The Charis Fellowship has been hard-wired with the core values of Biblical Truth, Biblical Relationship, and Biblical Mission. We have chosen words, truths, and values, and have linked ourselves to them. When you reinforce specific things, they become your identity. We have selected the word Charis as our identity.
The word Charis has long-standing historical and cultural meaning. Hundreds of years before Jesus, the Greek and Roman world integrated the idea of Charis into their social culture.
In God’s providence, there was a common language through the Greek Empire. When the New Testament authors wrote, everyone could readily understand the gospel, and it spread quickly. In the Roman Empire, travel throughout the Empire was possible because of the paved roads. The gospel could go quickly throughout the known world.
Perhaps the most important theological truth we cling to, the idea of Charis, God also providentially instilled within the culture before Jesus arrived.
One of God’s greatest acts of preparing the way for Jesus Christ was to implant the cultural idea of Charis.
In the ancient world, on a social level, Charis included three people: the Patron, the Mediator, and the Client. Although the exact description of Charis morphed over the centuries, the core ideas mostly remained, always including three people.
The Patron, also called benefactor, was the giver of Charis and played an important role in society.
There were three requirements to be the Patron:
First, the Patron had to have pure motives, whether giving part of your wealth, wisdom, or an introduction. A true benefactor in the Greek culture, and later the Roman culture, was someone who gave in only the Client’s best interest.
Secondly, the Patron had to give with no strings attached and not to expect the Client, whoever received the act of Charis, to pay him back. Charis was not a lending action. It was an act of charity with no expectation of payback.
The third requirement for the Patron was to understand that the Client was of noble character. If a patron gave wisdom, wealth, or social introductions to someone of low character, he or she was endorsing that character and therefore, lowering their own integrity. For a patron to give Charis, there had to be an investigation of the person receiving Charis, ensuring that they were of noble character.
The second person in the dance of Charis was the Mediator. The Mediator was known personally by the Patron and was to look for people in need. His or her role was to understand who the Patron was and how the Patron could help. Whether it was sharing wealth, wisdom, or a criticalintroduction, the Mediator spoke on behalf of the Patron to the Client and on behalf of the Client to the Patron. Sometimes the Patron and the Client never met. The Mediator linked these two people. Again, not looking for anything for himself, the Mediator saw themselves as solely the transferor of Charis.
The third person in the dance of Charis was called the Client.
The Client was the person in need, who didn’t have as much as the Patron, was trying to move up or improve his or her life in the social structure. He or she may have needed a patron to provide an introduction to somebody in business or the political world or to receive some of the Patron’s wealth for a personal benefit.
The Client’s responsibility in responding to the Charis was threefold.
First, he or she responded with humility and gratitude. That was the social expectation if a Patron did you a Charis.
The second responsibility was to use the benefit of the Charis to make his or her life more noble. This gift was expected to improve one’s life in some way, whether a rise in character, quality, or nobility. Because the Patron had done this Charis with no expectation of direct repayment, it was expected that the act of Charis would not be wasted.
The third requirement of the Client was that he or she would go into the marketplace and praise the Patron. He or she would speak of the Patron’s goodness and kindness and of the Patron’s act of Charis.
In art depicting Charis, three young maidens were often used, because Charis was considered a beautiful thing within the ancient culture. They were young women because Charis should never grow old.
The maidens are often facing outward, or away from each other, so they don’t see what the other person is doing. The Patron didn’t always know who the Client was. The Mediator knew the Patron and the Client, but the Patron may not know the Client. The Client may not know the Patron. This was entirely acceptable. They are holding hands because it’s a dance. Charis is a dance where anyone could play any role. They might be the Patron. They have something to give someone in need. In a different situation, they may be the Mediator, helping link a Patron with a Client.
And yet in another case, they may be the Client, the one receiving the act of Charis. In artwork depicting Charis, there’s no clear distinction of who’s the Patron, the Mediator, or the Client.
Anyone can fulfill the role of any of these positions, depending upon the circumstance.
Paul walks onto the scene, after Jesus has ascended, and begins to proclaim God’s Charis. “As Jews and Gentiles came to hear Paul or other missionaries celebrate the marvels of God’s grace made available through
Jesus, the sole Mediator between God and humanity, they would have heard it in the context of so many inscriptions and other public declarations of the beneficence of great figures. For such converts God’s grace (Charis) would not have been of a different kind than the grace with which they were already familiar; it would have been understood as different only in quality and degree” (De Silva, 122-123).
Paul takes Charis from the horizontal relationships within culture and shifts it to the vertical relationship with God.
In Romans 5, we see the vertical process or dance of Charis.
“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have attained our introduction by faith in this grace [Charis], in which we stand” (Romans 5:1, NASB). Do you see the three positions? We have the introduction to God, who is going to be the ultimate Patron, the ultimate benefactor, the spiritual giver of life.
God is going to bestow Charis upon us, the Client; you and I are the ones in need. He’s going to give us Charis. And he’s going to do it through the Mediator,Jesus Christ.
Paul takes the idea of Charis that is popular in the culture and moves it to a vertical application. He tells people, ‘Did you know that there is a God who is filled to the brim with Charis, and he wants to give it away? And he’s going to give it to you through the Mediator, Jesus Christ.’ That’s why Romans 5:2 says, “Into this grace in which we stand.”
Our feet are firmly planted in Charis because we have a God who is overflowing with Charis. He has seen and heard of our need, and He has sent the Mediator who speaks to Him on our behalf, and who speaks to us on His behalf. He’s given us this grace, this Charis, in which to stand.
God significantly improved the role of the Patron. Remember, the Patron or the benefactor had to extend Charis with no expectation of repayment. He or she had to do it with pure motives and only toward people of high nobility.
Remember, if a Patron benefited someone of low character, it reflected on their own character. But God, who is so abundant in Charis, looked down upon the Client, us. He knew that we were not people of noble character. The Bible tells us when we were helpless, He died for us; when we were sinners. He still died for us; when we were His enemies, He died for us. God improved the social idea of Patron by violating one of the principles and giving us Charis even when we were not people of noble character or honorable spiritual faith.
Jesus, our Mediator, significantly improved the role of the Mediator.
Not only did He speak to the Father on our behalf, and to us on behalf of the Father, Jesus became the Charis. The Mediator is supposed to be the person that transfers the Charis from the Patron to the Client. But Jesus became the sacrifice so we could benefit from the Father’s Charis. When Jesus came, and He started talking about Charis, and when the New Testament writers used those words, the culture understood this improved idea of the Charis dance.
Look at 2 Corinthians 1:12: “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but in the grace (Charis) of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” Notice the wording: “We have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” What is Paul doing here? Paul is taking this idea of Charis out of the vertical, and putting it again into horizontal relationships within the family of God. He’s saying that I walk in the Charis that was given to me by God, but I also walk in the world in the Charis of God, especially for who?
Charis is not only a vertical truth, Charis, once again, is a horizontal truth.
As followers of Jesus, we do the dance of Charis, sometimes as the Patron, sometimes as Mediator, and sometimes as the Client. As we interact as leaders, churches, districts, organizations, we learn to dance together.
All of us, at times, have the ability to be the Patron, to help someone in need because God has given us something to share. It may be wisdom, it may be wealth, or it may be an introduction.
But there is a danger of stopping the dance. This happens when God has given me something, but I am unwilling to share. Remember, within the context of New Testament Charis, God has given me something to share.
So sometimes you’re the Patron.
Sometimes you’re the Mediator. You hear of a need, and God will use you as the middle person. For example, Barb Wooler heard of the devasting Camp Fire last year near the Grace Brethren Church in Chico, Calif. She had the ability, through Encompass World Partners, to communicate a need through the Charis network. She assessed the need, sent a plea for help, and hundreds of gift cards arrived in northern California, blessing people in the name of Jesus. Encompass is the Patron; Barb is the Mediator; the Chico church is the Client.
In the dance, sometimes you’re the Client. Being the Client, remember, requires humility because I have to admit that I have a need. I have to seek a Mediator who can introduce me to a Patron. I can stay in my need and figure it out myself. I can remain stuck; I can stay in my hurt, I can stay in my sorrow, I can stay in my difficulty. But God has told us that’s not the Charis dance.
The Charis dance is to raise my hand and say I need a Mediator. I need a Patron, so I can keep the dance going.
There was a time when the Lancaster, Pa., Grace Church, saw nearby Lititz, Pa., as a community in need of Jesus. They tied into a Mediator in the form of then-Grace Brethren Home Missions to plant the Lititz Grace Church. They did the dance. A few decades later, a declining Lancaster church became the Client in need. And the Lititz congregation moved into the Patron chair and helped to revive the congregation at Lancaster. Their dance reversed.
The Patron could be one of our national organizations that says, “God has blessed us, and we have something to share.”
Or maybe it’s just person to person. As a leader in my church, I may find myself in need. I shouldn’t try to solve the problems on my own. That’s not the Charis dance. The Charis dance is when a leader in need finds another leader, maybe through a mediator, to help. If someone approaches you and asks for help because you have been granted something they need, dance with them.
We have to be generous, giving with pure motives and with no strings attached because that’s why God gave it to you. There’s no limit to the Charis dance.
What’s my vision for our Fellowship? My vision is simply that we will better learn the Charis dance.
Jesus said when the world sees us dance like that, they will want to know about the vertical Charis.“Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds, and they will glorify who your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
We want all people groups of the world to hear about the Charis of our Father.
One of the ways we can be the most effective is if we will dance the Charis dance. My vision, my hope, is that over the next years, we will just dance better.
I know we’ve never danced in Charis churches before, but I think we’re starting to get the rhythm.
God has used this last decade of Common Commitment, the Charis document, and our new Charis identity to hardwire ourselves to a powerful word. But let’s clearly understand the cultural context in which God brought that word to the earth. It was in the context of a dance. Let’s learn to keep dancing together. – by Phil Sparling
This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of GraceConnect magazine. Click here for more information.
Phil Sparling began as the executive director of the Charis Fellowship at the close of national conference in 2019. He is also the senior pastor of Grace Community Church, a Charis Fellowship congregation in Auburn, Calif. This article is an edited version of his executive director’s address at Access2019.
De Silva, David A., Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity; Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 95-156.
Malina, Bruce J., The New Testament World; insights from cultural anthropology (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2001), 81-107.
Stallter, Tom, Grace Seminary Class Contextualization in Ministry. Class workbook (Winona Lake, Indiana, July 2019)