Christ-Centered or Christ-Added
I grew up going to the country church where my parents attended and served as volunteer leaders. We prided ourselves both as a church and as a denomination that we could always count on a Christ-centered message coming from the pulpit. We were mission-minded where other churches were maybe more doctrinal or liturgical. We wanted to make sure that anyone who attended the services had an opportunity to profess faith in Jesus as Savior. The “plan of salvation” was always given at the end of every service.
What I now realize is that when it came to the preaching, we meant more Christ-added than Christ-centered.
I can remember the pastor using various passages from the Bible and spending most of his time explaining how we should cease from certain behavior and begin doing something more beneficial. Then, at the end, he would briefly mention that Jesus was ready to save us if we would trust him. Maybe he would help us keep our promises or live up to our resolutions.
The focus was unmistakably on what we should do to be better. Christ was added like instant tea to cold water. He would add flavor, but the task could probably be accomplished with enough faith and willpower. It was more about what we should and must do to make God happy — and Jesus would help us.
There were sermons and Bible studies on the principles that assure success in our endeavors. There were lectures on ethics. There were interesting Bible stories explaining the moral characteristics of the characters, with the exhortation to “dare to be a Daniel,” or “be courageous like young David.”
Sometimes there were in-depth doctrinal sermons on great theological controversies, but they always ended with: “I don’t want anyone to leave today if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your own personal Savior and Lord. If you will admit your sin, and confess by open profession, your faith in him, you can be saved.”
A Growing Hunger for the Christ-Centered Message
Sadly, not much has changed — not only in the small country churches like that one but also in some of the largest pulpits in our world.
We seem to have forgotten that Jesus took the first disciples on a tour of the Bible and showed them that he was the subject and center of the whole story. We seem afraid to tell the raw truth that Jesus alone is the way to the Father and that only through him can we know intimacy with God now and forever. We add him to our well-crafted speeches that really feature what we can do, rather than what he has done.
Man-centered messages with Jesus added are not only powerless to transform, but they are false representations of the gospel.
A growing hunger for the Christ-centered message which energized the early disciples is becoming evident. The entertaining talks and dramatic presentations have not satisfied a deep longing for a glimpse of Jesus the Lord. We are made for him. Our eyes are never fully opened until we see him by faith. Our hearts are never at peace until he is our all in all.
When we are the center and Jesus is added, we slowly die. When we see him as filling our field of vision, we find ourselves in our proper position. If he is Lord of all, he can never be an “add-on.”