Since my ordination in 1999, I have worked as an Associate Pastor in 5 different...
As we continue through the blogs of our values we will take the next several weeks to look at the 7th value “Center-Focused Spirituality”. This value says “We believe in calling people to the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus – what “mere Christianity” is and does, and not fixate on the boundaries.”
I was not a part of the group that came up with these original values. So as I reflect upon this value I am especially struck by the group’s willingness to affirm such a value. Fellowship and ECO were started for many reasons, but one of the main ones was; the feeling that the boundaries of our theology hadn’t been kept. Because this was a concern from which we were formed it could have been easier to create a value that emphasized our willingness to declare clear solid theological boundaries and patrol them well.
In one sense, we have declared boundaries by defining our essential tenets; which all officers must adhere to and be bound by. We are also clear that if officers fail to continue to adhere, there are grounds for removal from office through our judicial process. While we are clear on the boundaries we want instead to be focused on the core of our faith and life with Jesus, rather than focus primarily upon patrolling bounders.
By primarily having a center set focus upon Jesus we see several advantages. One of those advantages is, that by being center set focused we will temper our tendency to needlessly complicate. If we are honest, we do tend to over complicate, and certainly digging into the deeper things of God is incredibly important. Sometimes, however, in the midst of our knowledge and exposition we can give the appearance that theology is not comprehensible for the everday believer. I was in a discussion with a Methodist pastor once about someone that we both knew who had “professed” Jesus previously but now renounced his faith. We were debating the question if the man was a Christian and lost his faith of if he was never a believer in the first place. We disagreed on the question, but we both agreed that he was lost and needed to come back to turn the trust of his life to Jesus. We agreed that a central truth, was what was really most important.
A second, similar, temptation that we often have is to be so focused on the minutia of theology that we can neglect the simple call of Jesus on our lives. I have heard numerous writers say things like, “we are educated way beyond our obedience.” I think this is true. We, especially Presbyterians, can be so caught up with orthodoxy (knowing and believing the right things) that we forget about our orthopraxy (doing the right thing). We can memorize scripture and perhaps even know them in the original language, and in our core believe that is enough, but yet fail to live out those biblical implications in our lives.
One final advantage to being center set focused is that if you are truly center set you don’t need to focus on the boundaries. I was recently talking with Alan Hirsch about the orthodoxy of the church in China when it had to go fully underground when Mau Tse Tung was in power. He said, remarkably that only 5-10% of the church was heretical in their beliefs. This seems exceptional considering that there weren’t seminaries or people watching over the shoulders of the groups. The reason the groups stayed orthodox by and large was that they were primarily center focused, thus the boundary issues tend to take care of themselves.
I do hope in ECO we can continue to live out this value of being centered focused in our discipleship toward Jesus.