Three posts in a day! Another article from the old ARMNZ Magazine.
DESTROY OR BUILD!
by George Carey. Lat—ARMNZ Conference, August 1987.
The church needs a fresh perspective on Jesus Christ and His claims on us. We come to this conference from many different backgrounds and needs. You may have seen your church come in a fresh way in the recent past. On the ether hand, you may have had a time of failure and problems. A year ago I was speaking in a church in the west country and the Vicar came up to me and said “A cough in my congregation is the only sign of life.” We do indeed need a fresh infusion of life.
For Paul Christ was the incomparable Lord. He sees Christ as dwarfing everything else. He is writing a letter to a little group of Christians in Colossae, Asia Minor, who were being beleaguered by a heresy. False teachers had come with a smattering of Christianity which they mingled with gnosticism and a dash of other faiths and hoped that they would be able to serve it up as a satisfying meal. They had room for Jesus. They thought He ought to have a place in their religion. Paul would have nothing to do with that.
In Colossians 1:15-20 we have a breath-taking account of Paul’s measure of Jesus Christ. One word in 19 sums it up: “fullness.” In relation to God, Jesus Christ is His image, 1; in relation to creation Jesus is the firstborn, 15: in relation to creation all things are moving towards Him, 16-17; in relation to mankind He is Saviour and reconciler, 20; in relation to the church He is the Head, 18. Lie as Christians ought to be excited about a message like that’. Often we sit back with an ‘I’ve heard it all before’ attitude. Paul is excited because he sees Jesus Christ as the Saviour of everything and the answer to our needs. We will study the implications of that for ourselves today.
How to Kill a Church.
There are three sure way of emptying a church and the Christian message.
1. Strip Jesus Christ of His exclusive claims.
Have a Christ who doesn’t give an uncomfortable message, who is one of a number of religious teachers. A John Hick kind of Christ. Such n Christ will eventually kill Christianity because Jesus Christ confronts us today as He always has done. He is the one who says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” A Gospel with any less than that will kill the church.
2. Strip Jesus of the Miraculous.
Have a reasonable Christ, modest in His claims, a fallable human rather than a divine Christ. We ought to be preaching His humanity as a bridge to His divinity, but take away from Jesus His power and His signs and wonders, His glory and majesty and you’ll make Him much more mysterious than perspicuous, and people will say “why bother about Jesus? Why follow Him? In what way is He superior to Buddha?” In this way many teachers are in fact killing the Christian faith today. (If we didn’t have the New Testament, what would we know about Jesus Christ? From pagan sources all we would know is that Jesus Christ was a man who went around healing the people.)
3. Strip Jesus, of personal salvation.
Replace His uncomfortable teaching as being a Saviour with more fashionable notions, and make Him a social worker Jesus, mending people’s lives, or an educator with a pleasant message, or a political leader and liberator.
Any one of these three lines will quickly empty churches. I was recently in Canada and attended a church where the Minister told me that “We are working our way through Aesop’s Fables. We don’t really believe in tho Bible as the Word of God. I’m a modernist. I don’t believe the Bible is any different from any other literature.” It was no surprise to know his church was dying then; nor that shortly after he left the ministry. Maybe these things are relevant to the church in New Zealand.
David Holloway writing in “Where is the Church of England Going?” says he is convinced it’s going down the drain because it is not preaching the Christ of the New Testament. He’s saying the leadership of the church hasn’t got a firm grip of the Gospel. We must return to a secure hold upon Scripture. I believe he is right.
I believe in the importance of scholarship and research, and that it is possible to hold on to them and still have a secure hold on Scripture at the same time. You may know of Richard Niebuhr’s stinging criticism of liberal theology written a couple of decades ago. He speaks of liberals as preaching “A God without wrath, which brought man without sin, into a kingdom without judgement, through the work of Christ without a cross.”