The Perfect Church


Sainte-Chapelle church stained glassWith passion week arriving soon, we will begin to experience the high holy days of the Christian Church. We will also experience the dividing lines along which most Christian churches fall.

You see, you can tell a great deal about a church by what aspect of those days it glorifies:  Christ’s earthly ministry, His cross, His resurrection, or Pentecost.

Churches that ally themselves most with the earthly ministry identify with Christ’s love for the weak and broken people of the world and His relentless service to them.

Churches that ally themselves most with the cross identify with a lost individual’s status as a sinner, Christ’s sufferings on our behalf, and the wondrous freedom from sin purchased by Him.

Churches that ally themselves most with the resurrection identify with redemption, the new birth, and an eternity spent with God in heaven.

Churches that ally themselves most with Pentecost identify with the empowering of the new Church by the Holy Spirit to fearlessly go forth as saints to spread the Kingdom with signs and wonders accompanying.

I’ve see a lot of churches in America, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the perfect church—one that ably allies itself with all four of the above in balance. I don’t know why that is so hard, and yet it is. We seem to like our one or two identifications, and that is about all we can manage.

I keep praying, though.

Book Review: Jesus Manifesto


“We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll)”
—Wayne Raney

I don’t normally review books here at Cerulean Sanctum, but when offered the opportunity by Thomas Nelson to read an advance copy of Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, two of the most prominent critics of traditional American Churchianity, I couldn’t pass.

What drew me more than anything to this book, which released June 1, is summed up in the quote that leads off this post. Sweet and Viola mirror Raney’s song title in their insistence that the Church in America has descended into spiritual noise, much to the detriment of our grasp of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Manifesto by Sweet and ViolaWe seem to be about everything BUT Jesus. We act as if we barely know Him at all; if we did, everything about the Church would be different. Sweet and Viola diagnose this disaease as Jesus Deficit Disorder. Jesus Manifesto attempts to rectify that disorder.

Sweet’s and Viola’s manifesto starts with a purge. The authors go right to the heart of the matter of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by calling us to re-examine what is meant by Acts 2:42’s mention of “the apostles’ doctrine,” noting all the debris that modern churches tend to teach has nothing to do with that doctrine, which is Christ Himself. We get sidetracked into eschatology, how to live by faith, spiritual warfare, evangelism, holiness, Bible memorization, and on and on. That list of diversions features a large number of sacred cows the authors eventually gore and then ask readers to purge. No Christian is left unchallenged.

The authors write that the ineffective Church is the one that focuses on things rather than the person of Jesus. Instead, the occupation of each Christian must always be Christ and Him alone. Getting a revelation of Jesus and seeing that revelation take root and grow in our lives is all that matters. Anything of value in the Church begins in the Alpha and ends in the Omega. The authors quote Watchman Nee  (in one of the many sidebars filled with wisdom from Christians throughout the ages):

“The characteristic of Christianity lies in the fact that its source, depth, and riches are involved with knowledge of God’s Son. It matters not how much we know of methods or doctrines or power. What really matters is the knowledge of the Son of God.”

Much of the Jesus Manifesto centers on the Book of Colossians. Sweet and Viola mine an excellent Christology from the book, not only elevating Christ to the position He deserves, but also noting how Christ’s elevation is our own by virtue of us being in Christ and Him being in us. The contemporary Church’s failure to tell Christians who they are in Christ has done massive harm, and it’s a blessing to read works by modern authors that address this lack.

Indeed, Sweet and Viola have given us in Jesus Manifesto a timely book filled with spiritual food a starving American Church needs to digest. If you have read Cerulean Sanctum for any length of time, you know my concern that we have lost our connection to the Head and have forgotten who we are and what we are to be about. Jesus Manifesto hits most of those points.

But the book is not without flaws, despite the fact that it focuses intently on our flawless Lord. As much as I found the book compelling in spots, it lacks the cohesiveness and majesty found in a similar book, A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. Tozer’s book, which examines the character of God, is always riveting and powerful. Sweet’s and Viola’s book, in contrast, soars but equally drifts. One paragraph may be life-changing, while the next adds nothing—or worse, diminishes the profundity of the preceding words.

The book struggles with flow, too. This may be due to attempting to cram the ideas of two fascinating thinkers into a sub-200-page book on the Lord of the Universe. While the authors have much to say, their framing methods for doing so lack a coherent base. Jesus Manifesto reads as if it were written by a committee.

Together, these issues render Jesus Manifesto a huge paradox: a book that is too short and yet too long, profound yet prone to reader skimming, exciting and yet dull. In short, it needed an attentive editor to manage and direct these two intriguing authors.

I would encourage others to read Jesus Manifesto, for it contains a valuable reminder of the real point of the Christian faith we believe and practice. Too much “rock ‘n’ roll” exists in the American Church. Less of that and more of Jesus Himself is most definitely the cure for what ails us.

Christ Alone in All Things, Even Politics


Believe it or not, this isn’t a political post.

Despite what weather satellites may reveal, the United States, if viewed from space, has never more resembled a massive, angry red wound than it does now. And the salt? Try the Iraq war, terrorism, our status in the world, immigration, or the economic meltdown. For those reasons, people are losing their heads, Christians included, though not quite as thoroughly as in the French Revolution.

Given the election year, the mania is worse than ever. Some are billing Election 2008 as either salvation or damnation for America. Oddly, the Church used to have a term for people who thought that way: the lost.

Still, despite the fact that the One who is to serve as our Lord, Guide, and Model had very little to do with politics, many Christians are looking to politics as the answer for the crises we have made for ourselves.

So in one corner is a former POW who didn’t roll on his country when tortured. In the other corner is a man who says he is full of new ideas. One paints himself as a maverick and the other as the candidate of change.

Critics of Sen. Change note that he’s astonishingly light on any notable political output. They claim the extent of his political will includes his “win at all cost” efforts to champion one political issue more than any other: the right of a woman to have a doctor jam an aspirator into her unborn child’s skull and vacuum out his/her brains.

A little stung by that charge that their man, Sen. Change, fights so hard to kill the unborn, critics of Sen. Maverick come back with claims that while Sen. Maverick doesn’t actively crusade for barbaric deaths for babies, he’s allied with people who are even worse: those who don’t really care all that much about what happens to people after they are born.

Those same pro-Change people like to also note that despite the fact that their man earnestly contends for a policy that leads to the certain death of the most vulnerable in our society, he also represents a vague feeling that may lead to a possible better future for some people at some time—maybe.

This has led some born-again Christians to jump onto Sen. Change’s ship.

Here’s what the Bible says:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days….
—Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
—2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price….
—1 Corinthians 6:19-20a

The side of Christ is life and blessing. The side of antichrist is death and cursing.

The side of Christ is light. The side of antichrist is darkness.

The side of Christ is surrender to Him. The side of antichrist is surrender to self-interest.

To choose the side of self-interest, death, and darkness is to choose the side of the barbaric skull-vacuuming and dismemberment of the very least of these, the most helpless of all in our society. It is to choose the side of antichrist.

As Christians, we must never choose the side of antichrist. For this reason, we must never, under any circumstances, ally ourselves with those who represent antichrist. Our love for Christ compels us.

Can a Christian still be a Christian if he or she holds a mistaken position that supports antichrist? I believe so, as long as that Christian actively seeks to repent of that mistaken position and choose Christ in all circumstances.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. We will all answer on Judgment Day. Everything will be revealed. The intentions of every heart will be made known.

Those born-again Christians who think themselves so brave to be endorsing one who supports antichrist positions are really fooling themselves. Theirs is the coward’s way.

And it’s also the coward’s way to vote for the opposing candidate for no other reason than to not vote for his opponent.

The way that honors God in all things, political or not, is to choose Christ’s way at all times.

Jesus Christ said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we are in Him, then He will make a way for us because He is the Way. He will show us truth because He is truth.

How does this play out in reality?

Let’s consider the election. Those who live by their own self-interest will vote for those candidates that will give them what they want. Those who live by the Spirit of God will vote for those candidates that best reflect what God alone wants.

Here’s where that becomes true counterculture: The one who is guided by Christ alone will vote for the people who best honor His Kingdom even if that means they vote for candidates Two roads, but only one Waywho are not among the major parties. It means they will vote for the one who honors the Kingdom of God even if that person has no chance of winning the election. Even if that means writing-in the name of a godly person who might only garner one vote, that is what the Christian must do. Because the Christian seeks to reflect light, life, and blessing in all things, even if no one else in the world does.

Therein lies bravery. Therein lies the only real choice for the believer.

And so it must be for all decisions Christians make. We honor Christ and no one else. We choose light and life and blessing in ALL things, not just some. We reject outright anything and anyone set in opposition to Christ in anything.

The road to destruction is wide and many take it. Sadly, many people who consider themselves born again will take it in November and in the days ahead.