Tuesday, January 15, 2008
...Why should the definition of the essence of Christianity be so vexed? Why should there be so much controversy over the application of the name? There surely ought to be little difficulty in determining what Christianity is. We need not disturb ourselves greatly about the debate which has been somewhat vigorously prosecuted as to whether its definition should be derived from its New Testament presentation or from its whole historical manifestation. Impure as the development of Christianity has been, imperfect as has always been its manifestation, corrupt as has often been its expression, it has always presented itself to the world, as a whole, substantially under one unvarying form. Unquestionably, Christianity is a redemptive religion, having as its fundamental presupposition the fact of sin, felt both as guilt and as pollution, and offering as its central good, from which all other goods, proceed, salvation from sin through an historical expiation wrought by the God-man Jesus Christ. The essence of Christianity has always been to its adherents the sinner's experience of reconciliation with God through the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. According to the Synoptic tradition, Jesus Himself represented Himself as having come to seek and to save that which is lost, and described His salvation as a ransoming of many by the gift of His life, embodying this conception, moreover, in the ritual act which He commanded His disciples to perform in remembrance of Him. Certainly His first followers with single-hearted unanimity proclaimed the great fact of redemption in the blood of Christ as the heart of their Gospel: to them Jesus is the propitiation for sin, a sacrificial lamb without blemish, and all their message is summed up in the simple formula of "Jesus and Him as crucified." Nor has the church He founded ever drifted away from this fundamental point of view, as witness the central place of the mass in the worship of its elder branches, and the formative place of justification by faith in Protestant life. No doubt parties have from time to time arisen who have wished to construe Christianity otherwise. But they have always occupied a place on the periphery of the Christian movement, and have never constituted its main stream.
We can well understand that one swirling aside in an eddy and yet wishing to think of himself as traveling with the current - or even perhaps as breaking for it a new and better channel - should attempt to define Christianity so widely or so vaguely as to make it embrace him also. The attempt has never been and can never be successful. He is a Christian, in the sense of the founders of the Christian religion, and in the sense of its whole historical manifestation as a world-phenomenon, who, conscious of his sin, and smitten by a sense of the wrath of God impending over him, turns in faith to Jesus Christ as the propitiation for his sins, through whose blood and righteousness he may be made acceptable to God and be received into the number of those admitted to communion with Him. If we demand the right to call ourselves Christians because it is by the teaching of Jesus that we have learned to know God as He really is, or because it is by his example that we have been led into a life of faithful trust in God, or because it is by the inspiration of His "inner life," dimly discerned through the obscuring legends which have grown up about Him, that we are quickened to a like religious hope and aspiration, - we are entering claims that have never been recognized as valid by the main current of Christianity. Christianity as a world-movement is the body of those who have been redeemed from their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ dying for them on the cross. The cross is its symbol; and in its heart sounds like great jubilation of the Apocalypse: "Unto Him that loves us and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and He made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
A Christianity without redemption - redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sin - is nothing less than a contradiction in terms. Precisely what Christianity means is redemption in the blood of Jesus. No one need wonder therefore that, when redemption is no longer sought and found in Jesus, men should begin to ask whether there remains any real necessity for Jesus. We may fairly contend that the germ of Christless Christianity is present wherever a proper doctrine of redemption has fallen away or even has only been permitted to pass out of sight. Of course in the meantime some other function than proper redemption may be found for Jesus. We are not insensible, for example, of the importance of the function assigned to Him in, say, the Ritschlian theology; and we quite agree when Troeltsch urges that to the proper Ritschlians, therefor, Jesus is indispensable. But we cannot close our eyes to the artificiality of the Ritschlian construction, and we cannot put away the impression that the indispensable role assigned to Jesus, as it rests rather on inherited reverence for His person than on the logic of the system, is, in a word, only an interim-measure. Why should an influence from Jesus be needed to awake man to faith-knowledge? And how could such a creative influence be exerted by a personality so slightly known, or an "inner life" so vaguely discerned through the mists of time? Herrmann, for example, expressly denies that there is any direct communion o the believer with the exalted Christ; everything is mediated through the "community." All this, therefore, will easily fall away and the actual influence which begets faith be assigned, as Otto Ritschl, for instance, does assign it, to the "community," while to Jesus there is left little more than the role of first Christian. And so soon as Jesus becomes merely the first Christian, He at once, as Macintosh justly urges, ceases to be indispensable for subsequent Christians. Why should not they, as we as He, rise out of the void? He may be the first of the series: that is an accident. Being the first of the series, He may have set an example which works powerfully through all subsequent time; He may even have left precepts and directions which smooth the path of all who would adventure the Christian walk with Him; above all He may have by His "inner life" of perfect rust in His Father become an inspiration which throbs down all the years. He may, in other words, be exceedingly useful. But indispensable? To be indispensable He must be something more than a teacher, an example, an inspiration. He must be a creator. And to be a creator, He must be and do something far more than the first Christian, living in the realization of the fatherhood of God. Whenever Jesus is reduced in His person or work to the level of His "followers," His indispensableness is already in principle subverted and the seeds of a Christless Christianity are planted.
(from his article "Christless Christianity")
Have you read this article and think that Warfield's remarks are speaking directly to what is occurring today in professing "evangelicalism"? Does this concern you? You're not alone. The radio/podcast show The White Horse Inn has been speaking about the problem of a Christianity done in the name of Christ but without Jesus Christ Himself being the focus for many years now. In fact, they decided to dedicate this entire year to the theme, "Christless Christianity: The American Captivity of the Church." The first two shows are under here for you to stream, but you will need to go to White Horse Inn by the link below to download them and/or subscribe to the podcast. Don't fret and think that you're the only one who is recognizing this. This problem isn't going unnoticed and unaddressed.
Christless Christianity (Jan. 6, 2008)
Crossless Christianity (Jan. 13, 2008)
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