Monday with Michael Spencer
From Where’s Jesus?: Thoughts on a Localized Christ
Answering the question “Where can you get your Jesus?” is very important.
Many of the divisions among Christians are actually a commentary on the relationship of the person of Jesus to various means of “accessing” or “localizing” Jesus. In other words, the question “Where is Jesus?” is an extremely important question and the claim to have a certain answer to the question is a matter around which Christians legitimately unite or divide.
On several occasions, Jesus said “I will be with you.” For instance, in Matthew 28, Jesus says “..And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In Matthew 18, Jesus says “…For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” In John 15, in proximity to passages that speak of Jesus going away and sending the Holy Spirit as the “Helper,” Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly to “abide in him” in order that they bear real “fruit.” To abide or remain in Christ implies that Jesus is present. Jesus also spoke of himself as present in those to whom we minister, particularly the poor and the suffering.
How is Jesus, who left the world, present with us in it now? Is this presence of Christ connected to some “means” of accessing the reality of Christ, or is Jesus accessible to all Christians? Is the promise of Jesus to be “with” us tied to a church, or to the eucharist or a person? How localized, incarnated and mediated is Jesus in a particular local and physical reality?
Clearly, the claim of many Christians to have a localized presence and/or experience of Jesus Christ is a claim that cannot be completely ignored. Responding with a counter-set of “localization” claims is natural, but is Biblically pointless.
Think for a minute of the various forms in which Christians hear this claim.
“Our church is the true church. We are the actual body of Christ and we can prove it. Other gatherings of Christians are defective.”
“God shows us at our church every week. Our pastor is anointed with the Spirit and Jesus touches people through him.”
“The worship music at our church is so good. it’s almost like you can reach out and touch Jesus.”
“The essence of what it means to know Christ is contained in our confessions.”
“Come down the aisle and pray at the altar. Jesus is waiting for you.”
“When the Bible speaks, God speaks, and it’s the calling of our pastors to preach the Word of God.”
“In the Eucharist, Jesus is really and truly present.”
“Jesus is available to all persons who believe. To those who have received him as Lord and God, by faith, he is completely and genuinely present at every moment and in all of life. We live “Coram Deo.”
“I reached rock bottom in my drug use, and there was Jesus waiting for me.”
“Jesus spoke to me as I was driving, and he told me that he was very fond of me.”
“When I am serving the meal at the homeless shelter, I know I am feeding Jesus, who meets me in the poor.”
“I believe that Jesus is here tonight, inviting you to walk forward and accept him as your personal savior.”
“When Ben prayed for Grandmother, it was like Jesus was in the hospital room with us.”
“I had a dream and Jesus spoke to me. He told me that I should be a missionary.”
“If you are loving others, Jesus is with you.”
“When I am with Mark, I feel like I’m with Jesus.”
“Are you having a daily quiet time? Jesus is waiting to meet you every morning in that time you spend in the Word and prayer.”
All of us have heard and many of us have used these kinds of expressions that Jesus was present and available. These statements represent different approaches to Christian experience and different theological traditions, some of which reject major aspects of the claims of other traditions.
…How many of us would confess that when we are among some Christians who affirm the presence of Jesus in ways we do not, we are uncomfortable? We have localized Jesus, and we are denying the great truths of the New Testament that Jesus is with us in many different ways. Without denigrating those ways of affirming his presence that Jesus himself instituted, we also should be clear that we have no right to say that Jesus does not manifest himself today in the many diverse ways we find in the language of the New Testament. Even with substantial differences in reading scripture, there is no way to deny the universal presence of Jesus in his church and in the universe that he rules over.
Presenting Christianity as a system of localized appearances of Jesus distorts many things that we want to continually affirm: Jesus as the one mediator, Jesus as the ascended Lord of the universe, Christ who is in the midst of his church and present with all of his people. Maintaining the Biblical balance between “Jesus on the table,” “Jesus in my experience” and “Jesus at the right hand of the Father” is a crucial task for worship leaders, pastors and teachers.