A flame emerges on Japanese rag paper high above the communion table at Christ Presbyterian Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Abstract, radiating yellow, orange, black, gold, Makoto Fujimura ’s 7-by-16-foot painting illustrates the holy fire of the ascended Christ. It is the visual quintessence of Mission Anabaino (MA), a church-planting network and theological collaborative anchored by Christ Presbyterian Church.
Anabaino is Greek for “I am ascending” — the words Christ spoke to Mary in the garden after he rose from the dead.
“For us to be sacramental through-out the week is to invite the neighborhood into the life of the church and for the church to ‘enflesh’ itself in the neighborhood.”
“[Anabaino] speaks to the mystical reality of the church on earth that is united to Christ in the eternal city of God, whose presence is mediated in the temple-church in the power of His Spirit,” says Preston Graham, founding pastor of Christ Presbyterian and key launcher of MA.
A Premodern Posture
“[In New England], the church takes care of births and deaths … the Christian worldview is way back in the hinterlands,” says Graham, an Atlanta native with a Yale degree.
While establishing Christ Presbyterian in New Haven, a town where “Jesus is [just] a religious leader or an ethicist,” Graham quickly realized that he would need to take a premodern approach to reach a postmodern culture. With the first-century church as a model, Graham began focusing on the local context, and on going smaller, not larger.
Six years ago, Christ Presbyterian was in the middle of a capital campaign. Graham and the other church leaders decided to pay off the loan from their existing building and direct future funds toward church planting instead of adding on to the building. The result was Mission Anabaino.
The goal was to plant 10 churches in southern Connecticut and 10 more around the globe in 10 years (by 2022). These churches would be grounded in what Augustine called “Totus Christus” or “Total Christ” theology, which connects Christ’s incarnational ministry of the first century with His ongoing ascension (anabaino) ministry of today, whereby Christ is united to the body of believers through His Spirit. Together, the “Head” (Christ) and the “body” (the church) make up “Total Christ.”
MA churches view themselves as being both “high Gospel” and “high church.” High Gospel — meaning, salvation by grace alone through faith; high church — meaning that the church itself is the “locus
The significance of this is laid out in MA’s vision statement: “Christ has an address at every place where there is a … Christ-centered church.”
“More than a source of mission, the carefully designed, [biblically] organized church is the locus of mission — ordinarily the very life-giving and mediatorial presence of Christ … just the church being the church with the whole world present is God’s missionary strategy to the world,” said Graham.
This missional ecclesiology means that the church matters … a lot. That getting the unchurched to church means that they will more than just hear the Gospel, but that they will actually experience the Gospel in a mysterious way. It means that each local church is the evangelistic strategy, not the place where the strategy is developed.
This missional ecclesiology means that the church matters … a lot. That getting the unchurched to church means that they will more than just hear the Gospel, but that they will actually experience the Gospel in a mysterious way.
“We’re not planting churches just as a means to an end, but we’re planting churches because that’s where Christ’s presence is and we want to bring that to a community,” says Mike Brunjes, church planter of Christ Presbyterian Church in Wallingford, Connecticut.
Dwelling Among Us
Today, there are 18 churches in the MA network. Six of them are in Connecticut, and 12 others are located across the United States and the world, including places as far away as Ndola, Zambia, and Mirebalais, Haiti. They are mostly PCA plants, but not exclusively. All of the members gather once a year to collaborate on theological white papers and take turns hosting and showing each other their town or city. These churches are committed to practicing the sacraments every Sunday, expositional preaching, and creating a culture where church members are “sacramental throughout the week.”
“For us to be sacramental throughout the week is to invite the neighborhood into the life of the church and for the church to ‘enflesh’ itself in the neighborhood,” Brunjes explains. “So we have cookouts, community groups, and gatherings where we are inviting people to encounter Christ by encountering His church. We also participate in the rhythms of the community by attending local events, coaching our kids’ sports teams, etc. We are careful to listen to and learn from our community so that when we worship, gather in the name of, and communicate Christ we are doing so in the voice of our neighborhood.”
Christ Is Really Present
The theological vision and the network of fellowship that MA creates help sustain its members as they slog through the trenches of church planting.
“A lot of us in seminary, reading in church history and thinking through the Scriptures, come away with a high view of the church, but then you come out of seminary, you realize it doesn’t work like that,” says Hackmann, who is planting Christ Church Toronto. “Pastoral work is far more pragmatic than anyone wants to admit. What MA has [reminded me of is] that Christ is really present at church and there’s a real power when the saints gather together that’s unique.”
To learn more, visit www.anabaino.org.