As we’ve been approaching Easter here, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how the theology of a particular church is reflected in the understanding of the Christian Life displayed by its members. Man-centered theology leads people into bondage to legalism, while Christ-centered theology glorifies Christ Himself above rules and traditions, holding Him up as more important than anything and everything else.
What is the message of the Resurrection that a visitor might hear on Easter Day if they were to wander in and quietly sit down in the back of our small-town church...?
The preacher standing behind the simple homemade pulpit proclaims the simplicity of the gospel... as he understands it:“Christ died for us, and rose again to pay the price for our sins so that we can now live for him. We must reject our sins, repent before God and man, begin going to church and 'bringing forth Fruits Worthy of Repentance.' As we continue in a life of church-going and service, confession and holiness, we can have that sacred hope of one day making it heaven...
if we can keep our hearts pure and don’t fall away!”
if we can keep our hearts pure and don’t fall away!”
Then the choir gets up and sings “Christ rose again to give us the hope of attaining eternal life...”
Pretty clear, one would think, even to someone who wasn’t used to church. The main point of this whole Easter business is that God has finally given mankind an actual, guaranteed chance of making it to heaven through a life of good works.
It makes me shudder, quite honestly.
How can we ever repair this myopic, self-centered and egotistical focus of Man-centered Theology when it is pervasive enough to turn even the Celebration of The Resurrection upside down and inside out??
"In Christ, as a great storehouse, lie all the riches of spiritual wisdom, the massive ingots of solid gold which when coined into creeds and doctrines are the wealth of the Church. All which we can know concerning God and man, concerning sin and righteousness and duty, concerning another life, is in Him Who is the home and deep mine where truth is stored... The central fact of the universe and the perfect encyclopedia of all moral and spiritual truth is in Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Lamb slain, the ascended King." (Alexander MacLaren)
A Christ-centered theology and practice of the Christian life is the only thing that can save us from ourselves, our self-focus and self-reliance. A Christ-centered theology is an absolute necessity to keep us from falling away from grace into a system of self-reliant, performance-based Christianity that is essentially a New Testament version of the Old Testament Law.
It really doesn’t matter what we call it; ‘Right Living,’ ‘Requirements for a Committed Life,’ 'Living by God’s Non-Optional Principles,’ ‘Keeping the 49 Commands of Christ’... the fact is, even if we say that it’s not for salvation, the effect is the same.
Self-focused rule following cannot bring about sanctification in us any more than it can give salvation to us. It only brings condemnation.
In his letter to the church in Galatia, 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??” No one who is trying to be righteous before God through law-keeping can do it... in fact anyone who is relying on their works through law-keeping are under a curse!
Christ himself must be the foundation, the center and the focus of our daily Christian life.
If we have trusted Christ to be our Savior, we have come to depend upon him as the only one who can give eternal life and forgiveness of sins. We have acknowledged that HE is the only one who can make (and has made) us righteous before God - the only one who can (and has) saved us from the righteous wrath of God, taking our punishment upon himself.
If this is true of us, then Christ in fact has become the One Foundation and Center of our life. He is the central reality of our life - HE promises to do all that we cannot do in and through us, if we only will entrust ourselves to him by faith, rejecting our own efforts to deserve anything at all before God.
At Easter, we are reminded once again of this, of Christ Jesus himself, his life, death and resurrection - the central reality of our very existence as Christians.
No church, denomination, or tradition can replace Christ as the Foundation; no Celebrity Pastor, ‘Christian Cause’ or popular teaching can take the place of The Resurrection at the center and core of Christianity. When we allow these things to take precedent over Christ Himself, his death and resurrection, we give ourselves over to an understanding of Christianity that has become more Man-centered than Christ-centered.
Christ is our Hope. Christ is our Anchor. He is the Guarantor of eternal life, and He is the source of our holiness.
May we speak more and more of Him, and less of ourselves, our churches, our dogma.
Wishing to save the world, O Sunrise of the East, Thou didst come to the dark Occident of our nature, and didst humble Thyself even to the point of death. Therefore Thy Name is exalted above every name, and from all the tribes of earth and heaven, Thou dost hear: Alleluia!
Being both below and above, Thou didst never falter, O Thou immeasurable One, when Thou didst voluntarily suffer for us, and by Thy death our death didst put to death, and by Thy Resurrection didst grant life to those who sing:
Jesus, Sweetness of the heart!
Jesus, Strength of the body!
Jesus, Purity of the soul!
Jesus, Brightness of the mind!
Jesus, Gladness of the conscience!
Jesus, Sure Hope!
Jesus, High Praise!
Jesus, my most exalted Glory!
Jesus, my Shepherd, recover me!
Jesus, my Saviour, save me!
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!