God in a Box

We all tend to put God in a box bounded by our own biases, giftings and sensibilities.

I do it. You do it. We all relate to Jesus within the confines of our own God-given (and sometimes not so God-given) attributes. And we all tend to think our own box defines, or should define, the totality of life, reality and even Jesus Himself.

Maturity, however, is recognizing and affirming Christ – often in others (including their warts and shortcomings) – outside our box.

Learning to Recognize Christ Outside Your Box

This is a necessary foundation for true church, and is why we see so much attention given in the New Testament to having different gifts, grace, callings (e.g. Eph. 4) and even doctrinal perspectives (e.g. Rom. 14).

Even with those differences, there is still one body as we learn to recognize and affirm Christ in each other – not despite those differences or by merely tolerating what may seem like “distractions” from our own box. Rather, as we honestly embrace those differences and their complementary strengths, we experience the mutual building up of His Church.

When Boxes Become the New Legalism

Usually there’s nothing inherently wrong with your box or mine. Christ is immanent in each of our boxes – whether they be cultural, theological, attitudinal, generational, or whatever – yet He transcends all boxes.

The problem arises when we limit God – or His people – to our own little box and think it defines the totality of Christ and His purposes. When we do this, we stop becoming the Body of Christ and start becoming a cult.

Often we do this with grand sounding theological pronouncements, like “Christ is all” or that we are God’s “epic purpose”. That sounds good, and is enticing, until you encounter the behind-the-scenes nastiness and subtle dissing – by folks with an otherwise charming public persona – against those who dare suggest there are other perspectives outside their boxes.

You then realize how shallow those slogans really are, as they are used to promote some “apostle”, “worker” or author’s own existential box – and thus dividing rather than building up Christ’s Body.

And what are some of those other perspectives? Simply this: Christ is all, but “all” means more than just Jesus bounded by the box of my own sensibilities. And the grand “epic” really is about reconciling all of God’s creation to Christ’s Lordship, and thus doesn’t stop with just the box bounded by “me” or even “us”. (Col. 1)

Putting God’s people in the box of your own narrow vision and image of Christ, as I’ve said before, is crazy. This new legalism has got to stop.

My Box or Your’s?

My prayer for the Church is that we see our own boxes for what they are, be faithful where God has called us, but also learn to affirm Christ – with His varied purposes and His different gifts – in others.

Only then will we stop implying that we are better than or somehow beyond other segments of His Body, and not fall into the trap of dismissing or marginalizing – even if unintentionally – God’s grace in others.

In my box, I may see things and experience Christ in ways that might exceed you. But it is almost always true that you and your box exceed me in other ways.

Be faithful, then, to your own box – but NEVER in any cultish isolation that’s “beyond” anyone or that seeks to impose your own limited vision of Christ on everyone.

Your box, if legitimate, is where God has called you and that’s His measure of grace for you – but always in the context of learning to embrace His diversity in others.

To truly do this, I must come to recognize that Christ is all – even outside my box. And that’s the rub.

We all tend to think more highly of our own selves, and our own boxes, than we ought. And we marginalize or dismiss what we don’t value.

We may do it with charm and tact, but we do it nonetheless.

Loving Christ’s Multifaceted Body

It’s OK to love the particular distinctive aspects of Christ in your box, but not too much! Embrace what is uniquely Christ in you and among you.

But learn also to love and affirm – and even relate to – what God is doing in others…

Learn to love and affirm how Christ is expressed differently in others…

… both within your own local expression of His body and within the Body of Christ at large.

However, if you have become part of some cultish group that thinks it has some new, deeper life revelation of Christ which demands that you surrender your unique God-given soul and individuality, and they won’t change, then please – for God’s sake – leave and seek healthy fellowship!

Then, maybe – just maybe – we can begin to fulfill Christ’s prayer that we be one – not, God forbid, the same – but one.

One truly glorious, multifaceted, multi-gifted and multi-functional Body of Christ – where we are able to finally affirm and esteem one another, and all our wonderful individual diversity, in love.

~ Jim

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13 responses

  1. To look for Christ in others, rather than analyzing them to see where they’re failing. Yep. Thanks for opening my box on that :-)

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  2. brilliant, great challenge and encouragement. i hope to live this out, but i realize its only in christ that i can since it goes against my natural thinking. It seems to me when we do not have a following or salary or public reputation to sustain/protect it is easier to flesh this out. It is ok for us to admit our limitations and genuinely celebrate christ in others… all the more when that is done specifically and practically beyond a general nonspecific appreciation of other believers and what they bring to the table. shalom

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  3. This is good, Jesus wants us to be one absolutely, we should except others in the body for without them…there would be nobody, Paul said, “I become all things to all men, so that I may win some” we as the body are all things to all men, thanks for the good read this morning…I love you all :D

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  4. Hi! I haven’t commented here before, but this post caught my eye on twitter.

    I think I know where you are are coming from, but I’m just a little confused…maybe there are more dialogues going on behind the scenes that I’m unaware of…anyway. I am sure we agree that within the Body of Christ at large, our Lord Jesus should be our focus, rather than our differences.

    I can see that I am biased and involuntarily influenced by my own box; and I’m not sure there is a way around that, other than just being aware of it and trusting that human shortcoming to the Good Shepherd to lead me through it all. Trusting Him to live and love my brethren through me. My feeble attempts at “Jesus-likeness” have amounted to nothing, but when His life is making my spirit alive, it’s a different story.

    Believe it or not, many of the books, blogs and audios of Viola, Zens, et al, have been instrumental in teaching me this. (I have never met the people from their circles in person.) There was a time when I worried that the organic church community that I was encountering online felt like another denomination forming, with it’s own lingo and its own set of books to follow; yet at the same time everything about it rings true in my spirit.

    I think the “ReChurch Library” can be misunderstood to be implying that healthy organic church cannot be birthed without someone from Mr. Viola’s own circle to come and lay the foundation. Over time, continuing to read his publications, I have been convinced that his attempt is to sincerely point to Christ as our head, and encourage Christ’s body to express the Light of Jesus—not a personal pursuit of laying legalism on us.

    Other blogs like Ross Rohde’s and Keith Giles’ have been very encouraging in this respect as well, and balancing out my reading diet. They encourage everyone to follow Christ in this pursuit, obeying Him, regardless of affiliation.

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  5. Esther, the points in my blog go “beyond” (no pun intended) any specific concerns regarding Frank Viola, Jon Zens, et al. The tendency to think and act as though Christ is only about our box – whether cultural, theological, generational, attitudinal, aptitudinal, or whatever – is a BIG problem generally in the Body of Christ.

    However, like you I have greatly benefited from the writings of Frank Viola, Jon Zens and Milt Rodriguez, and some of the more recent blogs by their proteges Jamal Jivanjee and Kat Huff. With Frank and Jon, I have repeatedly given credit to them, and honor, for the things they have taught me. Their writings truly changed my life. We still buy their books in bulk to give to others.

    Lately, however, there has been a trend among them and the proteges in their “box” that goes in an unsettling direction. Now they label themselves as “beyond” (and even have a web site by that name) other segments of the Body of Christ. I agree they are beyond other segments in some narrow, particular understandings, but they are not “beyond” everyone else generally across the board.

    Also, they repeatedly characterize the way Christ is expressed in others outside their box as being a “distractions” from Christ Himself, and go out of their way to minimize if not outright discount the Great Commission and other outward expressions of Christ.

    They keep insisting that Christ is all, and claim that if we make Christ our all then the other activities like mission and discipleship and social impact (to the extent they even believe in social impact) will happen. But I have yet to read a single blog from any of them showing evidence of anything other than an insular focus on Christ being “all” about their own valid, but somewhat introverted, sensibilities. Where are the stories and testimonies of having any relevance or impact beyond their self-focused fellowships?

    I have my blind spots, for sure. On these points, though, they have their blind spots. They have not let up on blog after blog, and even in some books, dissing and discrediting how others express Christ outside their “box”. Behind the scenes, they or those acting on their behalf have repeatedly tried to censure and silence questioning dialog.

    There is no shame in having blind spots, because none of us – of ourselves – have the fulness of Christ. We each only have a measure of grace – with different gifts and varied callings. I need them, just as much as they need the rest of the Body of Christ. But it is hard to receive from the rest the Church when you say you are “beyond” them and say things that are dismissive of them.

    Where I feel things are getting off track – especially in the “organic” community – is the growing tendency to pull the wagons, so to speak, around the “beyond” box and its obvious blind spots. This happens as they build from those blind spots a new ecclesiology (God’s highest purpose is “me” and “us” rather than reconciling all things to Christ and His Lordship) and Christology (Christ is “all”, but “all” seems limited to their own sensibilities). As evidence of this growing problem, I again point to them labeling themselves as “beyond” everyone, and failing to honor Christ in others just because He looks different in others than He does in them.

    It is this new legalism that I am publicly urging them to pull back from. They can affirm their box, and teach us much from their unique gifts, callings and perspective – but they need to stop trying to make their box normative for the entire Body of Christ. Name calling like “fundamentalist” and other dissing of folks who really aren’t, and calling the efforts of others “distractions” just because they are expressing Christ outside the box of their own sensibilities – these are not good and need to stop.

    I say this because I respect them, even though they likely don’t feel it right now. And I say it publicly (in addition to my private communications) because they have expressed these troubling trends publicly, as well as having tried to censure public questioning dialog.

    They are capable of so much more, and can be so much better, than what they have been doing, writing and saying lately. I call them back to their better selves – Christ in them, the hope of glory and not a force for dismissive, divisive rhetoric.

    Finally, maybe I can be accused of being divisive. I hope, however, that if I have challenged them with my own questioning dialog, it is only with the plea that they stop trying to limit Christ in others and learn to embrace Christ and His body in all of its truly wonderful, multifaceted and inclusive glory.

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    • Thanks for explaining, Jim.

      I understand a bit better now, though I can’t say I take exception to the word “Beyond” in the same way you may. I can see that I could be taken to mean, “We are beyond you.” But I have taken it to mean an encouragement to us all to look beyond all our differences and instead look into the face of Jesus.

      When taken in this light, it’s actually the opposite of divisive, reminding us to be dismissive of ISSUES that distract us from God’s kingdom (eg., doctines, denominations, Christianity as religion) and not dismissive of each other.

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  6. Too often (always?) our view of who God really is, is limited by our current understanding, which most of us looking back realize is different than it was and is growing ever greater.
    To say we are “beyond” may be useful in describing a relative position, but it may also be seen as arrogant and a put down to others that are in a diiferent place in their journey with Him.
    The Bible tells us to not be a stumbling block to others, none of us have the total picture or a mortgage on all the truth, we all rely upon His grace to be where we are and to move forward into all He has planned and purposed for us and His church.
    We all struggle with understanding some of the things that happen to or around us. We all need His grace in order to remain true to His calling on our lives, and to grow into the personhood and expression of His love that He is desiring of.
    Let us each try to give those others that call Him Lord, the space to be what He is making them to be, recognizing that there are going to be times where we loose the plot and God through the Holy Spirit has to apply correction – fortunately, He is building His church and He (alone) is equal to the task.

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  7. I am curious about the ‘legalism’, which I don’t quite yet understand. Maybe you could define it a little better? (I feel this is an important subject, but I am caught in a lingo of legalism and boxes as an outsider – not quite able to fully fathom what you are exactly referring to.)

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    • A box is how we limit Christ to our own attitudes, doctrines, cultural perspective, gifts, grace, calling or whatever. It becomes legalism when we say or act as though our box is or should be normative for the rest of the Body of Christ. We can try to make it normative through explicit rules, which is the old legalism, or in the “new legalism” we do it by being dismissive of others, saying what Christ has them doing is a “distraction” from what is important (which happens to be our box), and telling them we are beyond them because they aren’t in our box. We put subtle – and not so subtle – pressure on others to conform to our own box of sensibilities.

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  8. Greetings from the suffering Athens, Greece.

    I’m very encouraged by your blog. God bless you.

    I agree with what you mention about the “boxes” and I respectfully would like to comment something.

    Our criteria when choosing a box shouldn’t be just our convenience. We have to be honest with ourselves and not just try to cover in a “box” our inner desire to merely live an easy going life. If the box that we live in doesn’t include any kind of suffering or cost, even pain and crucifixion then there might be something wrong with our box.

    On the other hand we should highly respect and embrace other people from other boxes who truly suffer in order to live out genuinely their distinctive own character and gifts, serving others.

    There is an important theological word in Greek which is called “proairesi”. I think in English you could translate it as “volition”, “intention” or something similar. I think deeper proairesi, deeper intentions, form greatly our acts and our box.

    Thank you so much

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  9. Pingback: Organic Cults « Crossroad Junction

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