The human-centred church, reimagined

 Series: The Church in Highlights

‘Our modern gospel is entirely centered on human needs’; so writes Frank Viola in  Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity.

In this post I continue presenting highlights from this very challenging book.

The first major theme of the book is the organic nature of the church versus the institutional model so often adopted in the church today, and I covered this in my previous post. A second theme is about how the church features in God’s eternal plan. Viola introduces this theme by commenting on the Gospel as follows: ‘Our modern gospel is entirely centered on human needs. The plotline of that gospel is one of a benevolent God whose main purpose is blessing and healing a fallen world. Thus our gospel is centered on saving man’s spirit/soul (evangelism) and/or saving his body (healing the sick, delivering the captives, helping the poor, standing with the oppressed, caring for the earth, etc.). In short, the gospel that’s commonly preached today is “human centered.” It’s focused on the needs of humanity, be they spiritual or physical.’ Then he writes, ‘What was God going to do with human beings if they had never fallen?’ The implied question is, is the Good News, the Gospel, purely a divine response to man’s fall into sinful rebellion, or is it more? Viola answers this question in several ways, but the main thrust of the argument is that through the Gospel we are not only saved out of a condition of sinful separation from God and each other, but into a condition of wholeness and unity within a divinely ordained community called The Church. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is at the centre of the Gospel.

He writes that ‘from the viewpoint of God’s eternal purpose, the church exists to be;

  • the incarnation and manifestation of the ultimate passion of God
  • the organic expression and physical extension of the Trinitarian Community
  • the corporate image-bearer of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth the family of God
  • the divine building whereby every living stone is being transformed, reshaped, and fitted together to form the Lord’s temple
  • the colonial outpost of the coming kingdom
  • the masterpiece of God
  • the spiritual “Bethany” where Jesus of Nazareth is received, obeyed, and adored in the midst of a rejecting world
  • the vessel in which the power of Christ’s resurrection life is visibly displayed
  • the object of God’s supreme affection and delight
  • the willing vehicle for Christ’s manifested presence
  • the torchbearer of the testimony of Jesus
  • the “one new man”—the new species—the “third race”
  • the fiancée of Jesus Christ—His very body, His very bride
  • the new humanity marked out in the Son of God before time and brought into existence by His cross
  • the Christian’s native habitat
  • the spiritual environment where face-to-face encounters between the bride and Bridegroom take place
  • the living witness to the fullness and headship of God’s Son
  • the colony from heaven that bears the image of its Ruler In short, whenever the church gathers together, its guiding and functioning principle is simply to incarnate Christ (1 Cor. 12:12)’
The observation that the modern ‘gospel’ is presented in a way that puts the focus on human need and not on God’s eternal plan needs to be processed and responded to – please comment on this blog if you have strong views on this subject.

In my next post I will present some highlights which partially present a third major theme of the book, Viola’s conviction that the modern clergy system is the single biggest impediment to the realisation of God’s plan for the church.
Picture of Christopher Peppler

Christopher Peppler



3 thoughts on “The human-centred church, reimagined”

  1. Firstly, I agree that the visible ‘church’ is human-centred. Being human or people-centred is a slippery slope to destruction, yet it continues, unabated, under many guises such as “Let’s attract the people into our midst then convert them”. The problem with that strategy is that the ‘midst’ becomes rotten in the process and the ‘converts’ undergo a sociological change that tends to support drawing more people in under the same disguise. Apart from being a self-perpetuating downward vortex, it is deceptive since many join the congregation under false impressions of human fulfillment and either continue in ingnorant bliss or leave disillusioned.

  2. Wow, Chris! This and your previous post is so challenging!

    I do think many churches (including the church I am a part of) misses the point of what the Church ought to be.

    It is so easy to fall into ‘tradition’, e.g the order of the church meeting, the songs to be sung, where we ought to use money and so forth.

    I guess it is even possible for the more ‘charismatic’ churches to fall into some kind of ‘tradition’. So I guess being open to the working of the Holy Spirit in the church is not a guarantee that ‘tradition’ will be avoided.

    Is it possible that the ‘organic church movement’ is becoming a ‘denomination’ of its own? What is the connection between the ‘organic church movement’ and the ‘house church movement’ (if there even is a connection)?


  3. @Anonymous I can’t take credit for being challenging because all I am doing is presenting highlights from Frank Viola’s book. However in my next three posts I am interacting with some of Viola’s statements. Regarding your question concerning organic church etc. – The various labels such as ‘house church’, ‘organic church’ and so on are used loosely by people with quite different views on what the church should be. I don’t think one could call the various house church networks ‘denominations’ because what defines a denomination are things such as uniformity, control, and ownership.

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.