What are the marks of a healthy and holistic Christian?
Your question is an incredibly relevant question given the times we live in especially. And the answer I will want to offer is admittedly both my longest answer in the Q and A but also an answer in process. It is an answer that is given in the spirit of "Total Christ Explored." But before we get to the answer itself, a bit of context, method and theology is I think really helpful (and interesting) as it will I think make the answer much more meaningful (thus the added length). I hope you will read the whole thing, but if you must-- just skip down to the last part: "Total Christ Explored" which is also found in the "About Us" section of our website.
A Bit of Context:
We live in a context where we are arguably still suffering from a rather robust modernist hangover. At the core of this hangover is a deep seated dissatisfaction with what I have disparagingly coined "nothingbuttery Christianity." You know what I mean don't you? Where spirituality is reduced to a yawn absent the nuance and brilliant colors that make for a full spectrum Christ! It is the kind of Christianity that seems always to be in the midst of an exaggerated, even polarizing pendulum swing in reaction to an earlier fad in Christian spirituality. It is a yawn that is tired of the modernist reductionism of an "either-or" way of framing life as to reduce it to spiritual atoms, then quarks, then ??? It is when Christian spirituality trends toward "Christian apologetics and worldview conferences" (rationalist/didactic spirituality) OR Christian contemplation and ritual (aesthetic/contemplative spirituality) OR communalistic fellowship" (incarnational spirituality) OR the latest x steps or strategy making up a philosophy of ministry (mission spirituality) OR... And in all of this, there is the either-or dichotomies that reflect "ancient-modern" and "contemporary-tradition" and "east-west" and denominational-parachurch" and.... Well you get the gis t-- boring to be sure, but we will want to argue NOT any of them the full gospel as representing a TOTAL Christ as our holistic savior- prophet, priest and king!
Now there are deep social-cultural-philosophical realities to all of this reductionism. But in a very real and visceral way, I think we presently find ourselves in the midst of a reevaluation of everything after "the moderns" (pre-modern, modern and postmodern). For in a context where even postmodern is considered passé, we live in a kind of post-everything moment while clamoring in polymorphous practice. What began as a "yawn" has quickly moved to a groundswell of protest against the reductionism of modernity and later the nihilism of post-modernity. The emerging practice is increasingly wanting a more holistic and total, may we even say "transmodern," kind of life and spirituality-where local is joined with global, where organizational is joined with communal, where contemplative is joined with rational, and on it goes. That is, if modernity and then post-modernity resulted in an "either-or" way of life and spirituality-objectivist or subjectivist, secular or spiritual, individualistic or communalistic, etc.-the transmodernist will decry the nothingbutteryism of the modernities in search of a more total and holistic, "both-and" kind of experience. The result is to express vestiges of pre-modern, modern and post-modern ideas and practices albeit in all sorts of creative and multimodal interactions. And all of this is happening in wiki fashion through blogs, resource pages and the many collaborative centers that are emerging in cities everywhere.
There is something very exciting about all of this IF it where to represent a movement back to a transcendent source of spirituality that predates even pre-modernity itself as from the heavenly source of God's word. And yet already there emerges out of the wiki style venture an overwhelming abundance of answers, and by their shear plurality they seem still to be moving in pendulum swings in reaction to another- some back to Constantinople, others back to Rome, others still back to Geneva, and on it goes. There are ancient-modern expressions of private style spirituality often set against communal style spirituality, didactic style spirituality pitted against contemplative style, spiritual disciplines vs. "quiet-time" casual, spiritual pilgrimage/ monastic or public theology, etc. And so the question is still raised concerning any possibility of discovering something more complete, holistic, even transcendent as to embrace them all but in a way regulated in their relation to the other in so far as a being TOTAL Christ in his grace and lordship. And practically speaking, we are then still left wanting a vision for how we would evaluate ourselves in terms of the a holistic and healthy Christian life. We are left wondering what to look for in locating a church to attend? As a Christian leader, we are left wanting in terms of how to evaluate our Christian ministries with respect to its culture, focus and practice.
Indeed, your question is a good one if but for its relevance today! But is there a way to find balance and holistic health reflective of the "whole counsel of God's word" (Acts 20:27). Is there a "TOTAL Christ" spirituality that can be discovered resulting in a "TOTAL church" experience? We believe there is (even if in process) as long as we keep Christ first place in everythingt, not just sentimentally, but in method, his person and work, the focus of the gospel and our missional purpose, everything!" The apostle Paul once said it this way:
In Christ... we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins... the image of the invisible God ... all things created through him and for him... all the fullness of God... And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning... in order that that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col. 1:13ff)
I'm reminded here of a verse once engraved into an ancient wooden pulpit I once had the privilege to fill. It was stated in such a way that the preacher couldn't fail to miss it: "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21), a prayer at once simple as profound and needing to be expressed in the fullness of Christ. It's and answer to what Paul fears when he admits, "I fear lest your thoughts may be led astray from a pure and simple devotion to Christ" (2 Cor.11:3). So from beginning to end, what would such a devotion look like as to answer our question? It all begins with a Christ-Centered method!
A Bit Of Method
In keeping with a Christ-centered devotion, wouldn't we want to read the scripture after Christ's method of reading it? This method is perfectly illustrated on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24. The story is told how Christ appeared to a couple of travelers about seven miles out of Jerusalem. The timing of the conversation was during his brief time on earth following his resurrection prior to his ascension. Evidently, they were discussing the events concerning Christ's death and resurrection when Jesus himself drew near and went with them. They were at first confused and were unable to identify him. And so we are told how "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:13ff).
Underwriting "TOTAL Christ" Christianity and church practice is a survey of the whole of Old and New Testament revelatory history such as to seek after the trajectories that culminate in Christ. Such a study revealed two very foundational trajectories that are never not present in all of redemptive history. The first trajectory in redemptive history is the idea of "covenant" that culminates in Christ as both our covenant maker and covenant guarantor (the one who takes it upon himself to keep the covenant in order for the promises to be granted). It is this trajectory that preserves the grace of the gospel in so far as it is what directs us outside of ourselves (who break covenant with God) to a substitute for us in the covenant guarantor-- it is what will result in two very essential characteristics of a TOTAL Christ spirituality that is both, and at once, a grace centered and missional spirituality (what we will describe as a "High Gospel" spirituality).
Think about it, has there every been a time in all of redemptive history, starting with creation and redemption itself, where humanity has not been in relation to God by means of a covenant? Now before you flinch at the words "covenant" (which is a kind of "legal-forensic contract such as to invoke fear of condemnation), the key is that there was never a time when humanity was not saved by means of that covenant since God himself becoming the guarantor of it ultimately in order for humanity to be granted God assurance of favor by grace through faith alone!
In other words, it is the very objective nature of the covenant itself that it forces us to look outside of ourselves and our performance in zeal, love, morality, mission, etc that makes grace, grace! For grace presupposes a free gift that is the work/credit-- call it want you want- of another! If for instance we want to be assured of God's love based on grace, a high gospel spirituality will NOT tell us to exam ourselves in relation to our own covenant keeping (see for instance the rich young ruler-- what is impossible for man is only possible for God). Rather the covenant will train us to exam ourselves in relation to another who can substitute in keeping the covenant contract for us as then to receive the covenant benefits as a free unmerited gift abiet offered and gratefully, if not also humbly, received by faith alone! And to the point, there was never a time in all of redemptive history when God's people were "safe" to be morally flawed and broken as to enjoy God's favor apart from this faith (receiving) of God's free gift based upon God's provision of an substitute covenant guarantor! Martin Luther called the gospel of an "alien righteousness" since Christ performance is credited to our own and forms the basis of true Christian assurance. In this way, even Moses and the prophets get us to Christ!
And then there is another trajectory that is equally foundational though out all of redemptive history. Think about it, has there ever been a time in all of redemptive history when salvation was NOT transacted by means of "god in the midst of us" (Psm.46) such as to invoke a spirituality of divine presence matched perfectly to covenant? It is the spirituality of salvation by means of "dwelling place," "tabernacle" (Ex.29:42, Dt.12:5, Psm 76:2, etc) that culminates in the coming of Christ who " tabernacled among us"(John 1:14 ). And to our present reality, this dwelling place under Christ's ascension ministry is throughout the epistles mediated in/with/through the "body of Christ" on earth as it is in heaven and organized under the apostolic foundation described as "temple," even the very "dwelling place of God" as the "household of God? (Eph. 2:18ff).
In a very real sense therefore, the same mediating offices (prophet, priest and king) that were introduced in shadows under the geo-political temple of the OT are fulfilled by the coming of Christ incarnate. And then now, as Christ is in heaven, he is also on earth mediated by the Holy Spirit in/through the very marks Christian spirituality and church practice in its confessional aspects (faith forming/teaching/preaching), sacramental aspects (contemplative/aesthetic/rites of entrance and renewal) and communal aspects (via mercy ministry and shepherding under the lordship of Christ). This "presence" spirituality is what we call "high church" spirituality--" not to be confused with any given culture or style of worship. It is rather about a salvation that is transacted and made effacous by means of God's real, mediated, presence as prophet, priest and king acting through the "temple-church." Think about it, has there every been a time in all of redemptive history when salvation/redemption/new creation WASN'T transacted through either God's immediate presence or by his mediated presence via a temple? Whereas now is not the time to work all this out (see below for summary), we will see how the essence of this temple spirituality is Christ'sascended ministry is now by means of his real presence via his mystic union with the flesh and blood of local, and culture affirming, communities-- what the Bible calls the "body of Christ!"
And there you have it-- "total Christ" spirituality and church practice as to involve both the covenant facing high gospel spirituality and the temple facing high church spirituality" toward a more holistic picture that brings together aspects of Christian life that are too often rent asunder in traditions and philosophies of ministries in either-or contemplative or didactic or communal, and any one of these three as then applied to either-or a gospel centered and missional or church centered and traditional sort of spirituality. We want it ALL-Total Christ, as only CHrist by his transcendent Word and Spirit can bring them all together in devotion to Christ. Speaking about the history of Christendom, missional ecclesiologist Lesslie Newbigin once said it this way;
Just as we insist that a Church which has ceased to be a mission has lost the essential character of a Church, so must we also say that a mission which is not at the same time truly a Church is not a true expression of the divine apostolate. An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church. (Lesslie Newbigin, Household of God, p. 147)
A Bit of Christology
Now, before we get to even an attempted picture of what it looks like- it is exciting to see how all of this fits our theological understanding of Christ himself! That is, as we think about Christ- his person and work-- a Total Christology will want to assume the universality of Christ per his unique human-divine mediation between God and humanity (1 Tim.2:5). This is related to the Chalcedon consensus (AD 451) concerning the nature of Christ himself. For if we think in terms of the Christological formula of Chalcedon, we can rightly say that Christ's divinity is always distinct, but never separate from Christ's humanity relative to Christ's nature.
That is to say that our (Christian) understanding of spirituality is different than the ancient pagans, ancient gnosticism and even most modern eastern spiritualities. For our spirituality is a spirituality of "co-union" with God who is wholly other but in relational union with us, not a spirituality of divine monism such as wants to empty ourselves (eastern meditation) of the “other” in order to experience the divinity that is within us and the whole universe. This has huge ramifications in spirituality, as to distinguish a revelation-word based contemplative experience vs. say a contemplative experience that seeks to rid itself of word-revelation. It means that there is an “other” to contend with relative to the way we would regulate our thoughts and practices such as defined by another—thus the marriage metaphor in scripture is used to describe the mystery of “one flesh” that is really one co-union at the most intimate level even of identity, without lose of the two person involved.
Total Christ then will want to preserve both Christ's identity as divine "Word" and Christ's identity as human "flesh", (including the socio-cultural or local "flesh" of every cultural site on earth-- "no distinction!" ). Such a Christology will at once transcend humanity as to be clothed in humanity. There is the God side of the mediatorial ministry of Christ such as will define its unchanging elements that function of our Christian life and church practice as our only and unchanging imperative of faith. This is the mystery of the eternal "Word." And then there is the human side of the mediatorial ministry of Christ wherein the socio-cultural "flesh" is joined to the eternal such as to be Christ in the midst of us in our own vernacular "form." This is the mystery of the "flesh" during Christ ascension such as to be the socio-cultural"'body of Christ." (I know, we are getting pretty deep here-- but expanding all the same to where we want to be-- holistic and healthy!)
And so to the greater point of our question as applied to our present life during Christ ascension ministry: For us to experience "total Christ" we must experience Christ as he is BOTH human and divine- at the same time always! The divine as by covenant will regulate the way we relate to a transcendent other and distinct-person of Christ in heaven. The covenantal aspects of our spirituality relate to the objective aspects that will determine the never changing elements of Christian spirituality that both transcendent and unify all cultures as "one in Christ. The temple aspect of our spirituality relate to Christ's union with the body of Christ on earth such as to give socio-cultural form (flesh) to the covenantal elements in order to experience the never separate human Christ. All of this is for instance depicted in the numerous “on earth as it is in heaven” statements throughout Old and New Testament scritpure. For instance, have you read Mt. 16:18-19 and the issue of Christ's effectual power (binding and loosing) that is being mediated on earth as from heaven during his ascension ministry? This perfectly gets at Christology applied in the ascension ministry of Christ today such as to necessitate both a divine and heavenly transcendence that is mediated on earth by temple presence.
And to this title "Total Christ"-- our search for holistic Christian” spirituality and church practice is not altogether different from the search that was enjoined by an ancient pastor named Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century. And who would guess (said with a grin), his search led him to the idea he called Totus Christus or "Total Christ" Christianity! For instance, Augustine once summarized it this way:
The Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us; to that flesh is joined the church, and there is made the total Christ, head and body (St. Augustine, On the Epistle of John 1.2, bold mine).
That is, the same mystery that united the eternal word with human flesh in Christ's incarnation is the mystery of Christ's ascension wherein Christ's real presence is still with us being mediated in the church over and over again in every local socio-cultural context. In this sense, Augustine was saying that Christ is not 'total" relative to our experience of Him until Christ is experienced in the vernacular flesh and blood of the socio-cultural church-- Christ who is so on earth (mediated) as Christ is in heaven (immediate). Christ who is eternal, immutable, sovereign "Word" who is Christ on earth by the Holy Spirit acting in/with/through the body of Christ. Augustine was able to “rejoiced and give thanks” that:
We are made not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, and apprehend the grace of God upon us? Marvel, be glad, we are made Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members: the total man is he and we… The fullness of Christ, then, is head and members. Head and members, what is that? Christ and the Church. (St. Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, In. Lo. xxI.8)
It is as Paul stated it then, total Christ spirituality is when God puts “all things under his [Christ's) feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all. (Eph. 1:22) Not surprisingly then, Paul later describes this "fullness of Christ" in/with/through the church as nothing less than the" household of God... a holy temple in the Lord... a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Eph. 2:19b-22).
Now to be sure, there is much nuance and filling out to do in all of this. But we are at least set up for "total Christ Explored as answer to the question "what does a holistic an healthy Christian spirituality and church practice look like?
Total Christ Explored
To summarize what we have discovered thus far, Total Christ spirituality and church life will want to fully experience BOTH a high gospel orientation (grace centered and missional) AND a high church orientation (as to see the local socio-cultural sited church as a temple presence of God) wherein we are affected by our co-union with Christ's continued and confessional presence through his ministry of word (prophet), sacramental presence in socio-cultural form and worship, (priest) and communal presence through community formation and one anothering under Christ's grace filled lordship (king). All together, we see then five dynamics of a Total Christ experience that makes for healthy and holistic Christian spirituality. The way you would experience them as a holistic spiritually or the so called "five marks" of a total Christ church are briefly summarized wherein as Peter said, God is glorified in all things through Jesus Christ! (I Peter 4:11).
The Covenantal Orientation: High Gospel
This first dynamic gets at the very core of our identity as to inform everything about us! It starts with an assurance that by faith alone, we are now "in Christ" safe from the fear of God's condemnation or rejection. This is because our identity is a "gift" vs. something we must construct for ourselves, even as we then live into that identity more and more. This dynamic is predicated upon God justifying us by means of Christ's performance so that we no longer need to justify ourselves to God or to others-- we are comfortable as it where in our own flesh because our flesh is now Christ as received by faith alone! So what would it look like to live out this identity?
For one, we feel safe to be morally flawed and broken such that we make it safe for others to be. We more and more are able to live in the truth of who we are and are not, even as this means that our relationships can become less and less characterized by blameshifting and cover-ups and more characterized by confessing and absolving. It means that we interpret circumstances in our life differently. For instance, if unsure of God's favor and acceptance, suffering may feel like punishment and the 1st installment of eternal damnation even. But when we are assured of God's favor, we see suffering as from a God who is wanting greater intimacy with us leading to spiritual renewal (c.f. 2 Cor 12:4-10).
This is because of what could be described as the "S" cycle of grace centered spirituality. It begins with "Sin" which is to form an alliance with an idol (all idols are cruel "works-based" tyrants in sheeps clothing such as to promise us what they can't deliver based on the work we do for them that can't ever be enough). God's answer of deliverance is often begun by delivering us over to our idols in "Servitude" in order to suffer under their oppression until we discern their lies and finally cry out in "Supplication" for God's deliverance. And here is the thing, if by the pattern throughout redemptive history (one thinks esp. of the recurring theme in the book of Judges, example 2:11ff ), EVERY time we cry out, God sends a "Savior" and renewal based on grace. There is no such thing as someone who wants God's grace who doesn't get it!! The grace centered life then begins to engage life through the "S" cycle in a way that lives more confidently and positively even amidst difficult circumstances. And this changes everything!
With respect to church practice, a grace centered spirituality will want the focus everything it does on the gospel of grace as to bring people and every circumstance to Christ. This is not to say that every sermon is basic or elementary as in revival spirituality. It is that all of life, every complexity, nuance and topic is open season as to be interpreted by and applied in the paradigm-pattern of the gospel of grace. Even the five movements of worship itself that you will discover at CPC will follow the gospel pattern such as to be a covenant initiation and/or renewal event in the grace that is revealed in Christ. This pattern is the logic of the gospel itself such as to begin in a season of (re)discovering God's greatness in praise and invocation, then a season of (re)discovering our identity in assurance by grace through faith through confession and absolution, followed by (re)living the mediatorial word of Christ through not just the reading but the live, locally informed event of preaching wherein God's word becomes flesh yet again in the midst of us, followed by a season of communion both in Christ's and by extension in one another's graces as informed by the communion to involve one-anothering prayers and gifts leading in procession to Christ communion feast, followed lastly by a season of coronation of Christ in giving him Lordship over the whole of our lives such as to be under his ultimate benediction.
My point in all of this? (the admittedly the longest dynamic description)-- well Tim Keller said it nicely when he explains that the gospel of grace is not just the "first step in a stairway of truths, rather it is more like the hub in a wheel of truth, the gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the X-Y-Z's of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom." (Centrality of the Gospel) And honestly, how many people, when they think of Christianity, think of it that way? How many even who are Christians really see it that way-- as to make it safe to be flawed and assured of God's favor based solely on the performance of Christ on our behalf as received by faith alone! I suspect most of who we know would say that Christianity and church are just the opposite.. we have much work to do starting here and at our home at CPC!
Key Scriptures: Romans 3:19-,26, Ephesians 2:1-10
(Resource: Tim Keller, The Centrality of the Gospel @ www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/centrality.pdf)
The missional dynamic gets at both the purpose and locus of Christian life and church practice. Perhaps the best way to introduce this dynamic is in the culminating commission of Christ in the gospel of John where he declares:
Just as the father sent me, so I send you
It pertains to the "just as... so" framework that we form our purpose in mission.
"Just as"-- think about this in the context of a succession principle. The Father's purpose for Christ is now our purpose-- which is to glorify God in the gospel of grace extended to every culture and location in the world. But more than this, the "just as..." speaks to the way God sent Christ, as to incarnate himself in our midst. Today, not by mere detached proclamation, but by incarnation we, the body of Christ enlivened by the Holy Spirit in-with-through the temple church community of "Christ's flesh" on earth mediate the grace ministry of Christ as through his mediatorial ministryof prophetic, priest and king aspects (see below).
What this means is that even at church, we we want to inhabit a posture of being in the world, if not of the world, AND FOR THE WORLD! We see everyone as Christ sees them, as sheep without a shepherd, as lost needing to be found, as no different than us in need of grace wherever in their spiritual journey they might be. And here is the clincher, we see the church not as a mere source of mission sending, but as the locus of mission being in itself in so far as it is the incarnational mediation of Christ on earth as he is in heaven. Again, this will change the way we do everything relative to the world.
For one, we will want to be proactive proactive about making the church a safe place for the world to be! The road to Christian conversion will want to focus as much on participation as on proclamation-- on friendship development outside of the church and inviting the world to participate in the full activities of the church (except in such cases as it would be a violation of a sincere conscious as in renewing faith at the Lord's Table when faith is not yet... We will want to speak not in "them-us" ways since this is not our view of the world so much as we all in need of the gospel. We will want to rid ourselves of some of the "Christianize" that tends to ask people to join another culture in order to become Christians. We will want to incarnate our services and activities in order to reflect the soci0-cultural form of our local community, even as these things are done as regulated and directed by God's word in order to be Christ in the midst of us and not some alien god that we have perhaps even inadvertently imported. We will not have "favorite sins" or be surprised when people sin or struggle in sins that are culturally considered "worse" sins.
And especially, we will seek focus our strategy on just "being the church" as it is supposed to be with the whole world present as our fundamental mission in the world. This will mean that we will want to be a "kingdom NOT of this world" such that we will avoid being polarized or especially politicized into "red" or "blue" Christendom in adherence to the precious "first things" of the gospel in Christ, humbly recognizing even that many of the polarization, if truth be known, are expressions of selective spirituality (why to reds focus so much on sanctify of life and "blue" on" poverty"-- is there biblical warrant for such as priority? We also want to regulate ourselves to speak the whole truth but nothing but the truth even as it is amazing how this will prevent us from being experts on many such things that churches tend to speak when in the realm of macro-economics, socio-political theory, etc. Being missional, in other words, means being secure in the identity and mission of the church as itself worthy in Christ an the gospel of eternal, even if it doesn't make the newspapers!
In other words, as was true in the ancient church (think Acts 2), people discovered Christ while participating in the communalism of the body of Christ. This means that the church will want to do everything as if the whole world were present-- in transparent way that is genuinely accessible and safe way. This is not to dummy down the church or to become less "counter-cultural." This is not to compromise in any way the beliefs and practices of the church. Quite the contrary. It is the grace filled counter-cultural church that IS the gospel itself. Such a church then will want to affirm "nothing to compel, nothing to rebel" save Christ! And such as church then will want to invite the world to participate in the holistic temple presence of Christ present in the temple church per the following interdependent dynamics as well.
Key Scriptures: John 20:21ff, Acts 2:37-47, Ephesians 2:11-22
(Resource: Tim Keller, The Missional Church @ www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/missional.pdf )
The Temple Orientation: High Church
This dynamic gets to the way we see Christ present in our lives and community, not as to neglect our cultural distinctiveness, but as to be clothed in them while at the same time purifying them for holy use. It is the mystery of sacrament that informs the reality of our community. Just as Christ sets apart common and unholy elements for use by the Holy Spirit to become the vivifying presence of Christ in worship, so too he takes common and unholy cultures and sets them apart to become his very vivifying presence in one another's lives and in the world. Both worship and vernacularization become a crucial aspect of our Christian spirituality an church practice in extension of the sacramental principle.
Sacramental is also about the presence of God in worship. We will want to carefully distinguish the elements of worship as informed by the covenantal movements and "divine institutions" in scripture from the forms those elements inhabit as informed by the socio-cultural expression of a particular and local community as then directed by scriptural intent of a given element. Such a church might then be "multi-site" (site being defined both culturally as location perhaps) as to be multi-cultural and yet a united organizationally in sharing the same covenantal elements of worship. Worship will be viewed as a dialogical response to God in liturgy (whether scripted to unscripted).
More on an individual level, the sacramental dynamic will inform the way we approach God and that we desire life to be an living liturgy of worship on earth as in heaven. It is something we do with the glorious festal gathering of the saints and angels in heaven according to Heb. 12:22-29. At the heart of worship is a faithful human response to divine revelation and presence set into a dialogical pattern for the glory of God and human salvation! It is a life of helplessness expressed in prayer- as much throughout the say as an ongoing conversation as in daily/weekly private and corporate "ritual" (said not in the dead sense). Family worship for instance will be less concerned or learning as remembering and renewing by means of the gospel pattern of approaching God (noted above). That is to say, the sacramental dynamic is to explore ways to live in an ongoing contemplative and dialogical life with God and could involve a whole host of practices and activities as has been useful throughout church history within that general tradition even.
Key Scriptures: Ephesians 1:22, 2:18-22, 1 Cor 10:14-17, 11:23-34, 1 Th. 5:17, John 17
(Resources: Preston Graham Handout "Worship" and "Sacraments" @ CPC Website "Study Center > Seminars and Classes >Theology 1)
The confessional dynamic will want to engage and experience the didactic, or better "word-revelatory" presence of Christ toward faith formation and worship. In other words, a confessional spirituality is not to be confused with learning that academically "unencumbered " (such as to bias against bringing personal issues and/or beliefs to the study). Nor is confessionalism a speculative sort of "science of theology" if by that we meant that revelation must somehow conform to human logic necessarily. Rather, it is an exercise of faith seeking understanding. We can "rationalize" faith but we want faith to be rational, albeit making room for the mystery of God in every category of belief such as to result in humble praise. It is rather the sort of didactic learning that will necessarily result in a confession such as in Romans 11:
Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!.. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (vs. 33, 36)
More practically speaking, a confessional approach to faith formation will necessarily involve at least three fields of study, even as they are NOT all equal in authority and influence.
First there is the study of the sacred text of scripture. Scripture as such is the ONLY authority as our rule of faith and practice and is given the highest priority relative to confessional formation as applied then to all controversies of faith and wisdom for living. While the scriptures don't address everything in life specifically, and while it must always be read according to its intent as a redemptive "science"( less as a natural, social, economic, political, or ... science), we do believe that scripture alone is sufficient as our only rule of faith and life. Private illuminations (dreams, impulses, etc) and church decrees are at most illuminating, but never as scripture revealing as the very Word of God to us. Therefore, there is a high priority given in this dynamic to preaching and teaching that is Biblically based and in a way that reflects the internal logic and intended meaning of scripture itself within the story of God redeeming a people to himself from beginning to end!
Second, we are not the first people to be reading the Bible, but we read it in communion with the church that transcends all time and cultures. WE therefore want to read the bible not primarily individually but corporately as with our church of every age and culture. One way this is done is to read it with an awareness of the consensus formed over the ages as to what the Bible principle teaches-- this consensus is expressed through, you guessed it, ot;confessions" or "creeds." Now again, the purpose of a creed or confession is not to replace or usurp scripture. Quite the contrary, it is to preserve the authority of scripture from the errors of individual subjectivity. The fact is, we all carrie interpretive viruses that are common to a given age and culture that are best exposed when we read it together with those of another age or culture. A confession is a living document in that it is a living consensus for use in a real communal context such as to serve as the basis for how a church both teaches and acts. And so to be confessional is to be communal in the way we read scripture..
Third, we read the scripture locally and within our own socio-culture flesh of community and life. Sermons are word preached in so far as they are local as to incarnate the words into the living, breathing providence of God in a particular congregation. While sermons in other locations and context may function as good lectures and even exhortations/devotions useful in faith formation such as to make it useful to hear, they are not really "word preached." The word preached is a mediatorial exercise wherein the pastor is as much representing the people in the sermon as God, wherein there is a God-upward aspect as much as there is a God-downward dynamic after the pattern of Moses and ultimately Christ. The life of the congregation is crucial to a good sermon almost as much as the life of God for the people. This then spills over into other context for confessional theology and learning in the life of the individual and families.
The confessional experience then sees "theology" as our friend, even if it best when done in/with/through/by the church acting together "as church" and through a robust ministry of preaching and teaching. Such a spirituality we believe is less susceptible to being tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine and spiritual drifting. (Eph.4:14, Heb. 2:1) It is a very important leg of the spirituality table, even if though it is incomplete apart from the sacramental-contemplative and now communal/one-anothering legs that together form the temple orientations of prophet, priest and king.
Key Scriptures: Ephesians 1:4-16, 2 Tim.4:2, Acts 20:26-28
(Resource: Preston Graham Jr, "Primer in Confessional Theology" and "Primer in Bible Interpretation" @
CPC Website and "Study Center" > Seminars and Classes > "Spiritual Leadership" c.f. "Theology 1 Handouts at CPC website "Study Center > Seminars and Classes > Theology 1)
In Christ's final prayer for the church He prayed, that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11) Notice that this unity is theologically grounded in the reality of the mystical union enjoyed within the Trinity now being extended to include the members of the church. We are communal so that the world might know Jesus Christ in the flesh even as He is being mediated through "one-anothering" in the body of Christ. There IS according to this dynamic a necessary relation between our communion with Christ and our communion with the body of Christ. As related to the sacramental dynamic for instance, Paul writes:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation the body of Christ? Behold, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1Cor.1o:16-17)
This communal dynamic then is expressed in two ways generally:
First, a communal spirituality will want Christ's presence of governing and shepherding, even as this is accomplished through a biblically regulated appointment of under shepherds and pastors (elders). Its true, we probably fear authority, especially church authority since too often it was wedded to moralism vs. grace and resulted in anything but an experience of the high gospel! But gospel centered shepherding is focused on mediating the grace of Christ to all who are broken and in need of God's grace and reconciliation such as to perhaps ironically make it more safe to be morally flawed than we would feel if left to our own self-critical ways. We are by God's presence through under-shepherds enabled more and more to be set free from the idols of our destruction. So for instance, perhaps the hardest thing to believe in a world that is totally set up differently is grace. The true shepherd, after Christ, will most likely find themselves loved by self-confessed morally flawed people and despised by the self-righteous and moralistic. It is when we are struggling with assurance or under the burden of our works-oriented idols that we need a shepherd who can say such things as "my burden is light and my yoke easy"- not in the sense that the Christian life is easy, but in the since that our assurance and identity in God's favor is easy given the burden that Christ bore on our behalf. And so the communal dynamic will seek to order itself after the apostolic foundation with Christ (not ourselves and our own works-righteousness performances) as the cornerstone!
Second, a communal spirituality will express itself in an increasingly radical and "other-worldly" kind of love that is holistic for one another in the body of Christ especially. Again, what if the world really saw in our community what was seen in Acts 2 wherein "they had all things in common?" More than any cogent argument of reason, wouldn't such love confound the social strategies of the world in a way that authenticates Christ in the midst of us? There is then a whole new approach to individuality in relation to community that is expressed in the communal dynamic that is expressed in an organic sort of way in relation to a particular and local community first, and then radiating into the whole world.
Within then an organization as given by apostolic foundation (Eph. 2:19ff) communalism is expressed when there is a real sharing of one another's graces in both outward and inward ways. It is a communalism wherein "god's will" is less an individual thing as an "individual in community" thing. It's a whole new approach to the way we make decisions about how to spend our time and resources such as to consider the interest of those we share communal covenant with in Christ especially. Everyone views themselves and their gifts as resources and services to the church in this way. There is a necessary messiness to the church therefore wherein we are willing to get dirty-- emotionally and physically-- with one another without fear of condemnation and rejection. No one is in the church that is not so gifted with some resource/service. (Rom 12:1-6) As such, church is more than an event, it is a "household of God" inviting the world to participate (missional). This then is Christ as king in the midst of us as through the communal love expressed under his grace centered lordship.
Key Scriptures: Romans 12:1-13, 1 Peter 5:1-5, John 13:34
(Resource: Preston Graham Jr. "Christian Economics and Mercy in the Church" @ CPC website and "Study Center" >Seminars and Classes > Introduction to Spiritual Leadership"c.f. resource papers)
In relation to our Total Christ, I’m reminded of the way the great 17th century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards attempted to describe Christian spirituality and Church practice by means of his frequently invoked metaphor of “heat” and “light.” Quite often throughout his voluminous corpus of writings he would argue that one without the other represented a severe deformity in Christian spirituality and church practice. This is perfectly our point about and either-or, Covenantal or Temple based spirituality wherein the covenant orientation is basically about Edward's "light" and the temple is about Edward's "heat." So for instance, here are two samples of the way Edwards would say it, the first paragraph taken from Religious Affections and the second from his Charity and It’s Fruits.
As, on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light; that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart"
A truly practical or saving faith, is light and heat together, or rather light and love, while that which is only a speculative faith, is only light without heat; and, in that it wants spiritual heat or divine love, is in vain, and good for nothing. A speculative faith consists only in the assent of the understanding; but in a saving faith which is only of the former kind, is no better than the faith of devils for they have faith so far as it can exist without love, believing while they tremble.
His point, both are essential elements to a holistic and healthy Christian life and Church, even as they are expressed through what we have described in the Five Marks. We see this in a redemptive historical survey from Genesis to Revelations that demonstrate how there was never a time in all of redemptive history wherein human salvation didn’t involve union with God as transacted through BOTH an objective-covenantal oriented union as “by divine law” (“light”) and a subjective-temple (effectual) oriented union with as “by divine participation” (“heat”), albeit both operating within an ongoing inter-dependent relationship to one another. The instruments or “means of grace” that God utilized albeit in gracious condescension to our creaturely aptitudes are covenant and temple.
Christian spirituality is therefore different from mere monism as an impersonal power in the world. The distinctive traits that are unique to the person of Christ are therefore preserved by means of the covenant terms themselves. In the covenantal orientation,we are saved from our own subjectivity, especially in order to preserve the objectifying grace of the gospel. That is, the covenant preserves the objective message of the gospel of saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:1-10). Again, this is the “light” side where there are such passages in the New Testament wherein Christ-centered life is described in terms “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” such as to be “taught) (Col.2:7) resulting in a “healthy doctrine” (Titus 2:1). In this sense, we can say that the covenant orientation in relation to justification by faith alone is an objective work of Christ on our behalf is an essential element of the gospel.
On the “heat” side the temple is related to an life transforming-participation orientation as by the Holy Spirit mediated in/through Christ’s ministry of CHrist as prophet, priest and king in the midst of us as mediated through the body-temple church. The temple orientation preserves the power of the gospel by guarding against dead orthodoxy. This temple "heat" is, to be sure, visibly organized when, according to scripture, 'built upon the apostolic foundation with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:11-21). Again, on the “heat” side, Christ-centered spirituality is described in terms of participating in the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23, 4:10) as to be “caught” in participation with the mediated presence of God resulting in what Peter described as being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Together both covenant and temple preserve a holistic, organic, “total” spirituality that is at once healthy and fully liberating with respect to humanity as it is glorifying to God according to his glorious grace both revealed and applied
So have I answered the question?
Well, according to what I have been saying thus far-- yes and no!! Yes, if you want a general kind of description of what a holistic Christian life and church should look like. BUT NO, if then it is viewed as anywhere near complete and especially authentic-- since it is only as good as it is both ideal and material-- divine and human- in heaven and on earth. And therefore the question awaits ascension presence wherein there is a kind of re-incarnation of Christ in the midst of us every time a high gospel and high church community is formed and practice within the locality of a given cultural location. AS I write, we are embarking on a multi-site church that is expressly intended to unite us organizationally after the covenantal elements of our spirituality while at the same time being accessible to the many cultural sites that exist in our great city of New Haven. You can read about that in our "About US" section and "We are a Multi-Site" Church. God help us!!