Centering the Clay (“Christ the Center” series revisited – Part 2)

In this series, we are considering the centrality of Christ by looking at a number of dictionary definitions for the word “center” and seeing how Christ Himself fulfills these in relation to God’s eternal purpose, the Church, and the individual believer’s life.  In this second meditation, we will consider the definition we used last time and draw out a second analogy from it:

“a point, pivot, axis, etc., around which anything rotates or revolves.”
(American Heritage Dictionary – online edition)

The analogy we will consider in this post is that of clay being fashioned on a potter’s wheel.

This is a favorite analogy of mine, as you may gather from the picture at the top of this page.  I selected this image to represent “Christ-Centered Christianity” because of the beautiful depiction of centrality it offers.  A potter’s wheel is an example of that which has “a point, pivot, axis, etc., around which anything (in this case, the wheel) rotates or revolves.”  When it comes to the forming of a random lump of clay into a beautifully shaped, usable vessel, the center of the wheel is the most significant part of the potter’s wheel.  This is where the clay must be carefully positioned so that it may be simply and symmetrically fashioned.

“Centering the Clay”

In order for the clay to be able to be shaped properly on the rotating base of the wheel, the potter must first “center the clay”.  This is one of the most difficult aspects of “throwing a pot”, and a most essential one.  Once the clay has been wedged and rounded into a ball, the potter takes the clay and throws it down firmly on the wheel as close to the center as possible.  As the wheel begins to rotate, he wets his hands and places them both firmly on the clay.  Using considerable force he presses and molds the clay in and around the center of the wheel.  Employing some simple techniques, the potter works the clay until it is perfectly centered on the potter’s wheel.

This centering process is absolutely essential for the potter to be able to shape and mold the clay into a symmetrical vessel on the wheel as it spins.  If the clay is off-center even slightly, it will begin to wobble and waver in his hands as he starts to form it.  If he continues it may only be a matter of seconds before the mis-centered clay flops and folds and becomes marred and unusable in his hands.  There is little that even an expert potter can do with a lump of clay that is not centered properly.  The beautiful clay pot being formed in the picture at the top of this page testifies to its having been perfectly centered at the beginning of the process by the one whose hands are now finishing it.

Centered on God’s Potter’s Wheel

This centering process in pottery illustrates a fundamental spiritual principle concerning Christ and the formation of His Church.  In Scripture, God uses the analogy of the potter and the clay to describe the nature of His relationship with His people.  (See Is. 29:16; 45:9; 65:8; Jer. 18:1-6; Rom. 9:21)  His desire is to fashion us individually and corporately into vessels He can fill and use for His purposes.  As the redeemed sons of Adam (who was formed out of the red clay earth) our lives are like wet clay pots spinning on the Master Potter’s wheel.  Day in and day out His hands are upon us, pressing, molding, shaping and forming us into earthen vessels to contain the excellency of His power and presence. (2 Cor.4:7)

As the collective sons of the Second Adam, the Father is fashioning us as “one new man” (Eph.2:15) into a corporate vessel to contain the fullness of His Son.  He is wedging us together, compacting us into one lump of clay, and placing us in the middle of His revolving and unfolding purpose.  With His hands upon us He is pressing us in, holding and molding us around the Center so that we may become perfectly concentric around Him.  All “out-of-centeredness”, or “eccentricity”, must be worked out of us before the Master can complete the work of fashioning us into the corporate vessel He truly desires.  As in the natural process of “centering the clay”, the corporate centering of the Church is one of the most difficult and yet most essential of steps in the formation process.  If this work is incomplete or unsuccessful, it is inevitable that the clay will eventually become marred and unusable in His hands.

The Center of the Master Potter’s wheel is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One ordained from the beginning to occupy the supreme and central place in all things.  (Col. 1:18)  He is the One around whom the eternal purpose of the ages revolves. (Eph. 1:10-11)  He is the One around whom all of creation, redemption, the Church and the Kingdom revolves. (Col.1:11-18)  And He is the One around whom the individual local expressions of the Church must continually revolve in order to be fashioned according to the Father’s good pleasure. (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 4:11-16)

The Apostolic Work of Centering and Re-centering

When we look into the New Testament to see how the local churches were initially formed, we see that this process of centering was paramount to the apostolic workers.  Paul said to the Corinthians, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come to you with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)  For a year and a half Paul proclaimed the crucified, risen, exalted and glorified Christ to the Corinthians.  He resolved, according to the wisdom of the Master Potter, to “center the clay” in “Jesus Christ and him crucified”.  This was his first and foremost work in establishing the Church there.  He understood through the divine revelation he had of God’s eternal purpose that only those churches which were radically Christ-centered could possibly be fashioned into fit vessels for the high and holy calling of the Church.  He was resolved to center the ecclesia in conformity with God’s ordained Center, and to this end he tirelessly labored.

Not only did this occupy his initial work, but also later when the Church in Corinth began to “wobble” on the wheel, as “eccentric” factions began forming around Paul, Apollos, and Peter, Paul exhorted, rebuked and compelled them back to Christ and Christ alone as their true Center. (See 1 Cor 1-3)  He knew that if the church in Corinth continued to develop with secondary matters occupying the primary point around which various groups would revolve and form, the whole expression of the church there would become marred and ruined as a corporate vessel fit for the Master’s use.

Paul was radically Christ-centered in his walk and in his apostolic work knowing that only when the unrivaled center of the church is Christ, in full accordance with God’s eternal purpose, can the ekklesia be properly fashioned to fulfill God’s purpose.  Paul models for us, therefore, the nature of true ministry both in establishing Christ-centered expressions of the Church and in maintaining Christ-centered expressions of the Church against all “eccentricities”.

The ramifications of this simple principle of the centrality of Christ are vast and profound in their outworking.  May the wisdom of the potter suffice as a simple yet sublime introduction to this most significant of spiritual matters.

About David Bolton

Following Him who is the Way; Learning of Him who is the Truth; Living in Him who is the Life. - John 14:6
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