Words tend to become meaningless over time, especially when used often. There are several words in our English language that have all but lost their meaning and thus their full impact in communication. Probably one of the most obvious is the word ‘love.’ And how overused is the word ‘awesome’ these days?
In Christian circles it is no different. I can think of several words – glory, worship, and anointing to name a few – that have suffered much in their use over time. We would do well to take these words off the shelf and examine them once again and attempt to reclaim the full weight of their meaning. One term I would like to focus on here is ‘Christ-centered.’
When used in the context of ministry, everyone would like to think that their ministry is Christ-centered. After all, isn’t that what it’s supposed to be? Isn’t it just a given that if we’re ministering supposedly in Jesus’ name that our ministry is Christ-centered? To answer those questions, we have to take a look at just what ‘Christ-centered’ really means and then we need to think about what that implies when applied to specific areas of ministry. In other words we want to take this phrase out of the realm of the abstract, define it sufficiently, and make it practical.
One often effective way to define a term is to show its antithesis. The use of contrast helps us to wrap our minds around an idea much better than if we simply rely on a flat definition. In the case of the term ‘Christ-centered,’ then, the obvious antithesis in a theological context would be ‘man-centered.’ The term ‘man-centered’ is exactly what it sounds like: focused on man. If someone is ‘self-centered’ then everything he does seems to be for and all about himself. Likewise, if a philosophy is ‘man-centered,’ then everything that is done seems to be for and all about man.
The term ‘Christ-centered,” then, describes something that has its focus on Christ. Everything that is done is for and all about Christ. This is easy to see and, for many, obvious. However, the definition alone falls woefully short in painting a full picture of what ‘Christ-centered’ means and how it applies practically to ministry.
It is important for us to realize here that these terms are expressions of motivation and philosophy. In other words, these terms deal with the why and the how of ministry. Indeed, the why usually determines the how and ends up driving the whole philosophy of our ministry. But even this gets fuzzy in meaning sometimes because there are underlying, foundational presuppositions involved that need to be uncovered for us to understand what different people mean when they use terms like ‘Christ-centered.’
At the very heart of this issue is one’s fundamental assumptions concerning man’s free will, God’s sovereignty, whether conversion is monergistic or synergistic, and the function of the Word of God in ministry. Where one stands on these issues will determine how that person defines ‘Christ-centeredness’ as well as their philosophy of doing ministry. In other words, it determines for them the why and the how of doing ministry.
The Function of the Word of God
All of the fundamental assumptions mentioned above are actually interrelated and interdependent. For instance, if one sees salvation as being a cooperative work between God and man where God makes it possible to be saved but it is incumbent upon man to make the final choice, then that person’s how of doing ministry will naturally focus upon doing whatever is necessary to sufficiently persuade people to make that decision. This then immediately raises the question of whether the person who simply “makes a decision” is really converted or not, but that is another issue for another blog post.
Conversely, if one sees salvation as being a monergistic work of God, that is, that God performs the whole work, even to the point of changing the will of the sinner from being against Him (Romans 3:11) to being willing to turn from their sins and to Christ (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:30), then that person will have a whole different philosophy of ministry. This is because this person also has at the heart of their presupposition the function of the Word of God in ministry. This person sees the following passages as extremely fundamental to their philosophy:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… (Romans 1:16 ESV)
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?…So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14, 17 NASB)
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 NASB)
…but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23 NASB)
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved… (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 NASB)
So then the person who sees salvation as a monergistic work of God also sees that the Word of God in general, and the gospel in particular, as the means or the conduit through which God’s power and grace come to people in order to perform that monergistic work of salvation. They also see that, as in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, we also stand by the power of that same gospel after we have believed.
Since the gospel is all about the person and work of Christ, then it is no wonder that Paul says to the Corinthians, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). The reason for his focus on Christ is spelled out in verse 5, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
The meaning of ‘Christ-centered,’ then, is the purposeful focus upon the gospel, and more specifically the Christ of the gospel, in all areas of ministry. In this we see that the gospel is the tool and method that God has chosen for His people to use for the purpose of ministering His power and grace to the world and to His church. The antithesis of this would be a man-centered, pragmatic approach which seeks to employ whatever means necessary to get people to make a decision. Since the Word of God specifically says that through the world’s wisdom no one comes to know God (1 Cor, 1:21), the Christ-centered method of ministry is the only one given to us by God and the only one that assures that true conversion and true ministry will take place in people’s hearts.