(Editor’s Note: This begins our series on ‘What is Whole-Life Christian Faith?’- where we take a look at forming a more embodied and holistic pursuit of Jesus)

I grew up in the Church. My dad was a pastor for many years. Every time the doors of our church building were open we were there. It was the ‘House of GOD’ after all. And while I am deeply grateful for my Christian upbringing, over the years GOD has opened my eyes to see that the concept of the Church as a place you go to is in opposition to a deeper life of faith and devotion to Jesus, the One whose spiritual Body is that mystically-practical, eternal collaborative birthed at Pentecost in Jerusalem thousands of years ago.

The Church is not a place, it is a people- the ‘ecclesia’ – the ‘called out ones’ who are being formed by the Holy Spirit into a spiritual community, a dynamic and holy temple for our Creator-Redeemer to inhabit- for He who cannot be confined to man made institutions or physical buildings:

“…The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;…” (Acts 17:24-25)

But once we re-orient our idea of what local ‘church’ life means (aka: the gathering and functioning of ‘the ecclesia’), that it is the work of GOD among us-weaving us together, we must also re-orient our understanding of what it means to practice and express our faith. We are no longer confined to a building or bureaucracies- but we enter into a new ecclesiology where our very lives become living stones and we become fitted together supernaturally, in submission to Jesus and to one another, being transformed into a Living Structure:

“…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of GOD’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of GOD in the Spirit…” (Ephesian 2:19-22)

In this new context what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? The old indicators of church attendance and commitment to an institution encased in bricks and mortar are no longer signs that we are His disciples. There are many of us who call ourselves Christians and act as such under the old assumptions- but if we are to ask who is master of the house that is our life, who is the Master of Our Days?- we may find there is little indication of a passionate pursuit of Jesus at all. In this, the world mistakes church attenders for disciples of Jesus and we too often share in the confusion. Jesus said:

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).

Obviously this demands of us a deep repentance – a turning away from self-focused religion, of  self-centered thoughts and actions- from incomplete understanding and passivity of heart- from shadows, mirages, lies and idols- from self-deception and spiritual pride. We must realize our propensity to mask our sins in religious garb. But repentance is not just a turning away. Repentance is a turning towards something new- it is a change of mind – a change of course- we turn from ourselves to GOD- looking to Him for a new way of living- from the inside out by His Holy Spirit.

The essence of this turning towards GOD, and a renewing of an actual and active devotion to Jesus, is the embracing of a more holistic, embodied ‘whole-life’ Christian faith. In Tom and Christine Sine‘s book Living On Purpose they sum it up well:

…Jesus call to whole-life discipleship was clear. He didn’t invite his disciples to a private pietism they could work in around the edges of lives largely shaped by the dominant culture…The call to follow Christ was an invitation to a whole-life faith that was profoundly counter-cultural both then and now. Those first disciples never settled for the kind of narrow, disengaged faith that has become normative today. They understood that following Jesus was a whole-life proposition. Those earliest disciples had no doubt that following Jesus required them to…be transformed not only spiritually and morally but culturally too.” (p. 96-97 Living On Purpose)

Whole-life Christian faith is the embodied pursuit of Jesus in our everyday lives. This kind of embodied pursuit of Jesus expresses the central focus of our life- that we are students of the Master- we hang on His every word and live by His Spirit- walking out His commands to love beyond ourselves. And this cannot be done in the vacuum of our individualistic pursuits. We cannot be deeply connected to Jesus without being deeply connected to His followers- after all, we are His Body together.

And it’s not that we must abandon our church buildings but we must see that Jesus is most glorified not when He is bound up in a building, but when He is loosed in the overflow of community life that spills out beyond our ‘cathedrals’ of faith. The line that blurs our ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ life must be erased and the spheres, over which we give GOD authority, integrated.

Jesus calls us to not mere apparent belief, expressed in only words and weekly ritualistic or symbolic actions, but He calls us to a spirituality that is incarnated, a way of life that brings Him ‘down-to-earth’ into our communities, neighborhoods, our friendships, families and beyond. Jesus calls us to not mere orthodoxy (right belief), but to orthopraxy (right action)- and from action we are held accountable by GOD. It is not what we say we believe that matters in the end, but what we actually live out. Will we go beyond the four walls of our comfortable Christianity and start living as disciples of Jesus? As Garrison Keillor has said: “Give up your good Christian life and follow Christ”.

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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