To Hell with the “Centrisms”

I’m of Paul. I’m of Peter. I’m of Apollos. Such idolatrous-like associations bothered Paul greatly. They should us as well. During Cape Town 2010, I ran into this phenomenon with many people: I’m a Chinese Christian. I’m an African Christian. I’m all about younger leaders. I’m all about the Diaspora or the AIDS crisis or trafficking, I’m with such-and-such denomination. I’m with such-and-such organization. I believe the local church is THE only means to save the world, etc.

Ethnocentrism, issue-centrism, and organizational-centrism are the main causes of division in the Christian Church today. These idolatrous “centrisms” are also a major hindrance to world evangelization. It makes me very sad.

We all know the words of Jesus in his high priestly prayer (John 17). We should be “one” as the Father and the Son are “one,” that the world may know the Father sent the Son. The sobering truth is that we are often only willing to be one when “our agenda” drives the oneness. I admit my own propensity toward centrisms. I fall into the sin by trying to make the case, especially to donors, that the vision and mission of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College is God’s first and best means for saving the world.

That is idolatrous-centrism. At least I can name it. Perhaps if we call it idolatry it will help us steer away from the attraction to it? Not likely. Awareness of a sin rarely results in the ability to stop the sin. Not even the consequences of the sin of idolatry seem to lead to a cure. And don’t mistake this: the consequences of idolatrous centrism are daunting and include division in the Body, ineffectiveness in mission and evangelism, and inefficient use of resources.

We don’t have the time for this sort of sin. Every day, 150,000 people die in our world. Fifty million people have entered eternity in 2010. Many entered a Christ-less eternity. Let us repent of our idolatrous centrisms. Let us instead speak well of each other, bless each other always, and collaborate wherever and whenever we can. Surely that is the instruction we have from our Lord.

The urgency of the hour is not the only reason to repent. Another reason is more selfish, or to put a better spin on it, more “theologically accurate.” Truth be told, we are more content and happy when we pursue partnership and oneness with other persons, churches, and organizations.

Such a desire for oneness in plurality is the very nature of our God and part of what it means to be created in God’s likeness. God has perfect unity in plurality in the God-head. Is it any surprise then that we are at our best and are most-fulfilled when we allow him to shape oneness in the Church?

“Dear God in three Persons, work out your essence of oneness in us, that we may glorify you, experience your joy, and fulfill our redemptive destinies in this life. Amen.”

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.