Friday, April 26, 2013

Part Two: Some basic reflections on the practical outworking of Man-Centered Theology.

Christ is the head of the Church...that He may in all things have preeminence.”
Col. 1:14-18

To begin, let me briefly recap what I mean by “Man-Centered Theology.”
Man-Centered Theology is a view of Christianity where the overwhelming focus in teaching and practice is on self, rule-keeping, outward appearances and performance; whether ‘to please God,’ to ‘prove one’s salvation,’ or to assure that we ‘make it to heaven.’ This focus inevitably leads to a system of spiritual bondage and condemnation every bit as harsh as the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament.

I find myself seeing things more and more as man-centered or Christ-centered as we enter our 5th year in this small church here. I’ve concluded that most of the people here really have a hard time even seeing the difference. All they’ve known is Man-centered religion. Even if I’ve preached three weeks in a row some months, that’s still one sermon out of three on any given Sunday, and whatever I teach isn’t quite enough to balance out the majority of the teaching. I end up listening a lot and trying to analyze what specifically bothers me about much of the preaching I hear.

This is what it boils down to, this question that I am faced with almost every Sunday:
How can we as “Bible-believing Evangelical Christians” in our church here claim to preach the Gospel of Grace, when we teach that the whole of Christian life, and eventually our eternal destiny, is at least 99% dependant upon our own efforts? 

I do realize that some of the cognitive dissonance that I see in my church here in rural Ukraine is entirely cultural. The Eastern mind is entirely comfortable with holding two mutually exclusive ideas as true and worthy of simultaneous reflection and application in daily life.
However, I am still left with the clear teaching of the New Testament, and on this topic, the message seems to be extremely clear: “if (salvation) is by Grace, than it cannot be by works, or Grace is no longer grace. Likewise, if (salvation) is by works, than it cannot be by Grace, or works are no longer works.” (Rom.11:6)

"The main thing between you and God is not so much your sins; it's your damnable good works.” (John H. Gerstner)

So what does it look like when we attempt to mix Grace and Law in the Christian life? Often, Christianity simply becomes a bewildering maze of do’s and don’ts, with new factors needing to be addressed weekly as we sink ever deeper into the quagmire of nit-picking introspection, self-condemnation, and rule-keeping... in the words of Jesus, swallowing those camels while straining out the gnats in our daily lives.

This is what it sounds like from where I sit (in the choir) on Sundays here:
-Jesus said “I never knew you” to those who said “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?” Therefore I must never repeat “Lord” in my prayers more than once unless I want to invite God’s condemnation and Jesus’ rejection of me. My eternal fate could depend on it.
-Will my Christian witness suffer if I wear a tank-top in my car (even if it’s over 100 degrees outside, and there’s no AC)?
-My lack of forgiveness toward other Christians could be what keeps me out of Heaven.
-Will people dismiss the legitimacy of our church if they see beer bottles and cigarette butts (thrown in by passers by) in our dumpster?
-By not wearing a head covering at all times, my wife could be removing herself from the protection of God’s guardian angels.
-Will God erase my name from the Book of Life if I stop going to church?
-God makes us His children once we have repented, began coming to church and promised to serve Him all of our lives.
-Believers who don’t keep reading the Bible - die!
-If we have any sins, even a lack of humility, when we die and stand before God, He will not let us into heaven.
-If our hearts are spotless, then God will accept us into heaven, since only ‘the pure in heart will see God.’
-Will my wife ruin my ‘Christian witness’ if she wears pants in public?
-Angels are recording every word we say. We know that we will stand before God at Judgement Day, He will judge us - our thoughts words and actions on this earth will be what determines our eternal fate.

Can you feel the Fear?

This is the natural result, the inevitable result of living by a Man-Centered Theology. A fear-filled life, every facet of which is saturated with self-centered introspection and myopic nit-picking, morbidly and sanctimoniously ‘doing everything I can to stay out of hell.’

I’ve actually been told that ‘that Grace stuff may be ok in the West, but Slavic peoples really need the Stick, not the Carrot... and the bigger the stick, the better!” I’m afraid that regardless of the cultural veracity of that statement, I simply cannot find the Fear of Hell in the New Testament as the main motivation for the Christian life. I also can’t seem to find the overwhelming message that “God gave you the gift of eternal life, now it’s all up to you and how you decide to live whether you make it to heaven or not.” 
Honestly, as far as I can tell, I would need to remove at least a couple of books from the New Testament to be able to give credence to such a statement. In Galatians, Paul couldn’t have said it much more clearly, “You idiots! What are you thinking!!?? Having accepted the gift of eternal life by faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, you think that now you can live the Christian life and ‘make it to heaven’ by your own efforts?? Has someone brainwashed you, cast a spell on you, or what??” (Gal.3:2-3)

As author Tullian Tchividjian notes, “We make a big mistake when we conclude that the Law is the answer to bad behavior. In fact, the law alone stirs up more of such behavior. People get worse, not better, when you lay down the law. 
The fact is that the results of Man-Centered Theology are quite simply not at all pretty, not pleasing to God, and not representative of Christ, no matter how hard we try to look and be good. “The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church. His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners. They had done nothing to merit salvation. Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them. On the other hand, the self-righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.” 
 (Brennan Manning)

Jesus’ harshest words were reserved not for those who lived in sin -
 but for those who held themselves up as the example of all things Godly; observance of their teachings, their traditions and their interpretation of Scripture was the only way to reach heaven. 
Blind leaders.” “Hypocrites.” “Fools.” “Sons of Gehenna.” “Evil.” “Adulterous.” “Snakes.” “Whitewashed Sepulchers.” “Rotting Corpses.”

I don’t want to be in that category of people. I don’t want that for my friends. I don’t want that for my church.
Man-centered theology is quite literally a dead end.

(to be continued...)

No comments: