Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Church of Christ Without Christ?

Here at SoL we are a Christ-based group. This means our convictions are based on Jesus Christ and his truth. But it has come to our attention that we have a different understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ than many who profess to be fellow followers.

This is our basic understanding: The gospel of Jesus Christ concerns the immortal souls of God's children; the reality of good and evil, law, sin, and punishment; man's fallen state and agency here on earth so we can learn, choose, and be tested; the inevitability of God's divine justice and the offer of redemption through the grace of Christ by repentance; and the opportunity to be taught, led, and changed by the Holy Spirit of Christ in order to be fit for the eternal presence of God.Whatever else the gospel entails is based on those fundamentals.

If we become lax regarding these fundamentals and emphasize something else in their place, what we have is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but something entirely different.

At best, a so-called Christ-based church that has little or no understanding of the above inevitably turns into nothing more than a sort of community ethics series or civic club. Its pastors have "no very lofty aims, no theological enthusiasm," and "feel no serious alarms about the souls" of their parishioners. Its members have "certain dim but strong emotions" concerning "family affections and neighbourly duties," and are "fonder of church history than divinity. " Outward customs and rituals are more important than the doctrines behind them. (Quotes from Adam Bede by George Eliot).

At worst, a so-called Christ-based church that abandons and replaces those basic theological principles actually comes to resist and deny Christ. Flannery O'Connor wrote about such resistance and denial in her novel, Wise Blood. Her protagonist, Hazel Motes (lost in a haze, motes in his eye), who is descended from a family of Christian evangelists, attempts to start just such a church, the Church of Christ Without Christ, enthusiastically preaching there is no sin and no need for repentance or divine redemption. Needless to say, poor Haze is in for a very rough personal spiritual journey.

There are stunning examples of several similar anti-Christs in The Book of Mormon. Whatever the anti-Christs' various gimmicks, the one talking point they have in common, along with Hazel Motes, is the blasphemous heresy that there is no need for repentance, that even the worst kinds of sins---sins of the soul---if they exist at all, are nothing to be concerned about.

Whatever the condition of the current culture, true followers of Christ (who must always be primarily concerned with the welfare of immortal souls) cannot afford to abandon first principles no matter how enticing it is to be popular in the world. If they do abandon them and yet profess still to be Christians, this is what Jesus denounced as hypocrisy, when men are like white-washed sepulchers on the outside but inside full of of dead-end meaninglessness and corruption.

C. S. Lewis said that every good institution involved with human beings is in danger of ending up doing exactly the opposite of what was first intended, as in O'Connor's fictional Church of Christ Without Christ. The only way Christ-based churches can retain their integrity is by sticking to and emphasizing those fundamentals, continually turning back to God through the grace of Christ and listening to the Spirit of the Lord, come what may.