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A Christ-Centered Church
First, in contrast to most people in the past, post-modern people have difficulty being confident about very much and thus have little interest in joining a club on the basis of its distinct religious beliefs and ethical requirements – especially when these beliefs and ethical mandates are based on the credibility of a written or ecclesial authority. The Church that will continue to define itself by a set of authority-based theological and ethical beliefs, all of which are held to be equally important, is and will continue to be increasingly unbelievable, irrelevant, and unattractive to non-believers. It is dying.
Now, it would be unconscionable for the Church to alter the content of her faith for the sake of becoming more marketable to the post-modern world. But as we’ve argued, Christianity was never supposed to be defined by a distinctive set of religious beliefs and ethical requirements in the first place. Of course there are distinctive beliefs and behaviorial ideals the church has always held to and should continue to hold to. But these were never supposed to define us over and against the world. The only thing that is supposed to define is does so in service to the world, not over and aganst the world, and that is the love of God revealed on Calvary. To insist that core definition is more important than all other beliefs and ethical ideals we might hold is not a concession to post-modernism: it’s foundationally biblical. We are to live in love, not our doctrine. We are to place our commitment to love above all other commitments. Everything, including our true beliefs, are devoid of kingdom value without love.
The demise of the Christian religion presents us with a marvelous opportunity to recover this center as the core center, a center the religion has usually lacked. And while post-modern people are resistant to authority-based truth claims, they are as hungry for and thus attracted by genuine kingdom love as people have ever been. The religion of Christianity will die, as Bonhoeffer foresaw. But the love revealed on Calvary can never fail (xxx).
This isn’t to suggest that the Church should abandon all its doctrine except its Christology. But it is to suggest that the future Church will hold all other doctrines in a way that is different from the past. When people get their worth, significance and security from Christ alone, as we all should, they don’t need to get their worth, significance and security from the rightness of their beliefs and behaviors – their religion. And this lessens the urgency to be absolutely certain of the rightness of one’s beliefs and behaviors and of convincing others of this certainty.
I believe the Christ-centered religionless church of the future will thus be a tribe that is more inclusive of and attractive to people who have not fully “arrived” yet. It will see faith as much as a journey as it is a place to have arrived at. With its identity found exclusively on Christ, the future Church will embrace all who simply are attracted by the beauty of Christ and will allow for more flexibility and diversity on particular beliefs than the religious church allows for. It will be a community where doubts are expressed more honestly, questions are wrestled with more authentically and less defensively, and people are given space to grow at their own pace.