Irreducible elements

A couple of weeks ago I was wrote, “When we speak of incarnational ministry we talk about following the example of Jesus as he came in flesh to a particular culture and time. In that context he gave us the essentials for living out the Gospel in every culture.” Some readers asked me to write about what these essential or irreducible elements might be. The following is my attempt to describe these.

I believe there are 4 essential and irreducible elements which ought to be present in every church no matter its cultural setting.

  1. “Jesus is Lord”

In Deuteronomy 6 we read “The Lord our God is one . Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.” This is calling marks Israel as distinct from all other nations. They are to have one God who is Lord over every aspect of life. In the New Testament this concept is explicated in the simple phrase. “Jesus is Lord” For the Church Jesus is Lord over every aspect and His Lordship is to be the consuming passion of all we do and are.

  1. Respect for scriptures

I do not intend to hold biblical inerrancy as the standard, though I personally have a very high view of scripture, but differences in this ought to be permissible if we can recognize that it is through Scripture that we encounter the truth about God. The Bible then becomes an authority on the life and practise of the church as it seeks to incarnate the Gospel in a particular setting. At the same time we ought to recognize that we worship the Trinity revealed in Scripture and do not make the scriptures themselves co-equal with the God Head. We avoid bibliolatry.

  1. Communion

A respectful reading of scripture illustrates that the gathering around the table to remember the saving activity of God in Christ is expected of the Church. I would suggest that how and how often might be questions of context rather than of division.

  1. Baptism

Like communion baptism seems to be commanded and therefore ought to be practised by an obedient church in a way that is appropriate for that community.

Now I am sure that readers will have suggestions of other elements I have not mentioned. I have thought of hundreds myself but I think that most of them can be reduced (remember ‘irreducible’ was the goal) to an element named above.

I hope that we can get a conversation going around this. I know that some ‘emerging’ churches would not fit with my, dare I say orthodox, views. We cannot attempt to be culturally relevant at the expense of a faithful witness or we fail to be the Church.

Let the conversation begin


6 comments on “Irreducible elements

  1. Hey Reed, Good whack to get things going! right on with the first #1….relationship with our Creator and Loving Everlasting Father, absolutely demands that Jesus be Lord! How good He is to all who trust in Him who faithfully adhere to Him and listen for His voice. We are not sheep without the Shepherd 😀
    Let Jesus be Lord in every aspect of our living!
    The second one regarding Scripture is very thought provoking… “differences in this ought to be permissible if we can recognize that it is through Scripture that we encounter the truth about God.” I agree we can avoid bibliolatry while continuing devotion to our God with the utmost respect for his word. After all He himself is the Living Word and speaks to us by the Spirit!
    Communion and Baptism were some of His commands, we should include in that loving one another as He loved us.
    Awaiting to hear reflections from others on your conversation of essentials. I expect we can think of some other foundations as well meant to support the life of a viable church in our days?

    • Bless you my brother for this initiative. I appreciate people who are “willing to stir the pot”. I like the concept “irreducibles”
      in an age that wants to draw the circle indefinitely larger. Rick referred to incarnational ministry and I was thinking about missional ministry… not so much that the church must have a mission but that The Lord’s mission must have an enthusiastic, obedient,faithfull and flexible church through which to express his mission. He has sovereignly chose to do it this way. Is that an “irreducible” in any culture and time? This along with other commands of course could fall under “respect for Scripture”. Good Work. Grahme Spear

  2. Hi Reed,

    I would say you have obviously hit important irreducibles, but I think I would split off “incarnational ministry” from “ecclesiastical” irreducibles. Maybe your thinking about incarnational ministry has more breadth than mine.

    When I think of incarnational ministry I think of Christians living joyfully and passionately in purposeful relationships with pre-believers so that they experience the love and grace Jesus gives to us.

    In my mind, incarnational ministry involves first being transformed by the life of grace and then sharing that life with others. I would say your list of irreducibles is necessary to grow in grace, but incarnational ministry primarily involves sharing that life of faith with others in genuine relationships.

    However, I agree that your list names most of the irreducibly necessary components of the Church or of a Christian life. I would like to add prayer to the list, too. (I would also add fellowship but that seems to be included in communion if it isn’t taken privately.)

  3. I appreciate Rick’s point about additions like ‘prayer’. To tell the truth I felt like stopping with “Jesus is Lord”. If we took that seriously then we would: pray, have a high view of scripture, be intentional incarnational in mission, be people focussed, engage in fellowship etc.
    I ‘chickened out’ and expanded the list (quadrupled even)! I am of a mind to reduce my irreducibles to this but while true it might not be of much practical use.

  4. Reed. Agree with your comment on Rick’s post #1 is the central element and out of this everything else flows. The scriptures have value because they are the most ancient and authoritative reference to Jesus. Sacraments count because Jesus instituted them. Prayer is critical because Jesus commanded it and practiced it. The Missio Dei is the believer’s vocation because it was Jesus vocation etc etc.

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