October 29, 2020

Jesus- Yes; Church- No? Maybe.

sjTherefore, a slogan that was popular some years back: “Jesus yes, Church no”, is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. This individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus. We cannot have Jesus without the reality he created and in which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God-made-flesh and his Church there is a profound, unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in his people. He is always contemporary with us, he is always contemporary with the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the succession of the Apostles. And his very presence in the community, in which he himself is always with us, is the reason for our joy.

Agree?

Anyone remember a religious leader talking about the “heresy” of individual salvation lately? You might be surprised how difficult it can be to continue to affirm that Jesus is saving sinners as individuals, not dispensing salvation to a group through a church.

Agree that when an individual “chooses” Jesus and not the church it’s an “imaginary” Jesus? Agree that Christ’s way of being present in the world is the church? There’s plenty for this collective-resisting Protestant to talk about, but I’m mostly interested in the papal swing at the well-known fat pitch “Jesus, Yes; the Church, No.”

“Jesus, Yes; the Church, No” has been around for a long time. It makes a good sign. Sounds good as a cheer.

If you are a promoter of the church, you’re supposed to do like Benedict the 16th in the quote (sorry there those of you feeling envious) and say it’s just plain wrong.

But you don’t pay me to be an echo chamber for the pope, so I’m going to say “Maybe.”

It depends on the questions that precede the answer.

“Jesus, Yes; the Church, No” is a perfectly good answer to a lot of things, and a wrong answer to several others.

Who saves you? Jesus, Yes. The Church, No. B16 and I would probably have a second and third cup of coffee on that one, but I’m not budging. The church should proclaim Christ, but never get itself confused with Christ.

How does the Holy Spirit come to us? “Jesus? Yes. The Church? No.” At least not on tap.

What’s the message of the Gospel? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.” The Gospel is Jesus centered, and the church should be, too.

What is the whole Bible about? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.” The church is there, but it’s not the central message of the Bible.

To whom do I owe complete submission, loyalty and allegiance? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.”

What am I proclaiming in evangelism? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.” The church has its place in evangelism, but not as the bread of life given for the world.

What is the church actually all about? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.” The church equips and nurtures disciples in their journey with Jesus. The church should promote Jesus to those who need to know and follow him. It shouldn’t confuse church activities with discipleship. (Buy my book.)

What is our complete hope in life and in death? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.” Jesus is the hope of all Christians and the central hope of the church.

Who are we following? Whom are we serving in serving the poor or the oppressed? Whom are we imitating in suffering or generosity or compassion? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.” We may be imitating those in the church who follow and imitate him, but it is Jesus whose footsteps we follow.

There are more questions; questions about the church itself and questions about what it means to say “Yes” and “No.”

It’s not a simple matter, but it is a matter on which we should settle and be stubborn. In an environment where Christianity is more and more defined by leaders to make themselves and their institutions essential and powerful, the Jesus shaped believer must maintain the importance of “Jesus- Yes, the Church, No” in the right ways and for the right questions.

There is a “Jesus, Yes; the Church, Yes too!” that can and should be spoken at the right ways and times, but I believe that “Yes” comes when we know how to distinguish it from the wrong kinds of yes’s or from saying yes to whatever leaders signal us to nod to.

We’re wrestling with the connection between Jesus and the church these days. I am going to contend that the church fulfills an important role in the missional movement that comes from Jesus through the Spirit into the world, but the church doesn’t ever take a place where a “church shaped” Christianity becomes the norm.

Comments

  1. There needs to be a distinction between the Church as a title for the entire body of believers and the Church as the brick and mortar institutions defined by theology and denomination and tradition.

    I have always felt that there is a lack of “organic” life that should feed and unite believers in the One who called them to Himself. While we are all individuals, I do not believe that Jesus meant for us to go it alone. It is within the community of believers that service and evangelism is strong and effective.

    I have often times said “Jesus – Yes; Church – No” simply because Church was not the brother or sister sitting next to me, but the legalistic expectations devised by those of influence. (If you’re a Baptist, there are certain things that you, as a good Baptist should do). Now I understand that it is my fellow Christians, whoever and whever they are, who are the church and to that I say, “Jesus – Yes; Church – Yes.”

  2. Excellent post, Michael. I am a fan of the community of saints, but the pendulum is swinging awfully hard back toward the church being the irreplaceable dispenser of grace that I can’t find in Scripture.

  3. Did you see the follow-up the Presiding Bishop did to her sermon at General Convention? She explains more of what she means by the heresy of individual salvation.

    http://www.episcopalchurch.org/80050_113959_ENG_HTM.htm

    Laura Toepfer

  4. I think you are not quite understanding what the Pope is saying (although you would probably still disagree with him anyway.)

    Perhaps you could grasp it if you walked a bit with the Pope’s assumption that the Church is Christ’s gift of himself to the world. The emphasis is on the word “gift.”

    There is just no way to know Jesus without the Church, even if you are a Bible-only Christian. it is the Church – in the Apostles – through whom we know Jesus. How do you know about Jesus? Because disciples of Jesus witnessed to him, told his stories and were in instruments in grace in baptizing and sharing his meal. Church.

    I think part of your problem in getting what Benedict is saying is that you don’t see Church in the same organic sense he – and Catholicism and Orthodoxy – does. You seem to see it just as programs and organization structures. And honestly, not to be mean, but just honestly – the more organic understanding of ecclesiology is apostolic (and even Scriptural…isn’t it?), so I’m not incredibly driven to invent something new.

    I don’t understand how Paul’s ecclesiology is compatible with what you are saying.

  5. David Bates says

    Okay, a touchy topic, so I’ll just say this: if the Church is the Body Of Christ, in my mind you have to be very careful when you try and separate the Head from The Body.

  6. Ephesians 5:25-32 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

    • I heard a pastor preach on this passage tonight, and this thread came to mind.

      I agree with iMonk whole-heartedly: all of the epistemological/existential/ontological questions that I could ever come up with are answered only in the person of Jesus Christ – particularly in the seven “I AM” statements found in the Gospel of John.

      But in this passage in Ephesians, the one who says, “Yes” to the church is Jesus! She is His bride! That bride is not the institutional church, but the “one, holy cat-holic (meaning of-the-whole in latin), apostolic church: all believers throughout all ages in all parts of the world, including my baptist, catholic, and pentecostal friends and neighbors.

      I don’t know how to wrap my head around this. Why? God doesn’t need us, but he pursues us like his betrothed.

      What makes this more difficult to comprehend is the fact that His Bride includes me, but is not exclusively me. So, back to the original statement which may have inspired this thread, individual, “just me and Jesus” pietism is a poor representation of the faith. Recalling God’s statement in the garden regarding Adam ,”It is not good for man to be alone”. As Bonhoeffer stated in “Life Together”, there are times and circumstances when believers will be isolated from other believers, and unfortunately for the Episcopal bishop, one thing which will cause isolation and separation is heretical teaching; not good news for the mess she has been asked to preside over. But I think she gets it partially right: it is not good for Christians to be alone. Christianity is not a personal, designer religion of my own choosing that I practice in a vacuum. I cannot love unless I am in a committed, loving relationship with other believers. If I cannot love, then I am not a Christian. But commitment doesn’t necessarily equal membership in an organized church institution.

  7. We are saved as individuals but we are also saved as a community. The Lord is jealous for His people, the worshipping community, the new Israel, which is THE CHURCH.

    • I believe that and never came close to rejecting it. I am rejecting leaders and churches that claim for themselves what ONLY belongs to Christ. I believe Jesus is saving a community, but I reject the church on the corner’s claim to be identical to either Christ or the full meaning of that community.

    • I would suggest that we are not saved “as” a community, but “for” community. There is a difference.

  8. In a year, this will be my life….full time 🙂

    1) Yes, Christ loves the church. I believe and preach that. Has nothing to do with a proper distinction of the two.

    2) That head and body analogy can get you in trouble. My head off my shoulders will die. It’s incomplete. Do you believe that about Jesus? Or does head = source? There ya go.

    3) I am not looking for an RCC fight, but Mark is right, I won’t be agreeing with anyone who says that I only know Christ through the Apostles. You are going to require me to believe that the Apostles are a bunch of things I don’t believe they are, and you are going to tell me that the apostle’s vote on a successor to Peter, which I can’t find in my Bible.

    Calling me or anyone else a “Bible only” Christian is a perjorative toward Protestants. We believe in scripture and tradition, properly related, and reject solo scriptura. If you want to accuse me of believing that scripture stands over the church, then I will plead guilty.

    4) This won’t turn into a Catholic apologetics debate. That’s not what I’m doing in this post. Let’s stay on topic.

    • In a year, this will be my life….full time 🙂

      Hi Michael,

      Does this mean you are preparing to take the step into full time writing?

      If so congratulations!

    • It’s not your full-time life already? 😉

      I’d guess you’re going to have a REALLY hard time avoiding Catholic apologetic in this thread unless you simply mod all the Catholics or they don’t speak up. The ideas and theology of “the Church” are just so important to Catholics. I thought you were only against proselytizing? What’s wrong with simply stating and defending Catholic positions?

      • Luke,

        I’m a Catholic and yet, I understand exactly what Michael is saying. Because, if you look at the church as the body of believers and a community that supports those believers, many on both sides of the Tiber and Bosporus are severely lacking.

        I admit, that sometimes I wonder if I would have to or be willing to testify against such. Or let my scars do it.

        And yet, I agree with what Pope Benedict 16th says in his book, “Introduction to Christianity” that one cannot be a Christian alone. (and being open to the idea that the community includes those who have gone before and have finished their race), I can see how even a person completely isolated from other people can be a good Christian.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Though the teaching that “one cannot be a Christian alone” is needed in American Evangelical Protestantism to restore balance to an incomplete “Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation”. (i.e. Walk the Aisle, Say the Magic Words, and that’s it except for Bible Study in your Prayer Closet.)

          This was a response to the 19th Century Social Gospel (which seriously watered-down the Gospel into good charitable works without any mention of personal salvation) and like a lot of responses ended up firewalling it in the opposite direction.

  9. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post for doing what you always do which is call a spade a spade. I believe in the church and I believe that the church’s role in the life of a Christian has reached an unhealthy “low” in regard in the modern evangelical church, but I think there’s a dangerous current in post-modern Christianity that is remaking the church into a “dispenser of grace” if you will that imagines everyone wants to live in some kind of communitarian dream and that sees the church as the foremost witness of Jesus, as if people are converted to following Jesus the way they want to belong to a benevolence association. To me, the danger there is that Christianity is set up for failure, mostly because the church — from Acts on has always been and will always continue to be — a broken institution that only “looks and works great” when we’re ALL surrendered fully to Jesus. The point is that the church should always point to Christ and not to itself, as you say.

  10. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the Westminster Confession’s view of “church” and its position in the lives of Christians.

    I think we’re saved to be part of the body of Christ – and we should seek to be functionally a part of that body.

    I think too often, as others have mentioned, there is some confusion on the definition of church with regards to either a) a building, b) a local gathering, c) a particular denomination, and d) the “universal” body of believers.

    How do we get some sense of clarity where we can say Jesus – Yes, Church (universal) – Yes, Church (particular) – no?

    • My thoughts are simple: No church can define itself as the Body of Christ in such a way that confines a Christian to that congregation in order to belong to Christ or the church. The local church is not an exclusive franchise. It is a community formed around the Gospel and the mission, but neither Christ, nor the Gospel, nor the mission are restricted to the church’s definition of itself. The primary abuse of Christians by the church is a matter of defining the local church into roles that go beyond what any human institution can claim, even one with a credible claim to be part of the church of Jesus.

      • Ok, then I agree completely with what you’re saying.

        But I think there’s got to be a balance that says “Jesus – Yes, Church – Yes” and means being part of the Body of Christ and functioning as part of that body (in a manner I think is laid out in 1 Corinthians 11-14) – coincidentally I posted about this yesterday on my blog – it’s relevant enough that I’m going to go ahead with that cheap plug…

    • Nathan,

      Catholic Encyclopedia does a good job summarizing a way to understand the difference between the ‘Mystical Body of the Church’ (universal) and the Church (particular).

      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10663a.htm

      Might help clarify our thoughts a bit.

      • Similarly the Westminster Confession tackles the topic.

        I’m not confused, I just think we need to be careful using the word “church” in a snappy billboard sense when it means so many things and you’re not being clear what you’re rejecting.

  11. Also, can you be part of the universal church without being part of a local representation of it?

    I would say not.

    • I completely disagree. Millions of Christians are not parts of local churches for periods of times and in various circumstances.

      • But would you advise those millions of people, if they were looking for advice, to find a church community to plug into?

        • A community. Yes. But I won’t define what kind.

          • I hear your frustration on that front. I think, as you mention in one of the threads below there’s a problem of definitions at play.

            I think it’s difficult to say “church – no” without adding a disclaimer, and the act of adding the disclaimer makes it an unwieldy mantra.

      • amen. Michael, you are right on. What happens when some 19 year old kid is at sea and his “local” church back in Iowa folds and he has no church on his naval ship… he ceases to be a part of the “universal” church at that point? Utter nonsense!

        • Ahh, but if that kid, when he gets back, says “oh woe is me, my church folded” – then sits at home and doesn’t join one because he decides he’s had enough of church – then I’d start to ask questions (but not make judgments – that’s for God to do) about whether he’s part of that “universal” church…

      • I’m one in a million. iM, you made my day.

        Nathan, my family does not worship God in the format of a local congregational (brick and mortar) experience. Last year (over a year ago, wow, seems like yesterday), He called us out of that environment and we are in a period of what some “free-rangers” would call ‘detox’.

        I was on travel (extensively) with work and God spoke to me about engaging more deeply and more personally in my children’s spiritual growth. We still use the traditional paradigm of music and prayer with “message”, which is more the 4 of us discussing a passage – we’ve been working on Philippians since March – a bit more prayer and music. Probably about 60-90 minutes each Sunday. Do we need to use that paradigm? Nope. But that’s what God has us doing now.

        When He tells us to find another congregational gathering to be a part of, we will. In the meantime, it’s the 4 of us, and we’ve invited about 8-10 others to hang with us during that, but nobody’s taken us up on it yet. We gather with good friends for meals and life when we’re able. And the words said and the emotion portrayed (even the hurts) are real.

        Beats having my kids coloring for 90 minutes while I hear about how bad a sinner I am.

        • “When He tells us to find another congregational gathering to be a part of”

          I assume you mean outside of what he says in the Bible?

          • Yes. God still guides me. I don’t believe that Scripture is ALL God had to say to people.

            How many people just go to a church without asking God which one to go to? Or IF they should take a new job, etc…

            He still speaks.

    • Who gets to define what is an acceptable local church? The Baptists I grew up with made the case that it was Southern Baptists ONLY. All Catholics were lost. I hear that all the time now.

      • Well, the Baptists were wrong.

        But being part of the body means acting and serving as part of the body via the expression of different gifts does it not?

        How do you do this in isolation?

        • If I’m correctly understanding the passages in Corinthians I mentioned above that specifically address both the need to gather as believers and how to do things when you do gather as believers.

        • If your local church leaders are in unrepentant sin and you decide to leave and they “blackball” you with other local congregations, isn’t isolation the way to go until you find a congregation that ignore the blackball?

      • Isolation? I’m not sure what you mean. Absolute isolation? Small groups. Underground church. Where 2 or 3 are gathered? Obviously isolation is not healthy, but I don’t agree to any secret definitions of church body that restrict it to buildings with signs.

        • Yeah.

          Agreed. Building and branding is largely irrelevant. Function is not.

          I would argue that to express your belonging to the “invisible and universal” church you need to engage in some sort of Christian community where mutual encouragement, teaching, and praising occurs. And probably the “breaking of bread” too…

          And I’d also agree with a line I heard that two Christians sitting in a pub together is not church. There’s something more to it than just “gathering” together. It has to be gathering together for the purpose of being an expression of church. Perhaps.

          • “And I’d also agree with a line I heard that two Christians sitting in a pub together is not church.”

            They CAN be a church. They are not always a church. Depends on why they are there.

          • Yeah, totally agree. Church is about purpose.

          • Ross: NOW yer talking…..which pub ?? 🙂

          • Todd Erickson says

            I would disagree with the “purpose” statement here, but only in that, when we look at Acts, we see people who were ‘church’ all of the time. Everything they were doing was church.

            So whether it was sitting a pub, or sweeping the step, or being fed to lions…it was all church.

            I think that our ability to say that church is a purposeful activity, like bowling or work, is part of what removes belief from action in the modern christian life.

    • How not?
      How is it possible for anyone joined to the Head to not automatically as a direct consequence be part of the Body?
      To me it seems an ontological impossibility for an person who is united with Christ spiritually to not be united spiritually with all those united with Christ.

  12. Michael,

    When you say ‘church’, are you menaing the ‘ekklesia’?

    • The problem here is this: when you say church, everyone has these pre-commitments that appear in the background.

      I believe the church as Jesus knows and sees it is unknown to me in any kind of comprehensive, complete way.

      Therefore I believe the church can take any number of forms and that it’s “localness” is not defined by its leaders but by scripture, which describes the church as…

      1.All believers, known only to Christ
      2. Believers in a geographic area
      3. Believers in a local assembly

      That covers a lot of bases. I’m not going to attempt t define it more than that, and I’m not going to say that any one exists without some relation to those preceding it.

      • I would take it a step further than the three criteria you list above. I look at the church (universal) as community. Today, community is not restricted to local or geography, but more fully a method of communication. Hence, InternetMonk is a church community. So is BHT (maybe not the best example this week). So can be a group of people conversing via a hashtag on Twitter.

        Is this the church that will fulfill a person’s christian capability? Perhaps not. I would fully recommend actual physical interaction between christians in a local church group (still not necessarily a “building with a sign”). But, as some commentors have indicated, if you lose your community because you stand up for your faith or if you are away from your community on a ship, whatever community you can engage can also serve as the church (catholic, universal, whatever term you choose).

  13. Separating Christ from ‘the church’ ???

    I keep hearing the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

    . .. . ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . . ”

    There was something Christ founded of which He says that the ‘gates of hell will not prevail against it’. Whatever that something was, it still exists.

    • Distinguishing, not separating. They can’t be separated.

      But let’s be honest here: the Roman definition of the church says that all other Christians are not actually in churches at all, but in ecclesial gatherings.

      • Mostly true, Michael, though the Catholic Church would not call the Orthodox churches ecclesial communities because they have the sacraments/mysteries. One must be a sacramental church, according to the Catholic Church, to be a church. That’s simply our definition of “church.” I think it’s unfair to make too much of this when one does not want the sacraments. And while the Catholic Church says that the Body of Christ subsists in her, she does not say that one must be Catholic in order to be in Christ.

        Also, I’m not sure I understand your use of the word “distinguishing” here with Christiane – the Catholic Church in general, and Pope Benedict specifically, would certainly distinguish Christ from the Church. His very point is that they cannot be separated.

      • Very small nitpicky point. The Vatican Council II definition talks about the Churches in communion with the see of Rome, other Churches, and then ecclesial communities.

  14. I think you are ruminating way too much on this. It is very simple: JESUS (subject) SAVES (verb) HIS CHURCH (object).

    Jesus is the subject and the church is the object. Anyone who tries to include the church as the subject (i.e, the church saves) is wrong. At the same time, anyone who tries remove the church as the object of salvation is also wrong. It is not biblical to simply say that Jesus saves. Jesus saves people (individuals!) TO a church.

    • I completely, totally agree. Where I want to apply the brakes is on the folks constantly telling us- from all sides- that THIS RIGHT HERE is the church and THAT OVER THERE isn’t.

      • Not trying to be a punk or anything, but that’s not really what your post was about… The post was about whether or not it is appropriate to say “Jesus yes, Church no” — not about who thinks who is and isn’t the church.

        • Gary, read it again.

          • Yeah, I did. Several times. He’s basically got one sentence on that topic: “In an environment where Christianity is more and more defined by leaders to make themselves and their institutions essential and powerful, the Jesus shaped believer must maintain the importance of “Jesus- Yes, the Church, No” in the right ways and for the right questions.” The overall arc of the post is, as he affirms in the conclusion, “the connection between Jesus and the Church.”

  15. I foresee an angry post by Frank shortly

  16. ♪♫♫♪♫ “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!” ♪♫♫♪♫

    This is a great refrain to a great hymn, that speaks volumes to the universality of Christ’s church, especially the last verse:

    ♪♫♫♪♫ “At Pentecost some people received the Holy Spirit and told the Good News to all who would hear it.”

    UMC Hymnal #558
    Songs for Life #236
    Sing With Me #246

    • I completely agree with the words of this hymn, but somehow the awful sing-song melody just completely obscures the lyrics for me 🙂

  17. The problem I have with this is that (it seems to me) that the NT is full of examples of believers forming community and then living together, and doing all those things together – it is the church that is the bride of Christ. So I am uncomfortable with how far you push this concept, while agreeing with many of your basic concepts

    However, I agree completely with your comment here:

    No church can define itself as the Body of Christ in such a way that confines a Christian to that congregation in order to belong to Christ or the church. The local church is not an exclusive franchise. It is a community formed around the Gospel and the mission, but neither Christ, nor the Gospel, nor the mission are restricted to the church’s definition of itself. The primary abuse of Christians by the church is a matter of defining the local church into roles that go beyond what any human institution can claim, even one with a credible claim to be part of the church of Jesus.

    Amen

  18. Sadly, there are “too many divisions among us” as Paul might say. Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 is that we may be one just as he is one with the Father. We need his grace to help us become one so the world may know he is the Christ and that we are his disciples. We need his grace to want to want to be unified in this way. When this is our desire and prayer, I think Christ through the Spirit will be our mediator so that we can grow in reconciling love toward one another. When we as God’s people, church, body… begin to love like that, it is not only our greatest witness to the world but makes this distinction moot.

    We are one with Christ as he is one with the Father. Christ always remains the head, we his church can never assume this position. We exist in him, for him, by him and thru him. Yes, Jesus as the head could exist without us and we as his body cannot exist without him. But neither can we as fingers or feet exist apart from the other parts of our bodies. The finger can’t just say, “I’ll just attach myself to the head”. It is a scandalous and sacred place Jesus has called us as his church to serve as his ongoing incarnation on this earth. We need the whole body to even come close to reflect the multifaceted greatness of his glory and goodness.

  19. I’ve been wanting for some time to read Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity. From what I’ve read from others in his camp, they are, as yet Protestants, arguing for a considerably higher ecclesiology than is typical in contemporary Evangelical circles and even among the neo-Reformed.

    Once we start moving beyond the paradigm of God’s plan for his creation being nothing more than giving a few select individuals fire insurance, I really wonder if this plan is going to be accomplished by little pockets of ever more schismatic Evangelicals who spend half their time damning each other and eating their own. It certainly wasn’t such bodies that Christianized pagan Europe and preserved the ancient scriptures and creeds for us down to the present age (and yes, the Spirit was definitely behind this). Sorry to be cynical. Good discussion.

    • Yes, definitely good discussion.

      I have to be honest and throw a little cynicism back. Have you visited “pagan Europe” recently? They have enormous, glorious, beautiful cathedrals on every corner. Enormous, beautiful, dead cathedrals. Yes the spirit was there, and yes the spirit is still moving in this world, but the so-called “real” church of the time certainly didn’t last the way it was supposed to. It was still made of people, who are broken, and who fail. Their monuments are now little more than tourist attractions.

      We can throw rocks all day, but in the end we are still universally broken. This is true no matter what tradition we claim. In every tradition, there is something that an outsider can point to and say “did you notice that part where you guys #$@ed up?” Without Christ, we are lost.

      • Another small nitpicky point. Europe and European descended groups were not the largest part of Christianity until the the times of colonial expansion after Columbus’ discoveries. There was a whole group of Churches in what is now called Eastern Europe, the Meditarrenean basin, expanding Russia, etc. Particularly Eastern Europe and Russia are seeing quite a revival after years of significant suppression. Which means the so called real Church has indeed lasted. And, frankly, Western Europe might come back as well.

  20. “To whom do I owe complete submission, loyalty and allegiance? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.””

    Michael, how much of your post (and book) is due to the attitude of your local culture, and how much is due to blogosphere effects? I ask because here in suburban Southern California, I don’t see much demand for loyalty to a denomination or church. Here we are so commercial it is assumed families will leave churches regularly to go to “better” ones. The goal seems to be to make a church a community of fun and moral support. Salvation and evangelism are personal matters. Our churches have issues, but I don’t think that demanding to be the source of grace and power is one of them.

    Maybe I just don’t go to the right churches…

    • California has such a large population that you can move in a circle of churches for a long time and never see “others”. So to some degree those of us who have lived in more sparsely populated areas see these issue more as it’s hard to not bump into some of these issues.

      In other words the choices in Southern CA west of the mountains are more numerous than then entire state of KY or Miss.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Southern CA west of the mountains” is either beachfront or cities and suburbs. (East of the mountains it’s all the Mojave (high) or Sonora (low) deserts.) The only gap in the built-up area from Ventura to Tijuana is the Marine base at Camp Pendleton.

    • A lot. My context is the apex of the post-evangelical dilemmma. Dying churches. Vicious fighting over the idea that Jesus belongs to US.

  21. in some ways i share the mood of your sentiments towards those who claim an exclusivity on Christ’s church. whether in doctrine, in tradition or whatever else that they think fully expresses the church as Jesus’ body.

    i have been meditating on John ,and the so-called cleansing of the temple. i was particularly struck with the realization of the disciples’ of Jesus’ “zeal” that “consumes HIm”. if one truly aims to have a “Jesus-shaped” spiritiuality as you iMonk claim, how can this zeal be fully expressed in obedience to Christ and for His glory? is it to constantly to say “church, No!” ? is it to compare diff traditions and evaluate who’s doing better liturgy or has the most convincing argument on bible translation etc.? as i have observed in the so-called blogosphere…what is needed most in this zeal is a liitle grace. we are very handy with our whips…but not much cleansing is actually happening. funny though, some of those higly critcized here are not responding actively. maybe they’re just busy trying to resurge and advance the church Jesus established and loves. and that they are trying to proclaim His message centrally (Gospel-centered) in their ministries. and they’ve banded together across denominations not analyzing each other’s doctrine and liturgy or blogging how much the rock songs bother some people, but finding ways to concentrate on planting churches like the guys written by Luke in the book of Acts. maybe these guys got it right…Jesus, Yes! and their doing it together..and that’s Church, Yes. and they like martin luther too.

    • Michael’s not perfect and neither does he claim to be. But he does much to further the church, more than people like me for sure. And he says “yes” quite often, he was pointing out when it’s no we should be saying. People like an easy target and you have one here. You can say how ’bout “a little grace” when you have shown very little in your comments. I’d like to know who these cowboys are who are doing so much more than Michael. And I’d also like to know why those who most usually take shots like you have don’t have a link back to your own blog and a name we can’t identify you with?

      If you don’t like a blog that has some funny stuff on it or doesn’t tickle your every fancy, why not start one of your own—or is that not saying “yes” to the church?… (but it’s okay to read and comment on blogs?).

  22. “The church should proclaim Christ, but never get itself confused with Christ.”…….

    As always, Michael, you provide me with an excellent meal and say so much here with which I am in agreement. Having come into this through a little old-time holiness assembly in ’72 and during the course of over thirty years watched it evolve into television evangelism, I presently have not yet abandoned the pew, but do find myself more “at home” in outreach ministry than I am within the sanctuary and think you say it all with what you wrote above…..

  23. If there was only one person left alive on earth, could they experience Jesus?

    • Genesis 2 indicates that Adam experienced God when he was by himself, before God created Eve. Does this make Adam a type of the Church?

      • Ah, but did he experience Jesus?

        • How can you expierience God, and not Jesus?
          Sure, it can be safely assumed that when Genesis talks of God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve, it can be referencing God the Father. However, to claim one can “expierience” God and not Jesus is going towards murky waters.
          As Trinitarian Christians, we profess that when we encounter God in any of the Three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the other Two are somehow there also (if not directly, than indirectly).

          And by the way Luke, I have a feeling you meant it more as a rhetorical question. However, it just got me thinking and I wanted to share my thoughts.

  24. great post and much needed.

    Luther said “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.”

    Don’t budge on this one Michael. The church is the bride of Christ no doubt, but she’ll never be the groom. I have been through a time in my life where I learned the hard way to never put my faith in the church. Although I love the church, she can’t save my soul. She hasn’t walked with me in the lowest points of the valley of the shadow. She has left me and she has forsaken me (as I have her) when Christ hasn’t. Oh, I know there are those who maintain that she is the keeper of the gate and the distributor of salvation, but I maintain that she is merely an instrument and if Jesus wants to speak to his people he can use a tree to preach the gospel as far as I am concerned (or in my case a license plate at just the right moment and on just the right afternoon in my new journey with Christ some 22 years ago that read “EPH. 4”). When the church is put on the same platform as Christ it’s time to speak up.

    “If I ever lose my faith in you
    There’d be nothing left for me to do”

    My faith isn’t in the church, it’s in the Lord of the church.

  25. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one, Michael. Not that your audience seems to need it, but somewhere floating around in my head is a companion piece, telling those who deliberately eschew anything to do with other Christians that there is value in congregation.

    I suppose that’s your book. 😉

  26. I must say that, on reading this post, I was very uncomfortable and a little disappointed. However, having read your qualifiers in the comment section, I believe I better understand what you are saying. While we might quibble on some details, I think you are making an important point. I only wish it had been that clear in the post itself, but then again, I could never accomplish what you do with your blog- hats off! Thanks!

    Peace,
    Jamie

    • I also found out more of what Michael was saying in his qualifiers in the comments to follow and it helped me too (he’s not saying the church doesn’t matter, I think he’s saying let’s not forget why it matters). I was confortable reading the post myself because I think I know about the sentiment to which he is responding. My take away was this: Compared to Christ… the church is as nothing. And without Christ… the church is nothing.

  27. I give a double handed rock salute to anyone who says it’s all about Jesus and not about the church. I like church, but if church didn’t exist Jesus still would. Who would all those churchgoing folks worship then?

  28. Todd Erickson says

    I have found, over the course of my life, that it’s possible to be part of a church for years, and be incredibly isolated within it.

    I have been informed that once I hit a certain level of learning within the church, then it’s my job to go and serve and teach others and invest in my life, even if it leaves me empty and aching and burnt out, because that’s our job in the church, to build disciples, but not to be fed, or enriched, or encouraged. Those things are nice if you can find them, but not a prerequisite.

    Whereas, I happen to believe that any church which does not encourage passion and beauty in all of it’s members is just playing at being church.

    • Todd, I was told at one church that, “the people here are just happy to be loving Jesus on Sunday mornings, singing hymns, and hearing the pastor preach. If you’re looking for depth of fellowship, this isn’t the place.”

      Where I get frustrated is that the Youth seem to have a different means of expression than the “adults”. And never the twain shall met.

  29. Good post once again. The church universal and the local manifestation of it in a particular congregation are too often confused in the West. And then there are some local congregations that don’t look or act much like Jesus or His church at all. It gets pretty muddled.

    When one believes in Jesus, one becomes a part of the church universal. The two things go together. How that plays out in practical flesh-and-blood local terms, though, is often quite different. For example, I know for a fact that in some Muslim countries there are secret believers, including those who teach in the local mosque. They are indisputibly saved and are part of the church, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever have the kind of community or congregation we envision in the West.

    God is bigger than the boxes we sometimes want to put Him in.

  30. I’m having trouble seeing the practical effects of this issue. The one practical application I can see would be to a Christian who wants to abstain from joining a local church congregation (when one is available, of course). That person would need to decide if joining a local church congregation (when possible) is essential to being a Christian.

    But beyond that, it seems that if a Christian is trying to follow Jesus and the Bible, his life would naturally have a big emphasis on relating to other Christians, regardless of his theoretical positioning of the church in relation to Jesus on these various planes. For example, I think of Jesus statement “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Do I personally love the other Christians I know? That’s a question for another discussion.)

    And I don’t mean this as a final statement — no practical use, but more as a question — do you see practical implications of these distinctions? Do you think I am missing something?

    • Not only practical, but practical AND eternal implications.

      Think of this – when Christ comes back and God removes our earthly barriers between one another, how will we relate to each other and to God in that kind of always-intimate community? It seems we need to drop as much of our individuality and as many our barriers as soon as possible.

  31. Michael,

    I wish you had included some questions in which the answer was Jesus, Yes. Church, Yes. Or maybe even Jesus, No Church, Yes? Those might be interesting to think about.

    I can support the ones you do list under the assumption that they are not quite so terse in understanding as they are in writing. Except of course “Who saves you (i.e., mankind)?” to which I wholeheartedly agree. But, I would hasten to add that in my personal journey, that salvation has not been a single transactional affair; Jesus is saving me and the Church and I participate with Him.

    Aside from that, I don’t think ‘The Church’ can ever be 100% excluded in the answers to any of the other questions. The Holy Spirit, the Gospel, the Bible – all are derived from Jesus and are made vitally present in His Church, i.e., the ‘Mystical’ Church, not a particular organization. To try to separate the two just seems like plucking out one of our eyes, because y’know – a single one will do. Of course you lost a lot of depth perception that way. 😉

    To whom do I owe complete submission, loyalty and allegiance? “Jesus, Yes. The Church, No.”

    I think this one needs a caveat or asterisk as well. To frame it as “complete” is to give it an individualist absolute that I don’t think exists in practicality. Again, I can *mostly* agree with this one, but haven’t we all seen people who take this to its extreme and misidentify themselves as being individually allied to Jesus. I think we need ‘The Church’ – i.e., a community – to even know whether what we are completely submitted to is Jesus or ourselves.

    I’m sure it’s just my Catholic streak that won’t allow me to diminish the role of ‘The Church’ in my faith and in my life. I know you aren’t meaning to throw out the church, but it might be nice to see some pro-Church posts mixed in with these that are more skeptical maybe?

    • I am individually allied with Jesus, and even though I agree that for many the realization of their salvation or their understanding of it comes in stages, there is a point (not always known by us perhaps like some folks recount i.e. last Wednesday at prayer meeting) when we pass from death unto life

      this is a difficult one agreed

  32. Were the Desert Fathers not considered Christians?

    • I think they are considered quite Holy and in fact they were the ones that pretty much started the monastic movement as a whole later on taken to the West.

      Monasticism much like many great things in the Church started in the East it is fitting that our Lord should return like wise.

      • I guess my point was, then, that being in community, especially when the community seems to be going the way of the pagans (after all, that is WHY St. Anthony et al WENT into the Egyptian desert, no?), is not really the most important thing. Important, yes. The most important? No.

        I’ve heard tale of people who want to “get right with God” and believe that “coming back to the church” is the same thing. Hogwash.

  33. I find myself arguing with myself over this post. On the one hand, I agree with much of what iMonk says. It is all about Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

    On the other hand, the way some of what iMonk said is phrased so that it seems to set the Church as over against Christ. And, while that is not what iMonk meant, yet there has to be a better way to phrase the relationship of Christ and the Church. I think here of Pilgrim’s Regress, the book by C.S. Lewis. At one point, it is Mother Kirk that has to carry him across the river, and she warns that he will not make it to the other side unless he allows her to carry him. She is essential to his salvation. Yet Mother Kirk is not the goal of Pilgrim’s journey nor does she claim to be. She is only the servant that makes his journey possible.

    I fear that the either/or terminology that is used in this post is not fully adequate, and, yet, I cannot say that it is wrong. It is incomplete, somehow, but not actually wrong. And, so, I feel conflicted after reading this post.

    • It’s not “always” either/or, but it is “sometimes” either/or. If I can’t see those times, then it seems to me that Christ isn’t the Rev 2-3 Lord over the church, but just an expression of church press releases.

      The church shouldn’t be over against Christ, but I would contend that sometimes it is. WHen MLK was marching for justice and the SBC’s churches were dishing out hate against that movement, is there anything one can do other than say Jesus would stand in judgment over such a church? And that one’s loyalty must be to discern Christ beyond the rhetoric of church.

      Sometimes it has to be a distinction. But not always.

      • Good point on that. I think that if you’re going to say that by definition, Jesus never judges a church, then you have to either

        -Deny or whitewash abuses in the past.

        -Attribute all abuses to a non-church entity, or somehow make the church at that time non-guilty of them (JP II’s “sons of the Church” rhetoric).

        -Claim a kind of infallibility where you demand that the faithful disbelieve their eyes and their ears and simply trust that whatever happened really wasn’t an abuse.

  34. Is it just me, or are some of you simply refusing to see that the church in my post is not the perfect church as Jesus sees it, but the church as it presents itself in history?

    I’ve never seen a more confused discussion. I keep being told you can’t separate Christ and the church. OK. But sometimes the only way to follow Christ is NOT to follow a particular historical church.

    If the church you attend isn’t a particular historical church expression, you are exempted from this post 🙂

    • Ahh, OK, now I see what you mean! If we are talking about particular historical expressions, then you are right. Sometimes the best way to follow Our Lord and His Church is to disobey a particular local historical expression of the Church. For instance, Dietrich Bonhoffer had to refuse to obey the official state expression of the Lutherans in Germany during World War II. Of course, as Henry David Thoreau warned, if you choose to disobey you need to be willing to take the consequences. Dietrich Bonhoffer ended up dying for his stance.

      • Ahh, dying to this world. I am sure he is with the Lord.

        • I’ve always been awed by Bonhoffer’s last words, “This is the end – but for me, the beginning of life.”

          That’s up there with Polycarp’s “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

          To be so strong in the face of death… sigh…

    • So maybe an idea you are getting at is the lofty role given to the church in various scriptures compared to the day to day reality of churches we have encountered, and what do we make of that? If so, good question, and I wish I was wise enough to give a good answer.

      Even in the early years of the church Paul encountered the shenanigans in the Corinthian church, for example, but still wrote in Ephesians “1:22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

      What did Paul have in mind when he wrote this on the one hand, and then observed that a man had his Father’s wife and the church was proud on the other hand? (1 Cor 5)

    • Well, it seems more to me that you aren’t very open to the idea that others aren’t blind to the ugly realities of life “on the ground” in the history of the Church, yet still come to a high understanding of ecclesiology. You say you don’t want this to be a Catholic Apologetics fest, and I understand and appreciate that, I really do, but you have a funny way of showing it, what with quoting the Holy Father and spending a whole post saying he’s got it wrong. Frankly, To be Church-centered is to be Christ-centered, to be Jesus-shaped is to be part of the Church. Being part of the Church doesn’t mean being in lock-step with the Authorities (St. Joan of Arc f’r instance, or the recent efforts by the Dominicans to canonize Savonarola who was burned at the stake under Papal orders), it’s more than that, which is why the Church after Vatican II does recognize the validity of the seperated brethren. To be fair, ecclesial communties does mean “Church-y” communities, so I think the offense at the term is unwarrented.

  35. Surprisingly, I’m not going to leap to the defence of the Pope 🙂

    I think Michael is making an important point, and I don’t want to get into a discussion of the place of the Church, or is the Church necessary, or individual versus collective salvation (all of which are worthy questions, but which are missing the point here).

    I’ll just throw in an excerpt from the Pope’s address for the forthcoming Mission Sunday (October 18th this year):

    “I strongly reiterate what was so frequently affirmed by my venerable Predecessors: the Church works not to extend her power or assert her dominion, but to lead all people to Christ, the salvation of the world.”

  36. It must come down to this, and everything else is Heresy-
    Jesus-YES!!!!!
    The body of Believers-(yes)
    The established church-NO
    The traditions of the Roman church (or any church, for that matter- NO!!!!!!!!!

  37. a bible professor once told me: when dealing with matters of faith – truth is not found at the extremities but in the tension between opposing forces.

    so im wondering if its somehow jesus and the church but not in the broken way its been demonstrated?

    • That is part of the meaning of the term Catholic, “according to the whole”. Not throwing out one part of Scripture to make this other part more consistent, but trying to reconcile them. Not abandoning the teachings of the Church Fathers because we don’t particularly care for them, but dealing with that tension.

  38. Interestingly, in the Breviary today (Friday the 11th) for the Office of Readings, Blessed Isaac of Stella speaks of this matter. Unfortunately, the Cistercian monk is at odds with the Internet Monk.

    In brief, he says:

    The Church can forgive nothing without Christ, and it is Christ’s will to forgive nothing except with the Church. The Church can forgive no-one except the penitent – that is, one who has been touched by Christ – and Christ does not wish to forgive anyone who does not value the Church. What God has united, man must not divide, says Christ, and Paul adds, I am saying that this great mystery applies to Christ and the Church.

    The rest is also worthy of your perusal. Peace.

  39. There is a big danger that needs to be avoided when we discuss the relationship(s) between Christ and individual believers. Especially when the church is in view. There are many metaphors in Scripture that describe our relationship to Christ. When we use only the ones “Christ is the head, we are the body” or “Christ is the bridegroom, we are the bride” then we get into trouble.

    He is also the vine, we the branches; He is the king, we are his subjects; He is the shepherd, we are the sheep (individuals); He is the shepherd, we are the flock (community); He is our God, we are his people; He is the heir, we are co-heirs; we are brethren, He is the elder brother; He is the high priest, we are all priests; He is the temple, we are the stones; We are the temple, the apostles are the foundation, He is the corner stone; He is the master, we are the servants; He is the teacher, we are disciples.

    I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but the majority of these metaphors do not describe the church, nor were they meant to. Jesus talked a great, great deal about the kingdom but only twice about the church. We shouldn’t give the church a higher place than the bible allows.

    • And yet in both those instances (which I will assume you are thinking about)

      The Church is the Pillar and the Foundation of Truth.

      And how one should treat those those that would not listen to the Church.

      I think that Bible already places the Church quite high. Plus let us not forget that the Bible is story of the Church.

  40. What a great and timely (for me personally) post. I read this week that it is only in dialogue, not monologue that truth in a matter is made known. If that’s the case, after 116 posts, surely we’re making progress here.

    I’ve been a part of a congregation (for purposes of this thread, distinct from, yet part of The Church, or Body of Christ at large) since infant baptism. Congregation took on new meaning at the age of 14 when my parents left the Roman Catholicism, and joined a cult (as would be defined by Orthodoxy anyway) that believed in Jesus (don’t even get me started on all that, suffice it to say, when you’re in a cult, rarely can you acknowledge it), but then it was a positive experience in those mid-teen years, and I actually began to study the Bible seriously, took congregation attendance seriously, and grew as a believer.

    Then in the mid-nineties our denomination began to see the Old Covenant through a New Covenant lense, and was accepted into the wider grace-based Orthodox community to become, essentially, a conservative evangelical denomination. Church historians, such as Ruth Tucker, and others wrote about our “Acts like” transformation in Christianity Today, etc, The Worldwide Church of God.

    Now, more recently, our theology has moved from a more traditional Western based understanding, typical to many main stream Protestant churches today, to Trinitarian theology. Sometimes referred to as Incarnational, Adoption, or Christ-Centered. We no longer view humanity as being separate from God, and thereby must do/believe something to, in essence change Gods’ mind toward us so He will accept us. But, as Paul told the Ephesians, humanity was chosen from the beginning to be adopted into His family. Jesus Incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension making that possible. In Corinthians, Paul tells us, when He died, we died, when He rose, we rose, and are seated in Heaven with Jesus. All humanity, now included in Jesus, ontologically. The problem being, not that humanity is now separate from God, but humanity simply doesn’t know who they are, blinded as it were, and therefore can’t experience the freedom of salvation. So, Trinitarian theology acknowledges a universal reconciliation (distinct from Universalism) of all mankind through Jesus, and a personal reconcilation when they come to belief and experience who they are in Jesus.

    Needless to say, that’s been tough for some, including our senior pastor to fully embrace. He has chosen not to teach dogmatically what our denomination now holds as true, because he can’t reconcile a number of scriptures through that lense. Our family, on the other hand fully embraces it, and despite the past couple years of trying to work with our pastor to do the same, we’ve decided it’s no longer spiritually healthy to continue.

    We fully support our denomination, but have made the choice to no longer support our local congregation and attend church at home, supported by denominational web resources, etc. Because I’ve held to many of the views expressed in this post, I’ve been struggling with the congregational component. Does our family, the five of us, sitting around our kitchen table with a vision that “church” should be a party, not unlike the wedding supper, whereby we worship God, discuss history and where the western church got off track through teachings from Augustine, Plato, dualism, deism, etc., consitute “church?” When we listen to a sermon about a loving Father who embraces, and loves us, has forgiven us fully through His Son, at home, does that constitute church?

    When my younger son concludes, we learned that God is way “cooler” than He’s made out to be, does that constitute church? In that respect, I would say, Jesus, Yes, Church, Yes.

    But if it doesn’t, because we’re not with fellow believers, in a larger setting, as some in our congregation will do doubt conclude when we no longer attend (after 10 years) in the next couple weeks as we’ve unwound ourselves from scheduled commitments, then I would have to say, Jesus, Yes, Church, No.

    I’ve been going back and forth on this, this past week because of all my cultural conditioning, and feel like I was led to this site, to confirm my beliefs. I’m a strong Church Yes, believer, having been trained as a pastor, degreed in Theology, but employed as a banker…but unfortunately find myself in the position of having to say, Church No (as we traditionally would define it here in the US), and Church Yes…at home, just the five of us…learning that Yes, God is way cooler, than most make him out to be.

    Regards my friends, especially to the Internetmonk this cathartic experience.

  41. I’m posting this before I read any other comments, except for the first one.

    Today I got my paycheck in the mail. I can distinguish between my employer and the U.S. Post Office.

    My employer is PRIMARILY responsible for my paycheck, the USPO is SECONDARILY responsible it.

    The answer to some of these questions may be Jesus – primarily, the church – secondarily. The answer to some of course is Jesus – yes, the church – no.

    Excellent post.

  42. I agree that the church needs to be careful to keep its big fat caboose out of Jesus’ throne — that seat is already taken. As far as I see it, my personal salvation and relationship to Christ equals ME saying yes to Jesus on a daily basis. On the other hand, I strongly believe that my survival and growth as a Christian requires that I get together with some other believers in state of affairs in which WE collectively say yes to Jesus. And that’s what I think church is at its most elemental level: people getting together to proclaim, magnify, worship, focus on, learn from, and follow Jesus, and to help each other along on that journey.
    We all have private lives, and we all have social lives. Jesus wants to be lord of both. I think the church is Jesus’ chosen method of keeping us centered on Him in a social context — but I believe He deals with us on an individual level, as well.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that saying yes to Jesus in every aspect of your life will inevitably require interaction and involvement with His church in one form or another.

  43. Giving this more thought, like the statement, “Jesus, Yes; church, No” even more. It seems to fly in the face of contemporary ecclesiology, which seems to claim that the church is supposed to meet everyone’s needs through various programs, services, support groups, and entertaining worship selections – a religious shopping mall or buffet line. Don’t forget the latte bar in the foyer! I wonder if this, too, leads to Christless Christianity, when the church gives the people everything what they want, except Jesus.

    It sure would simplify the church’s mission, if all it was supposed to do is point people to Jesus.

    But isn’t that what the pharisees did: provided an answer to everyone’s questions and desires through their traditions and rules so that they didn’t need a messiah? Pre-reformation scholasticism seemed to have fallen into the same error. Late twentieth century liberalism replaced faith with psychology. Now the ten-step-principle pragmatists have taken the lead.

    The church’s “yes” must be Jesus. Everything the church does (word, sacrament, worship, service, etc.) needs to point to that same answer. The risk of offering something else is always there. It can happen to a mega church as well as a liturgical or traditional church.