself who is our Oneness. May it be so with us all. May we not stay too long in the realm of opinions and or reasonings, but may we walk according to spirit. In this way Christ lives and becomes everything to us. May we become rooted and grounded in love, may we apprehend, may we truly know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. Then we may be filled with all the fullness of God. To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, I love that it is by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

  • David D. Flowers

    Thank you Rod and J. I am blessed to share this journey with you. I appreciate your portion of Jesus.

  • Scott

    David, you are truly my brother. How often I have gathered with men because of doctrines. How often I have been amazed that they say ALL the right things, and yet the Spirit of God is not present. It is precisely because “they say the right things” that I keep feeling compelled to return to the institutional church, only to be amazed and frustrated by the lack of life, whereupon I end up leaving again.

    So yes, you are my brother indeed. Though we may have different doctrinal views, I would eagerly and gladly worship and pray with you in my home any day, trusting that Christ Himself will reveal His glorious self to us in due time until we reach unity in the faith through His life and Spirit!

    • David D. Flowers

      What a blessing to me that you would share this. This is a true reflection of Christ! What a joy it would be for us to fellowship with one another in this life and the next.
      Grace and peace to you on your journey, my brother.

  • Mike

    Just passing by. Btw, you website has great content!

  • Calvin Wulf

    Such a journey from the mind to the heart requires much contemplation on Christ!

  • Free Spirit

    David, just found you on simplechurch, which brought me here to your blog. How utterly refreshing! Thanks for explaining so well why religion is so fruitless.

    I, too, am on this journey out of religion and into relationship. Have been outside the institutional church for nearly a year now, and can’t believe all that Papa’s teaching me… so much more than I ever learned in “church”. I also noticed from your simplechurch page that you are in the Woodlands. I’m in Clear Lake, TX, and have family up your direction, so am up there somewhat often. Have longed for Papa to open doors to meet some who are within close proximity, that are experiencing Him outside of religion.

    I love what you’ve written here, because it confirms so many things within my heart, and expresses much of what I have written about on my blog. Thanks!! 🙂

  • Alan

    Hey David

    Thanks for your post. . . it contains so much. For me,it wasn’t the Bible that made clear that my focus was wrong, it was the study of the attributes of God. I ate up whatever I could find. . . the immutability of God, the grace of God, the power of God, etc. I was so tied up in it that I didn’t understand what the big deal was about Jesus. . . God the Father seemed so much greater. I had just missed it completely. The frustration came when, at the end of the day, no matter how much I read or studied, or how many verses I could learn, I still felt apart from God. Looking back, book reading is a poor substitute to the cross to a knowledge of God.

    I still go to a church under the auspices of a denomination and have not been lead to leave it. There are frustrations but there is a way forward in Christ even there. There is a ministry of Christ possible among His people wherever they may be. My wife and I have prayed whether we should leave, and even when we have been more inclined to leave, the Lord would have us stay. There are some who follow Christ wholeheartedly who make body possible.

    Besides, as your book makes clear, unless the body is ordered according to Christ, organized religion isn’t.

    Alan

  • Richard

    David,

    I came across your blog via someone who had mentioned you, I love hearing and seeing once again the Word being fleshed out in another of my siblings!

    I too was one who knew better than most “the Scriptures” but did not truly know the Word…much like Jesus when he opened the minds-hearts of those that day on the road to Emmaus. The WORD opened their minds so that they might truly understand what and who the Scriptures we are all about…everything revolving around the Son!

    I look forward to reading more of His heart being written (fleshed) into your life, in your forth coming discoveries of His intense longing for you.

  • David D. Flowers

    Alan, thank you for sharing a bit of your own journey.

    Richard, I’m encouraged you made it here to the blog. It is always good to connect with a brother who has tasted of the Living Word. Grace and peace to you.

  • T. Michael Cart

    Thank you, Brother, for what is tantamount to a treatise on a very relevant and prevalent topic in Christendom today. And while I don’t think I can say those things any better, I would just endeavor to point out that the shift that is occurring in the church, while having cultural particulars, is not anything new; not really.

    There have been a great many movements, across the span of Christian history, whereby adherents to the prevailing religious structure sought to deepen their relationship with God and to connect with Jesus in a more tangible and meaningful way. At least, that is how they started. Really, that is how most revolution is started, with dissatisfaction or a feeling of disenfranchisement.

    Here’s the thing, people hurt people; people abuse people; people use people; people mislead people; people are just people, and the funny thing about the church, at large, is that it is full of people who have the capacity to hurt, abuse, use and mislead other people. It sucks, but it is what it is.

    We are all in different stages of our development as believers and God calls all of us differently; placing on our hearts a message meant just for us. We ought to listen to that message. Sometimes it says go, sometimes it says stay. Neither is any more correct than the other. However, contained somewhere therein will be the message “I love you more than anything.”

    Thanks for a great post.

    T. Michael Cart

  • David D. Flowers

    I hear your heart and I too agree there is nothing “new” in one sense. In another sense, I do believe each revolution among Christ’s church brings us a step closer to “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” It does appear that suffering for the cross of Christ keeps the Body from drifting from the Center of that revolution on to divisions and the glittering temptations of the devil.

    We both have experienced the hurt, abuse, and so on that occurs among God’s people. Yet, we never lose site of the tension of the Kingdom of God. It is among us… and ought therefore to be seen more often as the days come to a close. The reality is indeed that physical death has yet to free us of the natural man that we might receive that full and glorious resurrection of our bodies, but we press on toward Christ; the author and perfecter of our faith. We hope in a day that is coming that is absent of man’s imperfections… while at the same time experiencing that Life in this present evil age.

    I like your closing statement, bro. It is Christ’s love that holds us fast and reminds us that nothing shall separate us from Him who has died so that we might live.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Blessings in our wonderful Lord who is nearer to us than a brother.

    David D. Flowers

  • Michael William Smith

    Thank you David for expressing the Lord Jesus Christ in writing this. I share alot of similar experiences. I left the institutional church with my family a little while back. I was being crushed by religion. We now meet in a house church in Conroe, Tx. not too far from you! Anyway, the Lord has used the writings of James A. Fowler from Christ in you website, your writing, and others to reveal more of Himself to me. I like when Mr. Fowler brings it home when he says Christianity is not religion, Christianity is Christ! Anyway, I enjoy your site brother and thank you again for expressing our great King Jesus Christ.

  • David D. Flowers

    Hey Michael, thanks for connecting. I sent you an e-mail.
    I am encouraged by your testimony. Blessings, bro.

  • theoraclemag

    “It was a few years ago that I first began realizing that American Christianity does a fine job of polishing its rhetoric to reflect a Christ-centered creed, but its practices are far from resembling Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels”. That is a Good point. This post is full of good post. This is a powerful post. Yashua talked about tradition and how spiritually deadly tradition and religion can be. My people have a personal relationship, not with GOD but with their church, with a building!

  • Misha

    If the idea of Christ´s character in our mind is wrong, then, it won´t help if such Christ is on the throne of our heart and in the center of our hopes. The wrong idea of Christ´s character can completely suffocate the work of Holy Spirit in us. Today, in time of great lawlessness and hedonism, it is important to pay attention to the demands of God’s character.

  • David Ulrich

    “I have found that we can still read the Scriptures like these infamous Pharisees. I obtained a degree and spent years studying the Bible. Like the Pharisees, I believed that orthodoxy was the key to revolution. Like so many popular reformed theologians today, it is believed that correct doctrine and defending the “truth” in the culture is the secret to God’s Kingdom coming to earth. These men boldly rebuke “heretics” and don’t mind offending you for the sake of their personality. And of course, all of this is done in the name of Christ. This is what so many believe to be “Christ-centered.”

    “When Sola Scriptura (i.e. Scripture alone) is your war cry… you have no choice to make for yourselves a Bible-centered life that is disconnected from Christ the living Word. A faith built on a passion for doctrine… demands the same attitude that put Jesus on the cross.

    “In this kind of life… the Bible becomes an end unto itself. And whatever a person needs to do to further “correct” doctrine and defend the Bible… is permissible in certain circles of evangelicals today. They are quick to denounce the sincere pursuit of others who seek a Christ that is more than a few theological bullet points and sin-centered sermons littered with meaningless clichés.”

    This was me without the degree!
    The one thing that I distinctly see in “theology, theology, theology” and “doctrine,doctrine, doctrine” is that it robbed me of the joy of my salvation. Knowing and rejoicing in the fact that I am one of the elect is not the same as the “joy unspeakable” that comes from loving and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:8). Praise be to Him for all of His goodness toward all of His people.

  • CML

    David, I have just discovered your blog reading someone’s article in the Uni of Wales Christian forum. Your comment that ‘knowledge obtained without first having passed through the cross of Jesus will always lead to sin. It is here where many believers find themselves’ is so true about me. I am knowlegeable in Scripture yet I am living a life of frurstration. Just like one of the commentators on your blog, at times I find myself saying that it would be better to be back in Egypt than live a hypocritical Christian life. However, the words of Peter ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ always comfort me to stay close to Christ, despite what ‘sola scripture’ has turned me to be; A robot Christian, with no life of Christ, at times!
    Your article so well written and put expresses the condition of my heart and mind! hoping to discover what next on the exodus? May God richly bless you! CML

  • neilrobbie

    I am almost one year into leading a small church in a tough part of Britain and I long to focus my energy on introducing people to the living Jesus as he walks off the pages of scripture. What gets in the way of me doing this is not doctrine and systematics, which serve to make Jesus real (how else do you learn about Christ from Psalm 1 without systematics?), but the institution, buildings, grounds and so on which must be maintained to keep the church family dry and warm when we meet.

    I will be following you on Twitter as you seek to make Christ real without the institution. Neil

  • David D. Flowers

    Thanks, Neil.

    Keep helping others to see the reality of Jesus!
    Blessings to you, brother.

  • Paul Snyder

    Another great article! It sounds like we have walked the same path to a very large degree.
    Thanks for sharing your heart intelligently!

  • david bolton

    David, I am glad that I’ve come across your blog. This is an excellent sharing concerning the centrality of Christ from a personal testimony, as well as a Scriptural and an historical perspective. It is a blessing to read of one who has come out of Biblio-centrism to Christ the Center and can articulate it so well. I look forward to reading more. Blessings in Him!

  • Mireya Marquez

    Wow!! May the Lord Bless you!! Read threw it all I see my self in it many of our brothers and sisters are there too!! I pray that God would open the eyes of our interlectual to see were we are standing!!Please pray for me and husband. God Bless You!

  • Mireya Marquez

    To God Be The Glory! For Ever and Ever Amen! I was listening to radio and was totally disapointed from what I heard will not say name but he said drinking beer and smoking cigarets is ok cuz it doesnt say in Bible not to do so. But God’s word says no drunkers will inheret the KINGDOM OF GOD. I know its not good to judge others but I believe it wrong. When God came into my life I was an alcoholic and drug attic 15 years and He transformed my life that day. Praise Be to God!

  • Trevor Lloyd

    Wow! Once in a while you stumble across something that so resonates with your own personal journey; and that puts into words what you’ve been feeling in your spirit. This is one of those beautiful stumbles for me. Thank you.

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