Bible-Based or Jesus-Centered?
How a Jesus-centered church differs from a Bible-based church.
I was waiting in the hospital to undergo a routine outpatient procedure. The nurse that was prepping me for anesthesia had heard that I was a pastor. She told me where she attended church and then asked me, “Is your church Bible-based?” Now, I grew up attending churches that considered themselves “Bible-based”, so I knew exactly what she was asking, but given the fact that I was about to go into la-la land from what the anesthesiologist called “happy juice”, I opted to just nod in the affirmative and leave it at that. There are some significant differences between a Bible-based and a Jesus-centered church. If both the nurse and I had had more time, the following is how I would have preferred to answer her question.
Bible-based churches are everywhere in America. They sometimes even include the word, “Bible” in their name, like “Community Bible Church” or “Hometown Bible Church”. (If either of these is the name of your church, I’m not talking about you specifically – just illustrating a point.) In my experience, Bible-based churches have high regard for the Bible, and tend to define themselves in opposition to other churches that they think hold the Bible in lesser esteem. Fundamental tenants of Bible-based churches generally include believing that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. What they usually mean by this is that God exerted a great deal of control over the contents of the Bible.
Evangelical apologist, Ravi Zacharias writes,
“The Bible is the Word of God, and God cannot err. So, to deny inerrancy, rightly understood, is to attack the very character of God. Those who deny inerrancy soon enter the dangerous terrain of denying all Scriptural authority for both doctrine and practice.”
There are different ways that people think that the Bible is without error, and it’s not my intention to explore these here. What I do want to draw attention to is that, again in my experience, Bible-based churches that stress the inerrancy of Scripture tend to see all of the Bible as equally inerrant, equally authoritative, and equally inspired. Bible-based churches also often put a particular view of the Bible on equal standing with God, as seen in Zacharias’ quote above, “to deny inerrancy…is to attack the very character of God.”
Now, if you approach the Bible thinking that all of it is equally authoritative, and that the Bible is in essence, nearly indistinguishable from God, this will pre-condition the way you read it. By “pre-condition” I mean that you might not notice when the Bible is saying two different things. For instance, in Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus is speaking,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.’
Notice the two phrases; “You have heard that it was said”, and “But I say to you”. Where had the people heard, “and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”? They heard it from their Scriptures- in the Mosaic Law in Exodus 21:24. Jesus then says, “But I say to you”. Jesus is asserting greater authority than the Law of Moses here, but if you believe that the entire Bible is equally authoritative, who are you going to go with- Jesus or Moses? When someone attacks you, who are you going to follow, Jesus or Moses? Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN says that when confronted with a choice like this, many Christians “jump over Jesus” and go with Moses, David, Elijah or some other voice in the Bible that better suits what they want to do in the moment. I understand that people interpret Jesus’ admonition here in various ways, but often, Christians don’t even honestly engage with Jesus, they just dismiss him. This is just one of many examples where the Bible presents us with two conflicting ideas, ideas that cannot be easily harmonized away. What are we to do?
Jesus’ Testimony Is Greater
Jesus actually told us that his testimony is greater than all others. He said that among those born of women, there is none greater than John the Baptist. (Luke 7:28) He also said that his testimony is greater than the testimony of John the Baptist. (John 5:36) So, while there is a great deal to be learned from all the Scriptural voices that came before and after Jesus, Jesus is reserving the greatest authority for what he has to say.
The writer of Hebrews begins with this:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3
Jesus is the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being”. Nobody else can claim this – not Moses, not David, not Elijah, Paul, Peter, John or anyone. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. This will change the way you read the Bible. Placing greater authority or weight on what Jesus has to say than other Scriptural voices will put the contours back into a Bible that many Bible-based churches have flattened out. This is what Jesus-centered churches are seeking to do.
Jesus Reveals The Father
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19
No other Biblical figure makes this claim. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus.
Check out this conversation Jesus was having with his disciples,
“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:7-9
Ok, so far so good. Jesus shows us the Father. But a “flat reading” of Scripture- one that assigns equal authority to all of Scripture says that Jesus only shows us part of the Father – that there is another side to the Father that we don’t see in Jesus. This other side is typically understood as the angry, vengeful God that we often see on other pages of the Bible. The problem with this is,
Jesus Shows Us The Entirety Of What God Is Like
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus]… Colossians 1:19
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…Colossians 2:9
And He [Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature… Hebrews 1:3
The Trinity does not have multiple personality disorder. The full nature of the Godhead (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) is embodied in, and is on display in Jesus. If you have a background in “Bible-based” churches, you might be putting two and two together about now and thinking, “Hey, you’re really diminishing the Bible here!” I’ll answer and say, “No, I’m not diminishing the Bible – I’m elevating Jesus to the place the Bible actually says he belongs.” It is the Bible that tells us to elevate Jesus above every other Scriptural voice.
The Transfiguration As The Elevation Of Jesus
Matthew 17 records what is commonly called, “The Transfiguration”. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain and Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun and his garments became as white as light. Then Moses and Elijah appeared as well. Peter, thinking he’s doing a good thing blurts out, “Lord, if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But while Peter is still speaking, God speaks audibly saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
Peter thought he was doing a good thing by offering to build three tabernacles, elevating Jesus to equal status with Moses and Elijah (the Law and the Prophets). God interrupts that train of thought and tells Peter that Jesus is his beloved Son, and to listen to Him! Moses and Elijah then fade away into the mist. This is God telling us, in the Bible to give more weight to what Jesus says than to all the Law and the Prophets.
These have been a few thoughts about what a Jesus-centered church is all about. We intentionally put Jesus and what the Bible says about him first when we read the Bible. We center our Bible reading on the person of Jesus. The Bible is very important in helping point us to Jesus, but the Bible is not God.
The Bible tells what the Word of God is…it’s not a book, it’s a person – Jesus Christ. (See John Chapter 1)
We are followers of Jesus, not followers of the Bible.
We are saved by believing in Jesus, not by believing in the Bible.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were excellent students of the Bible, but they rejected Jesus. Sadly, many Christians today are still rejecting Jesus and idolizing the Bible. This is what I would like to have shared with that nurse if I’d had the time. I did kind of enjoy the “happy juice” though!
p.s. If you still think that the Bible is the “Word of God”, read John chapter 1 and replace every occurrence of the word, “Word” with “the Bible”. Kind of absurd don’t you think?