Tag Archives: christ the center

On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality

We just recently celebrated the life and work of the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no doubt that King will forever stand as a symbol of civil and social justice against the menacing tide of racism. He yearned for equality in the United States, and around the world as well.

At the end of last year we remembered the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who helped end apartheid. Two men. Two countries. One passion. It amazes me what God can do through broken people!

I see much of Christ in these men, and celebrate their accomplishments, but I think it is important to remember Christ himself as the purest symbol of diversity and equality. And not just as a symbol, but as a LIVING Spirit at work in the world to draw all men into divine community—which is far different from a world community apart from him. That much is clear today.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized in his time the need for authentic community, with Christ at the center.

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” Life Together, p.21

Bonhoeffer went on to say that Christian community is governed by the Spirit, in human community it is psychological techniques and methods (p.32).

There is a difference between the community of sinners and the community of saints. The spiritual love of Christ fuels authentic human community. This is absent in the pop-cultural expressions of love and acceptance.

While I do believe that a world which doesn’t know Christ can share in the abundant overflow of God’s love and grace permeating throughout creation, in sincere pursuit of human community, there will always be a missing Center.

Only community with Christ at its center is restorative, redemptive, LIFE-giving, and everlasting.

This has been recognized throughout church history, beginning with Christ himself. You can’t have community without love, and you can’t truly know love without first knowing the God revealed in Jesus (1 Jn 4:7-9).

Therefore, community for the Christian ultimately comes through separation from the world. In the world, yes. But certainly not of the world (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:12). A truth that we are hearing less and less these days.

The postmodern idea of diversity and equality is not the same as that of the divine Christian community established by Christ. The rhetoric is often the same, but they stand in stark contrast to each other. Think about it.

The former doesn’t recognize sin as a spiritual sickness and therefore denies the need for a savior, for repentance, renewal, and transformation.

In today’s world, this sort of human “community” ultimately explains sin away as merely a genetic problem, external cultural forces, or simply says there was/is NO problem in the first place.

The gospel of Christ, and the whole of Scripture, testifies that human beings have a sin problem. Even as someone who personally believes in theistic evolution, I affirm Christ and the Scriptures about the broken state of human beings and their futile attempts at global solidarity (Gen 3; 11:1-9; Rom 3:23).

When Peter recognizes he is in the presence of a holy Jesus, he falls down and cries, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). Jesus doesn’t reply with, “No, you’re just a product of evolution… your daddy beat you… you just need to accept who you are… the power of positive thinking can help!”

To be clear, I’m confident that Jesus would recognize that modern scientific discoveries can help us understand ourselves better today than in the first century, and that he would suggest some counseling for troubled folks, but it is post-enlightenment arrogance to assign Jesus’ language and teaching to “pre-scientific” ignorance about the human psyche. The spiritual component is no less real than that which can be charted by a neurologist or your therapist. In fact, Jesus saw the spirit, mind, and body as a whole.

So, let’s call selfish, destructive behavior what it is: sin. We all experience sin at work in us everyday. It wars against us (Rom 7). And there is only one remedy.

Jesus was clear that he came, “not to call the righteous, but to save sinners” (Mk 2:17). He actually seeks out sinners (Matt 9:9-13). He tells us to repent of our sins and come into the Kingdom he is preparing for those who are willing to be transformed into his glorious image (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:2-6; 2 Cor 3:18). There is no salvation apart from repentance.

This Kingdom is about the here and the now. This salvation is for today.

God calls us, as broken sinners, into a community of saints who practice repentance and have foresworn all sinful behavior.

This divine Christian community discovers diversity and equality through the salvific work of Christ to transform sinners into saints, not by overlooking our deep human brokenness for the sake of secular tolerance.

The call is for people of every tribe and tongue to repent of their sin and come into the Kingdom of God. This diversity does not allow for a moral licentiousness and a tolerance of all human behaviors (Eph 4:17-32; Col 3:1-17).

Remember, it is a community of Christ. Christ, who shows us what it means to be fully human, must be the Center of community.

There is grace for the journey, even in the church. But the reality of sin and the need for repentance must be acknowledged if divine community is to be experienced. Only then can we know what is part of our God-given humanness, and what is to be repented of for individual wholeness, as well as for the forming of Christ’s Body on the earth.

Let’s agree on that, brothers and sisters.

This is what the communion table represents—a community of sinners-made-saints who are daily repenting of sin, being fashioned and formed into Christ, and celebrate together the past, present, and future of this new reality.

Eat and drink in remembrance of him.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Christ, Community, & Christian Ethics

Christ, Community, & Christian Ethics:             The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since his death, and especially in the last two decades, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) has stirred the hearts and minds of Christians worldwide. It is through his life and writings that he has earned a place in history as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. Bonhoeffer presented a stimulating challenge to a church that had colluded with the secular powers, and that had lost the will to resist evil with Christian discipleship.

Bonhoeffer is popularly remembered for his attention to Christ’s demands in the Sermon on the Mount. He provocatively discussed these demands in his book Discipleship. He wrote, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.”[1] However, it is his works on Christology, ecclesiology, and theological ethics that readers have appreciated Bonhoeffer as an innovative Christian thinker.[2] Above all it was Bonhoeffer’s ingenuity amidst a crippled church and his resilience in the face of an evil political regime that has led to his enduring legacy as a Nazi resister.

It is the purpose of this paper to survey the literary and theological contributions of Bonhoeffer by: (1) briefly discussing his particular situation and context, (2) appraising his ideas born out of social, cultural, and political adversity, (3) offering praise and critique of his unique contributions to Christian faith and living. More specifically, this paper will highlight those literary works of Bonhoeffer that reveal the thinking behind his actions as a disciple of Christ. This paper will conclude with a sensitive critique of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics.

THE WORLD OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER  

Nazi Germany and the Confessing Church

Adolf Hitler ascended to power in Germany in January of 1933. The German Christian Church eventually fell complacent, even submissive to the ideals of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer shortly after became a founding member of a new church, a “Confessing Church” formally founded at Barmen in May of 1934. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church dedicated itself to remaining free of the anti-Semitism that had plagued Germany.

The Barmen Declaration, principally authored by Swiss theologian Karl Barth, plainly stated what the German church had always believed according the Scriptures. Therefore, it rejected the state’s takeover of the church, it repudiated the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazis, and it denounced other heresies set forth by German Christians.[3]

The following excerpt directly addresses extreme nationalism:

We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State. The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans (Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church, 8.23-27).[4]

The Confessing Church received increasing pressure from the Gestapo, and Bonhoeffer soon found himself in the minority as the Evangelical Church turned away from the Gospel of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. In August of 1937, the Confessing Church was declared illegal. The following month, the Gestapo shut down the church’s Finkenwalde seminary. Twenty-seven of Bonhoeffer’s students were arrested, others were forced to join the army. In January of the next year, the Gestapo banned Bonhoeffer from Berlin, and the Nazis began burning down churches.

Union Seminary and the Harlem Experience

Bonhoeffer first visited the United States in 1931 to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He developed a friendship with four Union students: Jean Lasserre (French), Erwin Sutz (Swiss), Paul Lehmann (American), and Albert Franklin “Frank” Fisher (African American).

Jean Lasserre, a devout pacifist, was a major influence on Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. It is true that Bonhoeffer likely read the antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front in seminary, but it was the viewing of the film with Lasserre that brought a lasting change in Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas writes:

The sadness of the violence and suffering on the screen brought Bonhoeffer and Lasserre to tears, but even worse to them was the reaction in the theater. Lassarre remembered American children in the audience laughing and cheering when Germans, from whose point of view the story was told, were killing the French. For Bonhoeffer, it was unbearable. Lassarre believed that on that afternoon Bonhoeffer became a pacifist. Lassarre spoke often about the Sermon on the Mount and how it informed his theology. From that point forward it became a central part of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology, too, which eventually led him to write his most famous book, The Cost of Discipleship.[5]

While Lasserre helped to shape Bonhoeffer’s thinking on non-violent resistance, it was Frank Fisher an African American from Alabama that would have the greatest influence on Bonhoeffer’s life and theology. Bonhoeffer was not all that impressed with many liberal churches in New York that had given up the centrality of Christ for social activism, but he was captivated by the experience of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Fisher introduced him to the African American community that sang and preached Christ with great passion and conviction. It was there at Abyssinian that Bonhoeffer heard Christ-centered preaching that fueled action for social justice on behalf of the oppressed Negro people. At the time, Bonhoeffer had never seen such bigotry and racism.

Bonhoeffer once remarked that there was no “analogous situation in Germany” that compared to the treatment of blacks by whites. “It is a bit unnerving that in a country with so inordinately many slogans about brotherhood, peace, and so on, such things still continue completely uncorrected,” said Bonhoeffer.[6] His experiences in Harlem would prepare him for what he would soon encounter in his own country with the Jews.

Bonhoeffer would return to America a second time in June of 1939 to take a teaching position at Union Theological Seminary, as he avoided the military call-up issued by Germany. But Bonhoeffer was deeply troubled as he contemplated the will of God for his life and for Germany in such a dark hour under Hitler. In a letter to Reinhold Neibuhr, he wrote:

I have had time to think and to pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God’s will for me clarified. I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.[7]

After only twenty-six days in New York, Bonhoeffer resigned and returned to Germany the following month. He committed himself to endure the hardships of his people during wartime.[8]

From Pacifist Pastor to Nazi Resister

World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. In October of 1940, the Gestapo banned Bonhoeffer from speaking in public, and soon after was forbidden to publish his writings. Bonhoeffer had already been receiving inside information for some time from his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, who worked with Military Intelligence, and was part of a growing resistance to Hitler.

After having been silenced by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer would learn of new horrifying details about the Third Reich that prompted him to begin taking an active role against Hitler for the sake of Germany and the church. He was convinced that Hitler must be removed from power.

Hitler was unveiling an evil plan, which he had been waiting to act on since his rise to power. “Hitler received moral support for his claim to be the God-given executor of historical justice, and only a small remnant was able to perceive, precisely here, Satan in the form of an angel of light,” wrote Bonhoeffer.[9]

In July of 1940, Bonhoeffer made the decision to serve as a “V-Man” (Verbindungsmann, or confidential agent) for Military Intelligence under another lead military resister, Admiral Canaris. Metaxas writes:

Canaris and the others in German military leadership thought that Hitler’s bestial nature was unfortunate, but they had no idea it was something that he cultivated and celebrated, that it was part of an ideology that had been waiting for this opportunity to leap at the throats of every Jew and Pole, priest and aristocrat, and tear them to pieces. The German generals had not seen the dark river of blood bubbling beneath the surface of the new Germany, but suddenly here it was, gushing like a geyser. Despite all the hints and warnings, it was too gruesome to be believed.[10]

Bonhoeffer’s sister-in-law once wrote to him saying, “You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done, but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it.”[11]

To be clear, it wasn’t out of pressure that Bonhoeffer joined the resistance and decided to get his “hands dirty” in the process, it was out of conviction. Eberhard Bethge, friend and biographer, remembers Bonhoeffer’s shift “from confession to resistance” when they were together during a call to salute Hitler: “Bonhoeffer raised his arm in the regulation Hitler salute, while I stood there dazed. “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” he whispered to me, and later: “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!”[12] Bonhoeffer embraced the double-life, the lies, and the deception that goes along with being a conspirator and Nazi resister, and he felt strongly it was the will of God for his life.

Bonhoeffer continued writing and pastoring while he kept his front as Abwehr agent with the Nazi regime. He was engaged in a “high-stakes game of deception upon deception”—convinced that he was being obedient to God. Metaxas writes: “Bonhoeffer was not telling little white lies. In Luther’s famous phrase, he was “sinning boldly.”[13]

The resistance made several attempts to assassinate Hitler, but all attempts failed. Bonhoeffer did manage to help Jews escape Germany and keep pastors out of the military. He made frequent trips abroad in order to communicate with the allies that there was a real resistance to Hitler.

The Nazis were bearing down on the Confessing Church and all those who conspired against them. It was shortly after one resister’s failed attempt to detonate a bomb in his overcoat while in the presence of Hitler that the Gestapo began to close in on the conspirators. In April of 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested with the rest of the resistance. The Nazis knew of his efforts to help Jews while under the guise as an Abwehr agent. And they would later discover Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the assassination plot.

Bonhoeffer was incarcerated at Tegel prison in Berlin for two years, with a short stint at a Gestpo prison for interrogations. He continued to write letters and papers from prison.[14] He encouraged the inmates there, and even established a relationship with a solider that wanted to escape with Bonhoeffer.[15] But he refused to escape and put the lives of those he loved in further danger. Finally, he was taken to Flossenbürg concentration camp, marched naked to the gallows, and executed for high treason on April 9, 1945. He was 39 years old. His final words were, “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.”[16] Less than a month later, the war was over.

IDEAS BORN IN ADVERSITY

The Centrality of Christ

In the Summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer gave a series of lectures on Christology at the University of Berlin. Prior to these lectures, he had already been in dialogue with his students about the role Christ plays in all matters of life, including matters of the state.

What was the church going to do about the growing threat of the Nazi regime? How would she respond on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, racist social policy, and the prospect of war? For Bonhoeffer, making Christ central means living in the world, it means social action.

[Bonhoeffer] decried the church’s hesitation to hear Christ’s gospel in movements toward social justice. Crass opportunism coupled with cowardly passivity had rendered the church irrelevant to average workers who had as little use for a capitalist Christ impervious to their needs as for a church rallying the troops around the flag of privilege.[17]

The church in Germany had compartmentalized her faith to a great degree. She had joined the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. It was later during Bonhoeffer’s incarceration that he would reflect on his time as a “world come of age.” Jeffrey Pugh writes, “By this Bonhoeffer had in mind a world of increasing maturity that was able to arrange itself very well without the tutelage of religion or God.”[18] Therefore, Bonhoeffer envisioned a new sort of Christianity, with Christ at the center—a new brand of “religionless” Christianity. The only way to get at this kind of faith is to have a real, holistic encounter with the living Christ.

The eternal Christ cannot be shaped to fit our own agendas. As Bonhoeffer said in his lectures, “There are only two ways possible of encountering Jesus: man must die or he must put Jesus to death.”[19] Bonhoeffer believed that the person and work of Christ is central to Christian faith. He said, “This complete Christ is the historical Jesus, who can never in any way be separated from his work.”[20] Christology and soteriology cannot be separated and continue to be true Christian faith.

The soterian (salvation) gospel alone, divorced from obedience to the teachings of Christ, is no gospel at all. Bonhoeffer stated, “It is through the work that I recognize the gracious God. My sin is forgiven, I am no longer in death, but in life. All this depends upon the person of Christ, whether his work perishes in the world of death or abides in a new world of life.”[21] According to Bethge, the Christology lectures in the Summer of 1933 were “the high point of Bonhoeffer’s academic career.”[22]

Christ in Community

Bonhoeffer believed that truth is a person (Jn 14:6). He said, “Truth is not something in itself, which rests for itself, but something that happens between two. Truth happens only in community.”[23] The discovery of God’s will in Christ happens in the context of community. His doctoral dissertation, at the age of twenty-one, was entitled, Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of Saints), and was first published in 1930.[24] Karl Barth called his work a “theological miracle.”[25]

From the very beginning, Bonhoeffer was captured by the sociology of the church, “Christ existing as community.” The Volkskirche (church-of-the-people) would lay in stark contrast to Hitler’s new Germany. For Bonhoeffer, without the church, the communion of saints, all that exists is a community of sinners. That community is broken and incapable of existing for the good of humanity. Only by embracing Christ in community can the world be healed—reconciled to God and to each other.

Bonhoeffer writes, “Community with God exists only through Christ, but Christ is present only in his church-community, and therefore community with God exists only in the church.”[26] In his Life Together (1938), Bonhoeffer writes, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”[27]

God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community.[28]

This community is bound together in Trinitarian love, a spiritual love. Bonhoeffer contrasts this spiritual love with a human love—a love with conditions and boundaries—a self-love. He writes, “Human love produces human subjection, dependence, constraint; spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word.”[29] Christ existing as community is manifested in a church that is sustained by a spiritual love, even using that love as its only weapon.[30]

Like the church’s true leader, the communion of saints overcomes through cross-bearing. Bonhoeffer writes, “It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ.”[31]

In Bonhoeffer’s view, the church in Germany was guilty of rejecting an incarnational communion of Christ on the earth, and for the earth. The hour was late. The church should seize the moment and boldly profess that Christ alone is Fuehrer, and his Volkskirche is the only life-giving community on earth, or be condemned by her silence.

Theological Ethics

Bonhoeffer was one of the first evangelical theologians to recognize the great evil taking place within the Third Reich, especially as it concerned Hitler’s policies against the Jews. Hans von Dohnanyi warned Bonhoeffer that Hitler was making plans to persecute the Jewish people.[32] Before the Third Reich released the Aryan paragraph, discriminating against Jews, Bonhoeffer presented an essay on The Church and the Jewish Question—a call for the church to take action.

He proposed that there were three possible ways the church could respond toward the state: (1) admonish the state’s actions, (2) help the victims regardless of their religious affiliation, (3) not only bandage the victims under the wheel of the state, but “jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”[33]

What exactly did Bonhoeffer have in mind at this time? It is hard to say. While he was certainly insinuating direct political action, it does not appear that Bonhoeffer was thinking of an assassination plot at this time. There is no indication that he had given up his views on pacifism. However, it appears that his ethics were evolving.[34] Bonhoeffer said the church is the “boundary of the state” and must hold the state accountable as God’s instrument of righteousness.[35] This would have no doubt smacked of revolution.

Metaxas writes: “Bonhoeffer’s three conclusions… were too much for almost everyone. But for him they were inescapable. In time, he would do all three.”[36] Geffrey Kelly writes: “Church timidity on this issue was one of the reasons he joined the political resistance movement.”[37] A few years later, after being fully convinced that the church was either unwilling or incapable of responding to the actions of the state, Bonhoeffer would find an opportunity to “jam a spoke in the wheel” of the Third Reich.

When Bonhoeffer returned from America in 1939, he knew that war was inevitable. Dohnanyi had given him disturbing evidence of the evil holocaust well underway. One month before the war officially began, Bonhoeffer became a civilian agent of the Abwehr. Disguised as Nazi military intelligence, Bonhoeffer would aid the escape of Jews and join in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He then began writing Ethics at Klein-Krössin. It is in this book that we glean insights into Bonhoeffer’s thinking. For Bonhoeffer, his actions begin with the will of God.

The will of God may lie very deeply concealed beneath a great number of possibilities. The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be. The heart, the understanding, observation and experience must all collaborate in this task. It is not longer a matter of man’s own knowledge of good and evil, but solely of the living will of God; our knowledge of God’s will is not something over which we ourselves dispose, but it depends solely upon the grace of God, and this grace is and requires to be new every morning.[38]

Bonhoeffer believed that proper ethical action must first be rooted in the will of God. The will of God is not always a “concrete” reality. It is at this point where Bonhoeffer’s thinking takes a radical shift from anything he had previously articulated about the will of God, and his own complicit actions against the state. In a broken and fragmented world, doing the will of God might require actions that are less than the ideal—even actions that are evil in themselves.

Bonhoeffer declared, “What is worse than doing evil is being evil. It is worse for a liar to tell the truth than of a lover of truth to lie.”[39] Considering the context of Ethics, it is safe to assume that Bonhoeffer has his own evil deeds in mind. However, those evil deeds done by righteous men are better than the alternative—a person could actually be evil like Hitler—which is far worse.

The following example illuminates Bonhoeffer’s odyssey of reasoning (rationalizing?) the idea:

For example, a teacher asks a child in front of the class whether it is true that his father often comes home drunk. It is true, but the child denies it. The teacher’s question has placed him in a situation for which he is not yet prepared… The child’s answer can indeed be called a lie; yet this lie contains more truth, that is to say, it is more in accordance with reality than would have been the case if the child had betrayed his father’s weakness in front of the class. According to the measure of his knowledge, the child acted correctly. The blame for the lie falls back entirely upon the teacher.[40]

Bonhoeffer believes the Third Reich stands in the place of the teacher who has abused her power. Is the Christian, or the lover of truth, obliged to “tell the truth” to those who have no interest in the truth—those who indeed despise the truth?

Bonhoeffer did not believe so. In fact, the lover of truth should lie, and lie for all he is worth. For Bonhoeffer, this is the “living truth.” Metaxas writes: “Bonhoeffer knew that the flipside of the easy religious legalism of ‘never telling a lie’ was the cynical notion that there is no such thing as truth, only ‘facts.’ This led to the cynical idea that one must say everything with no sense of propriety or discernment, that decorum or reserve was ‘hypocrisy’ and a kind of lie.”[41]

Therefore, Bonhoeffer was seeking a new kind of ethics in a world where he believed the rules had changed so dramatically under Nazism. According to Bonhoeffer, the old ethics simply did not work any longer. James Burtness has written that Bonhoeffer’s work throughout his adult life reveals the formulation of an “ethical theology.” This theology knows the difference between believing and behaving, between confessing and acting, but attempts to demonstrate connections at every point.[42]

For Bonhoeffer, his theological ethics were always rooted in what he believed was a Christo-centric worldview.

CONCLUSION—PRAISE & CRITIQUE

Finally, what can be said about Bonhoeffer’s shift from the pacifist solution to the problem of evil to involving himself in a conspiracy to kill another human being, even one as wicked and tyrannical as Adlof Hitler? It is rather difficult to understand his thinking because his words so often required a great level of secrecy. Stanley Hauerwas has written:

That we cannot know how he understood his participation in the attempt to kill Hitler and thus how his whole life “makes sense” is not a peculiarity Bonhoeffer would think unique to his life. The primary confession of the Christian may be the deed which interprets itself, but according to Bonhoeffer our lives cannot be seen as such a deed. Only “Jesus’ testimony to himself stands by itself, self-authenticating.” In contrast, our lives, no matter how earnestly or faithfully lived, can be no more than fragments.[43]

While it might be impossible to piece together the “fragments” of Bonhoeffer and acquire answers to all the questions that could be asked of him, it is still necessary to include a brief critique of Bonhoeffer’s expressed thoughts and actions–remembering that he is a fallible man following an infallible Christ.

Bonhoeffer believed that the “will of God” is the launching pad into a world of ethical decisions. I agree that the will of God is not always concrete or a rule to be applied legalistically. However, it should be a serious concern for all disciples to recognize that Christ is the full expression of God’s will for human beings. Christ has expressed the will of God in his own life and teachings—even in the face of his mortal enemies. Therefore, God’s will always looks like Jesus dying for those that crucified him.

The church must give up on the myth of redemptive violence, and dispel the disease of “necessary evils.” The cycle of violence ends on a cross, and exposes the hearts of evil men, even disarming them in shame. If the church ever needs to “jam a spoke in the wheel” of the state again, it should be in the form of creative cross-shaped living. The way of the sword always loses.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and a prophet to a church that had largely traded the God of the Scriptures for a god of nationalism. His prophetic voice is still needed today.[44]  Bonhoeffer did not abandon the church or the German people in one of the darkest hours the world has ever known. He continually counted the cost of discipleship, even as he anticipated his ensuing martyrdom. While not without sin, he was truly a great man of faith.

The courage of Bonhoeffer to stand up and speak truth to power is part of his lasting legacy. His unbridled faith and his belief in a hopeful future despite the odds breathe life into the dark corners of a suffocating, cynical world. His lasting contributions are his passion for the centrality of Christ, his insight into the community life of the church, and his untiring devotion to the cause of social justice in the ongoing quest for an ethical theology.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Get the new biography by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyAlso, view the documentary by Martin Doblmeier, Bonhoeffer: Pacifist, Pastor, Nazi Resister (2004), and the movie, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace (2000).

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 89.

[2] This paper will focus on Bonhoeffer’s thinking set forth in the following books: Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (MN: Fortress Press, 1998); Christ the Center (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995); and Life Together (London: SCM Press, 1954).

[3] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 222.

[4] Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 411.

[5] Metaxas, 112-113. The German title of the book is Nachfolge. The English translation is Discipleship.

[6] Ibid., 114.

[7] Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 655.

[8] For more on Bonhoeffer’s transformational experiences in America, see Ruth Zerner’s, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s American experiences: people, letters, and papers from Union Seminary.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 31, no. 4 (June 1, 1976): 261-282.

[9] Schlingensiepen, 242.

[10] Metaxas, 351.

[11] Ibid., 359.

[12] Bethge, 681.

[13] Metaxas, 370.

[14] See Bonhoeffer’s, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1997).

[15] Metaxas, 493.

[16] Schlingensiepen, 378.

[17] Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 111.

[18] Jeffrey C. Pugh, Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), 45.

[19] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), 35; Bonhoeffer’s “Christology” lectures were entitled “Christ the Center” in English publications.

[20] Christ the Center, 39.

[21] Ibid., 38.

[22] Kelly and Nelson, 111.

[23] Christ the Center, 50.

[24] Kelly and Nelson, 54.

[25] See Clifford Green, ‘Human sociality and Christian community’, in John W. de Gruchy ed., The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 122.

[26] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 158.

[27] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (London: SCM Press, 1954), 21.

[28] Life Together, 22-23.

[29] Ibid., 37.

[30] Sanctorum Communio, 202.

[31] Life Together, 101.

[32] Schlingensiepen, 125.

[33] Kelly and Nelson, 130-132.

[34] Bonhoeffer did not begin writing Ethics for another seven years, but his ideas on the relationship between church and state were already moving him to a new position.

[35] Christ the Center, 63.

[36] Metaxas, 155.

[37] Kelly and Nelson, 131.

[38] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 41.

[39] Ibid., 67.

[40] Ibid., 362-363. Christian ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, discusses this analogy in his article: “Bonhoeffer on truth and politics.” Conrad Grebel Review 20, no. 3 (September 1, 2002): 40-57. For a lengthy discussion on the context of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics, see: Heinz Eduard Tödt, Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

[41] Metaxas, 366.

[42] James H. Burtness, Shaping the Future: The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 25.

[43] Stanley Hauerwas, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s political theology” (Conrad Grebel Review 20, no. 3 September 1, 2002: 17-39), 19.

[44] For a modern application of Bonhoeffer’s ideas, see David Wellman’s, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ethic of resistance in George W Bush’s America: a call to progressive Christians in the United States.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 60, no. 1-2 (January 1, 2006): 69-77.


Jesus Manifesto

Moving Forward in Exploration of Christ

A Book Review of “Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ” by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

I can hear it now, “Do we really need another book about Jesus?” Apparently so, considering that as we entered the twenty-first century only 4 books out of the top 100 were about Jesus (Christian Book Association).

In Jesus Manifesto, Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola combine their voices to trumpet a resounding reminder that we never “graduate beyond Christ” in the Christian faith. And Christ isn’t found only in the center of things, but along the “corners and on the edges” as well.

Sweet and Viola believe we have created a “narcissistic” and a “best-seller” Christianity which is “self-centeredness wrapped up as ‘spirituality,’ which has become the latest fashion accessory for the person who has everything” (p. 100).

There is indeed much to be disheartened with in Christianity today. Yet, there is a growing number of evangelicals that are discovering that pop-culture Christianity is leaving them high and dry. “Whether they realize it or not,” says Sweet and Viola, “people are looking for a fresh alternative—a third way” (p. xiii).

As I look across the present post-modern landscape of Christianity, I see several camps of believers pushing their way through the crowd to stand on the rooftop of evangelicalism with their megaphone in hand (i.e. books, magazines, blogs, etc.) proclaiming the “real” gospel.

There are several current groups and “movements” that are all trying to highlight the neglected sides of historic Christianity. We have the reformed “defenders of orthodoxy,” the emerging brand, the missional-minded, and the organic house church folk, just to name a few.

I do believe that most of the people in these groups truly love the Lord and his church, but many of them are in danger of becoming preoccupied with some thing else other than Christ.

Sweet and Viola believe there are three features present in every spiritual awakening in the Christian church: (1) a rediscovery of the “living Word,” or the Scriptures and its authority; (2) a rediscovery of the living Christ and His supremacy; and (3) a rediscovery of the living Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts and power to manifest Christ in the context of that culture.  (p. xvii)

We’re living in some hot times economically, politically, and socially. Christians are engaging in an exchange of ideas (not without some name-calling and finger-pointing). It’s evident that even those who have been the most outspoken for the “supremacy of Christ” and right “doctrine” have succumbed to rhetorically burning people at the stake in the name of Jesus.

Where is Christ in word and deed? Sweet and Viola write, “Whatever you are occupied with comes out of your mouth. It’s what you talk about most of the time” (p.19). And we should not just be hearers of Jesus only, but doers of Him.

Is “mission” our center?  Is it community? Some say it’s preaching and others… ministry. If we say that Christ is central and supreme, what does that mean concerning justice? What does His universe look like when we are first seeking Christ and His Kingdom?

When Christ is not central and supreme in our lives, everything about life shifts out of orbit and moves out of kilter. So for Christians, our first task is to know Jesus. And out of that knowing, we will come to love Him, adore Him, proclaim Him, and manifest Him. (p. 2)

That’s why this book has been written. It addresses the present challenges we face as many “things” compete for the centrality and supremacy of the person Jesus Christ. We are called to be “living epistles” or “Jesus Manifestos” in our world. It’s about being true to Christianity.

So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology or a philosophy. Neither is it a new type of morality, social ethic, or worldview. Christianity is the ‘good news’ that beauty, truth, and goodness are found in a person. And true humanity and community are founded on and experienced by connection to that person. (p. xvi)

Finally, Jesus Manifesto has been purposely written in an “ancient devotional tone” of writing. In the spirit of Watchman Nee, Jeanne Guyon, Andrew Murray, and T. Austin-Sparks, this book is a fresh call to the post-modern church: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2).

And let us move forward in exploration of Christ Jesus our Lord.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”   Paul, Colossians 2:6,7

Can we, as the Christian church, agree upon the person of Christ? “Receiving Christ also means receiving all who belong to Him” (p. 147).

Will you sign the Jesus Manifesto?

Others who have signed

“One more sign of a Christianity that is beginning to look like Jesus again. Our great challenge over the past few decades has not been one of right believing but of right living. Viola and Sweet create a harmony here that invites you to give the world a Christianity worth believing in … after all they will know we are Christians, not by our bumper stickers and t-shirts — but by our love.” 
Shane Claiborne—author, activist, and recovering sinner    http://www.simpleway.org

“From beginning to end, authentic Christianity is all about Jesus and, ultimately, nothing but Jesus. No one has proclaimed this more clearly and persuasively than Viola and Sweet. Jesus Manifesto is an important and powerful prophetic call for the Martha-like Church to get back to doing “the one thing that is needful.” 
Gregory A. Boyd—Senior Pastor, Woodland Hills Church, Maplewood, MN; Author, Present Perfect, The Myth of a Christian Nation, and The Jesus Legend.

“This is a really exhilarating reintroduction to a Jesus who seems sometimes to have become a stranger to the Church; a passionate and joyful celebration of God with us, which cuts right through churchy quarrelling and brings us back to wonder, love and praise – and the urgent desire to make Him known to all.”  Rowan Williams—Archbishop of Canterbury

“I look for books that call us to love Jesus and make His name more widely known. In Jesus Manifesto, Sweet and Viola ask us to step away out of the “Youniverse” (their word) of narcissistic religion and away from the pop-culture Jesus who is just a nice man. Throughout the book, they exalt Jesus as the divine Savior and ask the church to do the same. I believe this book will spark a renewed love for Christ by pointing us to the deep mystery of His person. You will be motivated to love and serve more deeply as your life is focused on Jesus the Messiah.”
 Ed Stetzer—President of LifeWay Research http://www.edstetzer.com

Read more endorsements at:  www.thejesusmanifesto.org

Buy Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy & Sovereignty of Jesus Christ (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2010) on discount today (6/1/10) at: www.amazon.com

And please take a few seconds to give this review a helpful vote at amazon.  Thanks!

Len Sweet & Frank Viola

Leonard Sweet occupies the Chair of Evangelism at Drew University in New Jersey and contributes weekly to sermons.com and a podcast, “Napkin Scribbles.” He has authored numerous articles, sermons, and forty books.   www.LeonardSweet.com

Frank Viola is a best-selling author, international conference speaker, and a personal friend. His books include Finding Organic Church, Reimagining Church, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, and the best-selling From Eternity to Here.   www.FrankViola.com


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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