This is a repost from 2022.
Ecclesiocentrism is incredibly simple to understand and absolutely ubiquitous in Scripture.
The church is the central and most important thing in the world and in history.
That's it -- that's the fundamental claim.
Ecclesiocentrism can be found on almost every page of the Bible. Some examples:
- nations are blessed/cursed according to how they treat the church (Gen. 12)
- God rules all things for the sake of his church (Eph. 1)
- Grace restores nature, but where is that grace found? In the means given to the church (e.g., in Psalm 128 the blessed man’s blessing comes from Zion, which is the church according to Hebrews 12)
- As the church goes, so the world goes (e.g., in Matthew 5 the church is salt and light)
- Ecclesiastical reformation drives cultural transformation (the lesson of Haggai 1)
- Judgment and reformation begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4)
- The discipleship of the nations and of every sphere of life begins in the church (Matt. 28)
- The church is the leading institution in society and church history is the core of world history (this is evident from the prophets, Acts, etc.)
- The Lord’s service on the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s people in the Lord’s sanctuary is the most important thing we do (the fall took place with a forbidden meal in the sanctuary; restoration is manifested through a meal in the sanctuary)
- God created the world for the sake of the church (as Luther said) so that his Son might have a bride (as Edwards said)
- The storyline of the Bible is basically the storyline of the church (e.g., when the prophets and Acts deal with history, they present the church as central to world events)
These paragraphs from Doug Wilson’s post this week is a good example of ecclesiocentric thinking:
“If we want unbelievers to repent of their sin, the first thing believers should do is show them how. Judgment should begin with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17). How can we expect them to let go of their sins when we refuse to let go of ours? And more to the pinch point, evangelicals need to learn how to repent of things that we have serenely assumed to be our virtues.
We must repent of our etiolated gospel-centeredness. We need to repent of calling ourselves Jesus-followers instead of Christians. We need to repent of Instagraming our devotional times. We have to repent of our “Jesus is our girl friend” worship songs. We must repent of all our Jesus junk stores. We have to repent of our R2K schizophrenia. We need to repent of the anemic condition of our deracinated seminaries. We need to repent of still caring what Christianity Today prints. We must repent of caring more about our own reputations and turf concerns than we do about the condition of the kingdom at large—we sin like Hezekiah did . . . “peace and safety in my time.” We must repent of all our inverse John the Baptist moves—”they might decrease so that I might increase.” We must repent of caring more about not being publicly associated with worldview thinkers who make us feel extreme than we care about actually understanding the truth as the Word reveals it.”
His basic point: the world won’t change til the church changes. The church leads the way.
Ecclesiocentrists strongly resist dualisms that would marginalize or privatize the church. We believe the church has a public, even political character, as God’s holy nation. So, for example, in many “two kingdom” approaches (e.g., those of WS-CAL and Stephen Wolfe), it is claimed that the church should only deal with "heavenly" or "spiritual things." The church helps people reach their heavenly telos, but has little to do with man's earthly telos. So Wolfe says that Christians do not learn about earthly citizenship in the church. Presumably the magistrate does not learn how to be a Christian magistrate from the church. The church should not teach on manhood/womanhood because those are earthly, not heavenly, concerns.
The problem with that is that the Bible teaches about all of those things and the church is entrusted with teaching the Bible. That does not mean the church’s teaching is exhaustive in these areas or that church is the only place that people learn about these things. But the church does have responsibility to disciple the other spheres.
If we think of society in a Kuyperian, "sphere sovereignty" way, Christ rules over all the spheres, but the church has a kind of centrality among the spheres. And because the church is responsible to teach the Word of God, it is responsible to provide basic discipleship to each of the spheres.
That being said, some ecclesiocentrists go too far and make claims that go beyond what is warranted. The other spheres matter too and they have their unique roles to play; the church must not usurp them or swallow them up. Worship and prayer should never be treated as a substitute for other forms of action and dominion-taking in the world, but rather as their foundation.
Ecclesiocentrism is not ecclesiocracy, as if the church ruled the other spheres. But it does connect all the other spheres to the church in some way since every sphere is not only bound by God's natural revelation but also by his special revelation..
In some ways ecclesiocentricism deals with a uniquely American problem, which is to side line the importance of the church, privatize the church, view the church as a man-made organization, etc.
Basically ecclesiocentricism is Book 4 of Calvin’s Institutes. The church is the mother of believers and we need to be under her care the whole of our lives. Ecclesiocentrism is basically just Westminster Confession 25.2. The church is "the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."
ADDENDUM: Since Wolfe's book on Christian nationalism is being discussed right now, I want to emphasize one clarification that has come up in online discussion. Wolfe fears that American Christians will substitute prayer and worship for cultural and political action. I tend to think the problem in much of American evangelicalism is the opposite -- divorcing political activism from worship. But I will grant that both can be an issue.