Tuesday, December 7, 2010
1 John 1:1-2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life,which was with the Father and was made manifest to us
John 5: 39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Acts 10: 43
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Absorbed by the testimonies of changed lives, healings, signs and wonders, and prosperity in our church services, we can forget the testimony which brings us eternal life. No other testimony outside of 'Christ crucified and risen' secures our forgiveness before God. To make those other testimonies primary would be to make our spiritual transformation the gospel, and to encourage Christless Christianity in our churches - with our faith not resting on the historical confessions of the church but on "its cash-value in experiential terms". Where our preaching of Christ is judged solely by its pragmatic and therapeutic uses to provide us with fulfilled lives and happiness, rather than as a means of grace for lost sinners.
Michael Horton explores this danger in his book on self-help moralism,(or 'moralistic therapeutic deism' as he coins it), and provides a timely cure:
The church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various missions to save the world to Christ's missions that has already accomplished redemption. He sends us into the world, to be sure, but not to save it. Rather, he sends us into the world to witness to Christ as the only Saviour and to love and serve our neighbour in our secular vocations. Evil lies not outside us but inside; it is salvation that comes from outside ourselves.
Nothing the church does extends, completes, or fulfills Christ's all-sufficient, once-and-for-all, completed work of living, dying, and rising for sinners. So enough about us! We are the sinners he saves, not the redeemers he inspires. That is the content of our witness, which is why we are heralds of the Good News rather than mere purveyors of good advice. And even in terms of evangelistic impact, I am confident that this orientation is more effective with non-Christians. They may not like our message anyway, but at least they might be relieved that we have stopped holding ourselves up as the way, the truth and the life.
If the message the church proclaims makes sense without conversion, if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time so that they too need to die more to themselves and live more to Christ, then it is not the gospel. When Christ is talked about, a lot of things can happen, none of which necessarily have any lasting impact. When Christ is proclaimed in his saving office, the church becomes a theater of death and resurrection. (p. 141)
Unless Christ is publicly exhibited as crucified - placarded before us week after week in Word and sacrament - we will, like the Galatians, drift toward the view that we begin with Christ and his Spirit and then end up striving for our own righteousness before God (Gal. 3:1-3). Since even Christians remain simultaneously justified and sinful, we will always gravitate back towards ourselves: that which happens within us, that which we can measure and control, that which we can see and feel. (p.146)
We are not saved by our changed lives. The changed life is the result of being saved and not the basis of it. The basis of salvation is the perfection in the life and death of Christ presented in our place.... (p. 151)
footnote: all quotations used are from Christless Christianity - The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Michael Horton, Baker Books 2008)