A Celebration of "Both-And"!
Total Christ spirituality seeks to resist the “either-or” pendulum swing that has too commonly plagued modern Christianity. Reuniting both a covenantal AND temple spirituality, Total Christ is both “high gospel" AND "high church" ecclesiology. Reuniting Christ’s salvific offices of Prophet, Priest, AND King, a “Total Christ” church is at once Confessional, Sacramental, AND Communal, respectively. In sum, then, we call this the "Five Marks" of a Total Christ Church.
The Five Marks of a Total Christ Church:
1) Gospel Centered (A Covenantal, “High Gospel” Spirituality) — The gospel, “good news,” IS grace — amazing, free, unlimited grace — such that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, and received through faith alone! It has as much to do with the A’s of the Christian life (new birth) as the Z’s of the Christian life (growing in Christian maturity). The gospel is at once the message and power of holistic salvation. Every MA church seeks to live a gospel centered spirituality that effects everything — how we suffer, how we feel about ourselves, how we relate to others, everything (Rom 1:16, Rom. 5:6-11, 20, Eph 2:1-10)!
"Cheer up! You're a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you're more loved than you ever dared hope." (Jack Miller)
What to look for:
- The experience of Christian assurance of God’s favor based on God’s grace in Christ.
- People who are identity-oriented as adopted sons/daughters vs. performance-oriented as orphans/slaves.
- Transparency in willingness to confess REAL sins.
- A different approach to suffering and trials as related to God’s training vs. God’s punishment.
- A new motivation for service that is internal and gratitude based vs. external and duty based.
- More and more set free from a self-promoting, self-defending, self-justifying, and blame-shifting approach to life.
- Freed from having to rely on God's Law as the basis for one's acceptance by God, now loving God's Law as the Fatherly commands/directives/invitations for personal and communal flourishing.
- Sabbath enjoying in trustful contentment upon God’s gracious provisions in Christ.
- Congregations centered on those matters about which the church can speak authoritatively, and thus not "culture war" congregations centered on earthly politics.
- Worship Services whose very flow follows the logic of the Gospel (the four movements of Praise, Confession, Renewal, and Benediction).
- Sermons marked by a Redemptive-Historical exegesis that points to “Christ and Him crucified” in and from every text of Scripture.
- Not confusing the “fruit” (of obedience in the life of the believer) with the “root” (of faith in the person and work of Christ).
- Churches that keep the “main thing” (reconciliation with God through Christ) the “main thing.”
- Churches that are focused on the Gospel and not distracted by varieties of outward behavior.
2) Missional Presence (A Temple, “High Church” Spirituality) — More than a source of mission, the carefully designed, apostolically-organized, church is the locus (place/center/location) of mission -- in God's order (i.e. "ordinarily"), the very life-giving and mediatorial presence of Christ. Christ’s ascended human body is distinct, but never separate, from the body of Christ, the church on earth as being engrafted into Christ by the Holy Spirit. This changes everything about the way we think of “church!” We believe that local, Christ-centered, and apostolically designed churches are the very epicenter of Christ’s saving presence on earth “against which even the gates of hell cannot prevail!” Just the church being the church with the whole world present is God’s missionary strategy to the world (Mt. 16:18, John 1:14, 20:21 with Eph 1:22-23, 2:18ff)!
"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)
What to look for:
- An emphasis upon participational apologetics vs. just declarative apologetics.
- Non-Christians participating in the life of the church and worship.
- Worship that both, and at the same time, is a participation in the mystery of Christ’s transcendent otherness yet is accessed through the incarnate presence of Christ with local mannerisms.
- A willingness to suffer all things for the sake of the “elect” – both unchurched and churched – no false dichotomies.
- A confidence in the outward means of grace as a missionary strategy to our world (Word, prayer, sacraments, community).
- A church that assumes a missionary mentality both locally and globally.
- A church that knows itself to be God’s strategic presence in its city or town.
3) Confessional / Belief-Centered (Christ Our Prophet) — We aspire to hear God’s voice in a robust appreciation and experience of Biblical theology and expositional preaching. Whereas the Scripture is our only rule of faith and practice, we want to read and interpret the scripture with the consensus of the church that is passed down from every age and place through the use of Confessions of Faith. Our consensus is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is consistent with other creeds used by other denominations with which MA is associated. We strive to apply our beliefs to all of life (Luke 24:13ff, Acts 20:27, 2 Tim. 3:16, Titus 2:1,7).
"The dogma is the drama." (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos?)
What to look for:
- A culture of humble submission to scripture revealed in a willingness to fully engage in biblically regulated worship and practice.
- A high regard for the Christian scriptures as the only rule of faith and practice wherein the church, acting corporately, is careful to declare nothing save the whole counsel of God’s Word (not more, not less) as discerned by good and necessary inference.
- A high regard for the scriptures in preaching that is expositional and Christ-centered, careful to discern the original intent by preaching right doctrines/practices from right texts.
- A humble regard for the church vs. the individual as “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” such as to read the Bible communally vs. individualistically including the use of historic creeds and confessions.
- A church that is careful to consistently teach and apply biblical theology as the friend of Christian renewal and sanctification.
- A culture of humble submission to scripture that is less prone to be blown about by every wind of faddish doctrine and philosophy of ministry.
- A church with a theology that has the goal of making confessions of faith.
- A church that puts great value on the study of Scripture in order to form their beliefs and form their faith.
- A church that bears the burden of proving their faith from Scripture ("let us reason together"), rather than merely quoting Scripture ("proof-texting").
- A church committed to a communal study of Scripture in order to form their beliefs.
- Bible study groups characterized by the “noble Berean” passion to study the Scriptures in community in order to form their faith.
- Confessionalism as a praxis and not just a declaration.
4) Sacramental (Christ Our Priest) — We desire an emphasis on sacramental spirituality wherein Christ our Priest is “fleshed out” in a carefully designed, four movement, worship service. More than getting people to the gospel, worship after the pattern of temple participation invites us to do the gospel. We invite the world to worship with us as an evangelistic strategy in “doxological evangelism.” Sacramental spirituality is expressed both in doing sacraments weekly and being sacramental throughout the week. By participating in the local cultural manners specific to a socio-cultural neighborhood of each congregation, Christ’s flesh is joined in mystic union to the flesh of the church, the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:14-17, Heb. 12:22-24, Rev. 4-5)!
"No extent of space interferes with the boundless energy of the Spirit which transfuses life into us from the ﬂesh of Christ … and therefore we expect salvation from him — not because he stands aloof from us, but because engrafting us into his body he not only makes us partakers of all his benefits, but also of himself." (John Calvin)
What to look for:
- An awareness of divine presence and a temple spirituality in worship.
- Worship that is characterized by the full range of emotions fitting an encounter with the living God (yearning, wonder, joyfulness, sadness, resoluteness, humbleness, etc).
- An assurance of divine presences that results in a culture of anticipation and expectancy in worship and life.
- The sacramental mystery of local presence that transforms the meaning of menial, local, social-cultural mannerisms by Christ’s mediated presence.
- A church that can distinguish the word-based elements in worship from the socio-cultural based forms that the elements must assume in order to transact God’s living presence.
- A church that practices a four-movement, temple-style worship service that does the gospel in Christ’s presence vs. the revival-style service that gets a person to Christ and the gospel. The four movements are: The Rediscovery of God in Praise and Adoration, The Rediscovery of God’s Grace in Confession of Sin and Absolution, The Renewal of God’s Presence in Word and Sacrament (the word become flesh through preaching and confession of faith and sacramental celebration), and The Renewal of God’s Lordship through Coronation and Benediction.
5) Communal (Christ Our King) — It’s not that modernist churches are too organized, but that they are not organized enough! We seek a more intentional, studied, and worked out strategy of community formation that is carefully built upon the apostolic foundation with Christ as the cornerstone! We emphasize a local-oriented ministry where community in the sacramental flesh of the neighborhood really matters. This community formation is manifest by an emphasis on life-on-life “one anothering” and holistic empowerment under the shepherding care of Christ’s under-shepherds and servant leaders (Jn 13:34, Gal. 6:2, 1 Peter 5:1-5)!
"Christ the Lord is always himself present with his church ... truly and actually ... for the Lord is never absent from his church, but is always personally present ... through the ministry of his word which he does outwardly and tangibly through his ministers and shepherds." (Martin Bucer)
"It is our duty to let the benefit and fruit of the Lord's Supper become manifest, and we ought to show that we have received it with profit ... that even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord ... these we must take, and repeat them to our neighbor, not by the mouth alone, but by our actions." (Martin Luther)
What to look for:
- A communal (vs. individual) approach to everything – such as to change the way we think about our possessions, time, decisions, ethics – everything in relation to one-anothering!
- A community that shares its burdens with one another.
- A community that values the Christian village in child raising.
- A communal consciousness that feels the relation of the part to the whole, both in flourishing as each member flourishes and in suffering as one member suffers.
- A missional method that focuses less on the individual evangelist and more on the communal evangelist as a strategy for reaching those not yet Christians.
- Intentional shepherding and life-on-life (vs. just curriculum-on-life) discipleship.
For Further Reading: