“Pietism” is a theology of personal retreat, defeat and escape.
It believes that I am God’s highest purpose, thus making everything about me (or us) – and about our purely subjective and often self-focused relationship with Jesus – but not much more.
“Post Modernism” is a philosophy that defines reality solely in terms of me, myself and I – because everything is determined by my own perceptions, experiences and sensibilities.
Christian post-modernism teaches that we should disengage from the world because it is irrelevant and is a distraction from God’s ultimate purpose – which is a relationship with me and those like me.
Building on one or more of those “isms”, in some circles “ekklesia” is now becoming a theology of ecclesiastical self-absorption.
Under the banner of “ekklesia” (the Greek word for “church”), some want to deny or explain away the Kingdom of God and the Great Commission and promote ekklesia – built on their own pietistic post-modern sensibilities – to the exclusion of all else.
Jesus, in turn, becomes only about me and those like me among post-modern pietists, as they create Him in their own image. Some even promote the view in blogs and upcoming books that they are now “beyond” all other parts of the Body of Christ.
My Jesus, however, is bigger than their Jesus!
Vision and Mission
This latest theological fad is a reaction to a “mission” mentality that has, I agree, wounded many people by pushing the centrality of Jesus out of too many churches. Everything, including Jesus and His people, becomes secondary to some vision or mission, and many Christians have been deeply offended and hurt as a result.
But an extreme reaction to a problem can often be just as problematic as the original wrong.
As I read some bloggers who are trying to promote “ekklesia” (the latest buzz word for “organic” or “simple” church), my spirit has become troubled as I see them create new problems in reaction to old problems.
Often, in their zeal to promote their vision of ekklesia as against everything else, they say it’s all about Jesus because true ekklesia – to use a New Testament metaphor – is the Body of Christ.
But the Jesus they see is really a Jesus created in their own image – shaped by the hurts they’ve suffered or their reaction to the wrongs they’ve witnessed or just simply their own post-modern sensibilities – in order to promote some concept of the Body of Christ which is little more than a justification for their safely-ensconced retreat into self-constructed cocoons.
Like any truth out of balance, the irony is that those who most loudly protest that ekklesia should be only about Jesus have, in fact, created a false and emasculated Jesus to justify their own personal and reactionary theology.
Yes, ekklesia is about Jesus …
… but Jesus is about more than just ekklesia – and thus, is about more than just me and “us”.
Boxing God In?
I am not going to box God in by telling Him – or you – what His life must look like in you or in your church. Sure, there are basic components for authentically biblical church, and for the most part institutional churches fall far short.
But apart from those basic components, neither will I box God in, and thus limit His people, by proclaiming what church can’t look like – because what Jesus in me and my fellowship looks like often will be different than what Jesus in you and your fellowship will look like.
We each have different gifts and callings, with different graces, and thus should expect there to be different expressions of Jesus within the Church, within the larger Kingdom of God, and within our fulfillment of the Great Commission.
There also are different seasons, and different cultures, and different stages of growth and maturity, and so the life of Jesus in each of us also will look and be expressed differently – individually, collectively as the church, and culturally as salt and light to a desperate world – for those reasons.
It is immaturity to say – apart from some biblical basics that I fully affirm – that because my experience of Jesus is such and such, then your experience of Jesus must look the same. It is even greater immaturity to say that because my experience of Jesus is NOT such and such, then Jesus himself is NOT about such and such.
And it is pure, unmitigated gall to tell everyone how your tribe (i.e., those who share your own post-modern, pietisitc sensibilities) is “beyond” all the rest of the Body of Christ – especially when the fruit of your tribe has been little more than ingrown, anemic Christianity that can’t seem to gain traction outside your own post-modern, pietistic circles.
It is time for some fruit inspection!
The Grand Epic
If Jesus in me does not result in Jesus among us, there is a problem. On this, I agree with those who have reacted against “mission” or “discipleship” or whatever else might become more important than the life of Jesus in us and among us.
But we need to take it further. Colossians chapter 1 is a great exposition on this. If Jesus living in us and among us does not result in Jesus living through us – for the transformation of our culture and even history itself as “all things, whether on earth or in heaven,” are “reconciled to Christ” (Col. 1:20) – then we serve a false Jesus.
Some say ekklesia is all about Jesus, and I agree. But we nonetheless need to ask whether they are touting a Jesus created in their own image to justify some reactive retreat. It could be a negative reaction to a totalitarian and thus abusive affirmation of Christ’s preeminence over all things. Or it could be a negative reaction to hierarchical and thus controlling forms of discipleship. Or it could be a negative reaction to any number of wrongs.
But in doing so, they risk throwing out the proverbial baby with the proverbial bath water. If we buy into any reactive and thus false concept of “ekklesia”, by pursuing a false and emasculated Jesus, then we concede defeat, deny the Great Commission, limit the Kingdom of God, and are left with only one option: to escape into ever more introspective and introverted cocoons.
Let’s deal with legitimate wrongs, but without limiting Jesus or His sovereign Lordship over all things!
Let’s stop dissing other segments and “tribes” within the larger Body of Christ – whether they be Charismatic, fundamentalist, evangelical, neo-Calvinist, politically engaged, or whatever – by mis-characterizing them through negative stereotypes in order to claim we are somehow better than them.
I am not better than the the rest of the Body of Christ, because they have things that I need, and I have things they need.
In our own fellowships, we have worked hard to develop resources and ministries to help people get to an authentic Jesus, by finding healing and wholeness. This frees them to experience true ekklesia, because they have the life of Jesus where before there was only hurt or reaction. And in that freedom, they are doing wonderful things to advance the will of the Father in all spheres of human endeavor.
It is wonderful when people come into fellowship hurting or wounded, and find healing. But those who want to be national influences or insist on publishing public blogs to promote a crippled vision of ekklesia – out of negative reactions to admittedly real problems – are doing a great disservice to the Body of Christ.
Let’s guard against “ekklesia” becoming just another name for reactive, self-imposed cocoons built around our own sensibilities.
Let’s stop with the “beyond” stuff, which is really just an ill-considered attempt to say that the sensibilities of one’s own “tribe” should be normative for everyone else.
Let’s truly be all about Jesus, but let’s make sure He’s the Jesus He Himself reveals to us in the Great Commission: Jesus, Lord of all who is over all – in heaven and on earth!
For a follow-up series of blogs, see Beyond Evangelical, Parts 1 through 3.