If, as most Christians profess, Jesus is indeed the only Head of the Church, it seems reasonable that Christ’s Church should reflect His personality in it’s ministries and structure.
One way that Jesus is reflected in the ministry of faithful churches has been the recovery of a balanced Word & Deed holistic ministry. By balanced I am in no way suggesting a compromise. Instead I am referring to churches that are uncompromising BOTH in their pursuit of sound Biblical and theological instruction AND in thier practice of meeting the real – spiritual and tangible – needs of their neighbors.
This only makes sense, since Jesus is himself the Word Incarnated and the one who “came to serve, not to be served”. (See Mark 10.45) Jesus’ service was expressed through miraculous practical, provision and help. And Jesus is the one who said to his disciples: “Just as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (See John 20.21) Traditionally churches have structured their leadership into the offices of Elder and Deacon, in accord with Biblical directive, to reflect Word & Deed. (Elders = Word; Deacons = Deed)
But I am increasingly becoming convinced that there is another, an additional, way that the personality of Jesus should be expressed in the Church. This additional way, often referrred to as Tri-Perspectivalism or Multi-Perspectivalism, should be expressed in the Leadership Structure and in the ministry of the church. In fact, I am convinced that it needs to be the guage by which we evaluate the faithfulness of our congregations.
The Bible teaches that Jesus exercised three distinct offices:
Each of these offices carry a significance. In exercising these three offices Jesus also reveals aspects of his personality.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes for us how Jesus exercised each of these offices:
Q. 24. As a Prophet, Christ reveals the Will of God to us for our salvation by His Word and Spirit.
Q. 25. As a Priest, Christ offered himself up once as a sacrifice for us to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God; and He continually intercedes for us.
Q. 26. As a King, Christ brings us under His power, rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all his and our enemies.
Another way of looking at these distinct roles is:
Prophet is concerned with understanding and communicating God’s Truth, and applying it to every aspect of life.
Priest is concerned with the Spiritual Renewal and Transformation of all Christ’s People. The Priest is concerned not only for the conversion and intial reconcilation of the Believer to God, but also that all our lives be increasingly lived out in the joy and freedom that the Gospel secures and applies to us.
King is concerned with the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom, with both the Future fulfillment and Present Realities in mind. In that sense, the King is concerned about both the mission and the structures of his Church.
What I have discovered is that each of these offices offers a unique perspective for leadership and ministry. Each is equally important. Each must be equally considered. If all three are not equally considered the ministry of the church is unbalanced. In fact, if all three aspects, or perspectives, are not equally considered the ministry is not only unbalanced it is unfaithful. It is not faithful to reflect the whole person of Christ, who is not only the Head but also the Model.
I am indebted to several people who have written extensively about this subject. In partcular I am indebted to Dick Kaufman of Harbor Presbyterian Church in San Diego for introducing me to this concept, and to Drew Goodmanson and David Fairchild of Kaleo Church who have written and diagramed some practical implications they have discovered.
Some of what I am realizing is that a Uni-Perspectival approach, a view that elevates one or two of the three perspectives above the other(s), leads to some common models of ministries, that may or may not have some strengths, but are nevertheless unbalanced and unfaithful:
Prophet Perspective – This church is probably strong in Bible teaching and Sound doctrine. But without a corresponding value of the perspective of the King the church will be empty of effective mission, and largely impotent in evangelism; without the corresponding value of the perspective of the Priest discipleship will be little more than the transfer of knowledge for the ascenting to doctrinal propositions.
This is a common error of many churches in my presbytery and denomination. We, rightly, place such a high view of Scripture & Sound doctrine, we, wrongly, are prone to minimize or ignore the other perspectives.
King Perspective – This church is probably strong in Outreach and Church Growth. They establish effective structures for ministry and multiplication. Such a high emphasis is placed on Practical Theology that there is often a neglect of Systematic and/or Biblical Theology. The value is getting people outside the church into the church. Everything else takes a back seat. Sometimes anything that seems to impede this singular priority will be omitted entirely. Without the corresponding value of the perspectives of the Prophet and Preist, discipleship is often merely pragmatic, mechannical, shallow, and even fuzzy on Truth.
It seems to me that the Church Growth Movement of the 1970’s & 1980’s, and the Seeker Movement of the 1990’s, were driven by this myopic perspective.
Priest Perspective – These churches focus on the experiential. People are accepted and connected to one another, which is a characteristic sadly lacking in many churches influenced by our individualistic Western-Modern-Culture. It is also lacking in congregations influenced by judgemental Fundamentalism.
I believe the recovery of this perspective is important, and will round out the weaknesses of many Evangelical congregations that are largely some combination of Prophet-King. I also believe it is honoring to the Lord. (See Psalm 133, John 17.)
But, without the corresponding value of the Perspective of the Prophet, these churches will be prone to practice, contrary to God’s Word, “love” without “truth”. (See Galatians 6.1, Ephesians 4.15) And because there is no end to our problems and needs, apart from valuing the Perspective of the King, there is often a tendency to get so wrapped-up in one another that there is a neglect of proactive advancement of the Kingdom. In fact, lacking the perspectives of both the Prophet and King, some Priestly congregations may overlook the ultimate need of people and the reason for Mission: People are enslaved to sin and alienated from God.
The overemphasis, or exclusive emphasis, of the Priest Perspective is commonly seen in Liberal Mainline and Emergent churches.
I write this post, not because I have discovered THE answer for all things but, because I am convinced that to be faithful we must strive toward this Tri-Perspective.
Again, I am not suggesting compromise at all, the lowering of any standards. I am encouraging, and seeking, synergy – the working together of multiple parts. And I am convinced that in this synergy we will see healthier churches, even power, because we will more truly reflect the Person of Jesus to the World and one another.
13 thoughts on “Reflecting Jesus in Christ’s Church”
Dennis: Sound like you’ve learned a lot; thanks for sharing it. At the turn of the 20th century, the mainline American church expanded its social and mercy ministries while simultaneously rejecting orthodox doctrines. This produced a fundamentalism and then an evangelicalism which ignored or at least downplayed the golden rule, social action, and mercy relief in the world. These movements of our childhood gave the “deed” ministry over to churches who had abandoned the preaching of the gospel. Fueled largely by a dispensational ideology the evangelical church honed its “word” ministry and showed little interest in the “deed” ministry. This polarization is evaporating.
I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying here, but do you believe any churches exist who can truthfully say they are totally balanced in this way, or is this one of those sanctification things that we’ll never totally arive at? My personal opinion regarding our own congregation is that we lean a bit in the direction of “prophet/priest” perspective, and are less strong in the area of the “King” perspective, but many may disagree with me. When I read articles like this I often find it overwhelming and wonder how on earth we’re supposed to do all we’re called to do! I guess we just need to be willing, available, open-eyed, prayerful servants, seeking God’s will for us as individuals and as a church, and let Him take care of the details! Still, as overwhelming as it seems, when we consider the possibilities…WOW!
Thanks for this!
I agree Dennis…Good job in putting together a solid summary of real balance. (not sure why anyone would disagree with what your talking about). However, in the working out of this in Church I see very little of this. (I’m talking in general). Not because the gifts are not present, nor the right theology, but I think the traditional church leaves little room for the use of the gifts that each King and Priest in the Church brings to the table. Particualy in our denomination. When the Bible tells us to be Salt and Light we settle for less as we so much of the time seperate ourselves from the lost people around us and have lost touch with doing and being the Priest that we should be. One thing I have to say about some of the so called Emergent Churchs (that term means different things to different people) is they do seem to reach out to people where they are and to who they are with real Love that comes from the Gospel. We need more of people who have a heart to Love God and Love others and put their theology into action. Me too !
Here are some questions I have. What is a church, as a church, required to do? What things is a church, as a church, free to do or not? What things, though they be good things, should a church, as a church, not do? I had a friend, a fellow staff member at a church, who planned to be a church planter. He was often critical of churches that built bowling alleys. “That’s not the business of the Church. Word and sacraments, that’s the ministry of the Church.” I’ve been preaching through John and encouraging and challenging our people to “greater works” (John 14:12ff). So, should the church, as a church, have a clothes closet or pay people’s light bills or host a band and throw a party. Certainly the deacons ought to oversee the distribution of money and goods to meet the material needs of people within the church. But they’re to do that, so that the elders are free to focus on the word and prayer (Acts 6). Many churches function as full service community centers, complete with basketball gym, work out room, banquet hall, and theatre. I’m not necessarily against that. I’m certainly all for individuals and families and groups of people engaging in every manner of activity that serves others and adorns the gospel. My failure, and I think our failure, is not so much a failure of understanding, as it is a failure to love our neighbors as ourselves and God above all. One idea that appeals to me is forming boards of interested individuals with the approval of the session, some commitment of money from the church, and use of the church building to pursue some particular ministry that does not fall into the category of word and sacrament. But then, I think, the board and the ministry needs to be allowed to stand or fall, carry on or discontinue, without the church being distracted or destroyed. Yes, I know; easier said than done. Life is full of troubles.
As far as Word & Sacraments only, I guess I would ask where that specification and limitation is found in Scripture. I wonder if your former colleague, if he ever decided to become a missionary, a campus minister, or a church planter, would think that it was the responsibility of various congregations to help support that work. In a sense, those works would be for the purpose of extending Word & Sacrament, but then what mission is not?
I agree with you concerning the fullservice, Wal Mart, churches: There is nothing inherently wrong with the things they have, but my observation is that many have lost sight of the reason those things are developed. Such churches usually fall into the King Perspective and neglect to equally value the Prophets Deep, Rich, Sound Doctrine, and the Priests Gospel Transformation. They willhave programs, but the focus is primarily just getting people into their church.
You are correct, the church – Christ’s followers – are to be concerned with others beyond themselves. Paul says in Galatians: “Do good to all people, but especillay those in the household of faith.” The word is especially, not exclusively. Thus ministries of mercy, community development ministries and corporations, are not only appropriate but important aspects of the churches mission. Further, Jesus said: “Just as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20.21) We must ask: In what ways and for what reasons did the Fether send Jesus. We must also discern every parallel that should then be expressed in our lives and congregations.
It seems to me that the problem in our Reformed Tradition is that we over-reacted to the ommission of the Prophet Perspective in the past and in the recovery of it we elevated that perspective above, and to the exclusion of, the others. Now many of our churches that are dwindling near death, absent of evident effect on the community where God placed them (compare to Matthew 5.13-16), still consider themselves faithful simply because their doctrine is Sound. It is the only grid by which many evaluate. My sugestion is that we need a 3-fold evaluation.
I’m assuming (a dangerous thing to do, I know) that reflecting Jesus in all three perspectives should apply to the church catholic, the local congregation, and on down to the individual believer. If that is the case, do you think each congregation ought to be equally balanced in all three areas, or is it acceptable for each to be weighted in a direction according to gifting? While I would expect individual believers to operate mainly in the areas of their gifting, do you think the same should be true for different congregations? Again, I’m assuming (see above) that the worldwide body of believers is, more or less, a balanced body with Christ as its head.
That’s a great question. I won’t try to spout off an opinion at this point. I’ll hope some others might be able to offer some insights.
BUT, it does seem that even if we allow (as if it were up to us) that local congregations, like individuals, are functionally limited, it should e a cause for humility and charity toward other believers and congregations. In that light, no church that is unbalalnced, rightly or wrongly, is inherently healthy.
Though I think every church ought to have tangible expressions of all three that help keep our own idolatrous tendencies in check, I do believe it is wise (and even preferable) for a church to lead out with one or the other, depending on their philosophy of ministry.
Well said Dennis! For whatever reason it seems that many Christ followers are unwilling to sit in the middle seat and hold onto the biblical tensions that often divide the body of Christ. In most cases when Godly people are polarized it’s because they both have some light but due to doctrinal arrogance or spiritual blindness they are unwillingly to acknowledge any light which exists outside of their present understanding. God’s reality is usually found at the intersection of seemingly polar opposite ways of thinking. In my mind your post embodied the essence of this way of thinking which I call capital “K” Kingdom thinking.
Dennis – I wholeheartedly agree. This tri-perspectival viewpoint fits not only with churches in the macro, but with each ministry of the church in the micro. To the degree each ministry of the church reflects all three, to that degree it will be healthy and balanced. I guess God knew what he was doing when the Trinity said, “Let us make”, since they were inviting us into this “dance” of relationship. If only we could learn the dance instead of the churches obsession with trying to systemize, categorize, dissect and “own” the more right viewpoint on the dance.
Around 1989-90 I was taking some courses relative to my getting certification with NANC, the Biblical counseling group. The courses were at CCEF, which is across the road from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. One of the authors we read was John Frame, and it was from him that the term ‘multi’ or ‘tri’ ‘perspectivalist’ became a new term for me. His hermenutic was one point from which the teachers – Paul Tripp, John Bettler, David Powlison, Ed Welch, etc sought to encourage Biblical counseling that was wholistic and not a mere throwing of Bible verses at suffering souls. Having read the other responses to your blog, it seems that this is a means to pursue an enriched understanding of the Messianic roles so perfectly set forth in the person and work of the Savior. As noted though, we seem to be unbalanced in our own attempts to do ministry in terms of these Messianic roles. However, this view keeps us vital, hungry, and ‘pressing on toward the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’. Obviously, there is real value in that!
A good statement Dennis. Our lives, it seems, are nothing less than continuously balancing those things that are essential to the Kingdom of God. Just being in the “Presence” of God in all that we do, as some theologians put it, is something that we often neglect as a church. That Presence being nothing less than a constant understanding of different areas of ministry and awareness of all those areas in which God has called us to serve. There is a tendency to separate different portions of our duties and focus more on one than the other, as though they are not the “whole”. We need to encourage this kind of thinking and be reminded of that Hebrews passage that says, “Let us stir one another up to love and good works.” I am constantly reminded of that strange portion of Scripture where Christ’s disciples see a man going about doing the work of the kingdom, yet he is not a part of the direct ministry of Jesus. “Master we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he is not with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him for the one who is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:49-50
I like this post a lot. The Kaleo guys are really helpful (and Dick K. has been really helpful to them as they acknowledge). In our context we’re seeking to form gospel communities (what people used to call small groups) that embody all three perspectives and thus use the collected gifts of a small segment of the church scattered into the community to serve it in word and deed. I agree it’s hard to balance but I think many of us in church leadership (I include myself here) are glad to be stumbling in the right direction even if we aren’t even close to perfection yet.