Christianity Is What It Is
If someone were to ask you to define New Testament Christianity, how would you respond? Do you believe there is such a definite entity as Christianity? Do you believe we can know what it is? If we cannot know the genuine article, how shall we be able to recognize counterfeits? As you know, there are hundreds of different groups in the United States and throughout the world that claim to be practicing Christianity. You also know that not all of these groups can be true to the New Testament. So how do we know what Christianity really is? Our lesson today has the title, "Christianity Is What It Is."
The subject of our lesson may sound somewhat strange to you, but I hope to make it meaningful before our time expires. All reasonable human beings know that we must follow the laws of logic to be able to communicate intelligently with one another. For example, one of the fundamental laws of logic is called the "law (or principle) of non-contradiction." This principle says that opposites cannot both be true at time same time and in the same way. Philosophers usually affirm: "Being cannot be nonbeing; for they are opposites." You do not have to read Plato or Aristotle to know the validity of the law of non-contradiction. There are many other laws of logic, such as, the principle of causality and the principle of the excluded middle. But I would like to emphasize briefly the principle of identity. In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), Dr. Norman Geisler defines the principle of identify as follows: "A thing must be identical to itself. If it were not, then it would not be itself (p. 250).
What Christianity is does not depend on what I think or what you think or what John Shelby Spong thinks. Christianity is what it is regardless of your thoughts or mine or anyone else's. Dr. J. Gresham Machen was one of Evangelical's most capable scholars. He taught for years at Princeton University until Princeton's leadership decided to deny and to oppose most of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Dr. Machen departed from Princeton in 1929 to found Westminster Seminary and what is now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Dr. Machen's book, New Testament Greek for Beginners (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1923), is probably the most popular textbook on the Greek language ever written. Many of us would have difficulty doing our work without Dr. Machen's Greek textbook. I keep it on a shelf beside my desk.
I shall read two rather lengthy excerpts from Dr. Machen's books that I believe will help us in understanding what Christianity is. The first excerpt comes from his book, What Is Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951). Please listen to this distinguished orthodox Presbyterian. "To say that Christianity is this or that is very different from saying that it ought to have been this or that, or that the ideal religion, whatever its name, would be this or that. Christianity is an historical phenomenon like the State of Pennsylvania or the United States of America or the Kingdom of Prussia or the Roman Empire, and it must be investigated by historical means. It may turn out to be a good thing or it may turn out to be a bad thing—that is another question—but if we are to tell what it is we must take a look at it as it has existedin the world" (p. 18).
The second excerpt comes from Dr. Machen's book, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1923). Dr. Machen asks, "Is it true, then, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life?" He answers, "The question can be settled only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity. Recognition of that fact does not involve any acceptance of Christian belief; it is a matter of common sense and common honesty. At the foundation of the life of every corporation is the incorporation paper, in which the objects of the corporation are set forth. Other objects may be vastly more desirable than those objects, but if the directors use the name and resources of the corporation to pursue the other objects they are acting ultra vires (that is, beyond the scope or in excess of the legal power of authority) of the corporation. So it is with Christianity. It is perfectly conceivable that the originators of the Christian movement had no right to legislate for subsequent generations; but at any rate they did have an inalienable right to legislate for all generations that should choose to bear the name 'Christian.' It is conceivable that Christianity may now have to be abandoned, and another religion substituted for it; but at any rate the question of what Christianity is can be determined only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity" (p. 20). How anyone would even attempt to deny or to refute Dr. Machen's conclusions is beyond my comprehension. He is saying exactly what my topic suggests, "Christianity is what it is."
Before we examine some of the fundamentals of the faith, I shall refer to two books written by John Shelby Spong, former bishop of the Episcopal Church and one of the most radical theologians in the country. Not one of his books—not even one—makes any sense from a Christian viewpoint, although Spong claims to be a Christian and to have great affection for the Bible. One of Spong's books has the title, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). John Shelby Spong has a legal right—although not a moral right—to start his own religion. But it is the height of arrogance for any man to presume to change what God himself has revealed in his word. He is within his right as a human being to deny the scriptures, to ridicule those who believe the Bible to be the word of God, but he is has no right to change Christianity. What he would have left of Christianity after his revisions and alterations of the word would have no resemblance to New Testament Christianity. One brief statement from Spong's book will convince any open-minded person of his departure from the truth of God's word. "All evangelical and missionary activity designed to convert the heathen, are base born. They are expressions of our sense of superiority and our hostility toward those who are different" (p. 225). But did not our Lord command his apostles: "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned" (Mk. 16:15-16)? Does Spong know better than our Lord Jesus Christ?
Spong's second book is entitled A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying & How a New Faith Is Being Born (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001). Does not John Shelby Spong realize that it is the liberal churches that are dying? Again I shall read just one brief statement from this book. "I do not believe that this Jesus could or did in any literal way raise the dead, overcome a medically diagnosed paralysis, or restore sight to a person born blind or to one in whom the ability to see had been physiologically destroyed" (p. 4). Spong asks if a person can dismiss so much of Christianity, as he has arrogantly done, and remain in the Christian faith (p. 7). The answer is an unequivocal NO. Nobody can deny all or most of the fundamentals of the faith and still be a Christian. He may still have some kind of religion, but it is not New Testament Christianity.
You can know for sure that I cannot in the short time that remains outline all or even most of the great truths of Christianity. But I must mention some of those that are under attack by liberal theologians like Spong and other members of the Jesus Seminar. I shall begin as Moses did in the book of Genesis: "In the beginning God" (Gen. 1:1). Am I saying that liberal theologians are denying the existence of God? No—although that is unquestionably true for some. I am arguing that many liberal theologians are denying the nature of the God of the Bible. In his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Spong says the Jewish God of the Old Testament "was assumed to hate anyone that the nation of Israel hated" p. 47). If a freshman seminary student made such a logical blunder, he would disqualify himself for further studies in theology. Spong denies that the God he worships is personal. The God we worship, according to Spong and Freud, came into existence because of human need—not because he actually exists.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is all-powerful, all-wise, all-benevolent, always present, eternal, unchangeable and personal. The following words from the Psalmist are echoed either implicitly or explicitly in every chapter of the Bible. "Where shall I go from thy Spirit? Or where shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up to heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hides not from thee; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are alike to thee" (Psa. 139:7-12). Spong denies that God is personal, but the Bible writers certainly believed it. So must all who would claim the honor of being Christians.
Moses also affirmed and the rest of the Bible confirms: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). I am fully aware of the evolution-creation controversy, but from a biblical viewpoint, the controversy was settled many thousands of years ago. There is no possibility of harmonizing the teaching of scripture with any theory of evolution, whether organic or theistic. John1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 teach very plainly that God created the world through Christ. I shall read only Paul's teaching in the Colossian letter. Christ "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:15-17). There is no way to fit evolution into these inspired words.
God through Christ created all the animals and man. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:26-27). Our Lord Jesus Christ endorsed that view (Mt. 19:3-6). Men did not evolve from the lower animals; the God of heaven created human beings. Evolution destroys the foundation of New Testament Christianity and makes men and women nothing more than highly evolved animals. Evolution is a blatant repudiation of New Testament Christianity—a fact that evolutionists almost universally accept, although some who call themselves Christians deny. Can Christianity encompass evolution? Absolutely not!
The God who created the world, including man, ordained the marriage relationship. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Jesus quoted these words from Genesis 2 and then added: "Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt. 19:5-6). Paul stressed the same truth (Eph. 5:31). The marriage of one man and one woman—one male and one female—is God's plan and cannot be altered without bringing the wrath of God on our heads. New Testament Christianity endorses God's original plan as outlined in Genesis.
The book of Genesis records the story of man's fall into sin (Gen. 3). Would it surprise you some modern theologians believe that man fell upward, that the Bible's account is nothing more than myth? And before the foundation of the world, God had a plan in mind by which men could be reconciled to him. Is that not what Paul meant when he wrote: "Unto me, who are less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent (or for the purpose) that now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to his eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:8-11)? God knew from eternity past that man would sin. He initiated a plan whereby man's sins could be forgiven and he could have the hope of eternal life.
The plan for saving man came to fruition when God sent Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:16-17). The apostle Paul explained how God gave his Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were sinners Christ died for us. Much more, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Rom. 5:6-10). Liberal theologians deny that God sent his Son to die to redeem us from sin, but no true Christian can reject that truth. "Without the shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22).
Paul says that God's Son Jesus Christ our Lord "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh: and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3-4). Some liberal theologians accuse Paul of arguing that Christ became the Son of God at the time of his resurrection. That is an absolutely and inexcusably false position. That is not what Paul is teaching in Romans 1. The word "declared" is from the Greek horizo—the Greek word from which we derive our word "horizon." Dr. A. T. Robertson's set of books, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), correctly states: "He was the Son of God in his preincarnate state...and still so after his Incarnation, but it was the Resurrection of the dead that definitely marked Jesus off as God's Son and his prophecy that he would rise on the third day....The resurrection of Christ is the miracle of miracles" (volume 4, p. 324). Jesus Christ was deity before he came to this earth; he was deity while he walked among men; he is deity now.
The New Testament plainly teaches that God the Son became a man. "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). John the Baptist baptized our Lord Jesus Christ to fulfill all righteousness (Mt. 3:13). Christ began his personal ministry by preaching: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17). Matthew outlines Christ's might be saved" (John 3:16-17). The apostle Paul explained how God gave his Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were sinners Christ died for us. Much more, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Rom. 5:6-10). Liberal theologians deny that God sent his Son to die to redeem us from sin, but no true Christian can reject that truth. "Without the shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22).
Paul says that God's Son Jesus Christ our Lord "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh: and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3-4). Some liberal theologians accuse Paul of arguing that Christ became the Son of God at the time of his resurrection. That is an absolutely and inexcusably false position. That is not what Paul is teaching in Romans 1. The word "declared" is from the Greek horizo—the Greek word from which we derive our word "horizon." Dr. A. T. Robertson's set of books, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), correctly states: "He was the Son of God in his preincarnate state.. .and still so after his Incarnation, but it was the Resurrection of the dead that definitely marked Jesus off as God's Son and his prophecy that he would rise on the third day....The resurrection of Christ is the miracle of miracles" (volume 4, p. 324). Jesus Christ was deity before he came to this earth; he was deity while he walked among men; he is deity now.
The New Testament plainly teaches that God the Son became a man. "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). John the Baptist baptized our Lord Jesus Christ to fulfill all righteousness (Mt. 3:13). Christ began his personal ministry by preaching: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17). Matthew outlines Christ’s ministry as follows: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of diseases among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto them all sick people who were taken with different diseases and torments, and those who were possessed with demons, and those who were epileptics, and those who were paralytics; and he healed them" (Mt. 4:23-24).
Christ's enemies—both Jews and Gentiles—crucified him primarily because he claimed to be God manifest in the flesh. While he was suspended between heaven and earth, he prayed for his enemies: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). Christ's friend, Joseph of Arimathea, buried our Lord in Joseph's own new tomb. I am sure .Christ's enemies thought they had ended both the life of Christ and the new movement he initiated. But he was raised on the third day and appeared to a number of people, including 500 people at one time (1 Cor. 15:6). He then ascended to the Father (Acts 1:9-l 1). He now reigns with his Father and will return at the end of the age to claim his own.
The apostles and other early Christians began to preach in every community in the then-known world. Their message included faith in God and in his Son Jesus Christ. Those who did not and do not believe in Christ will be condemned (John 8:24). Jesus and his apostles commanded all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus promised: If we confess him before men, he will confess us to the Father in the final day (Mt. 10:32-33). He also demanded that we be baptized to have our sins remitted (Mk. 16:15-16).
Both Jesus and his apostles require that Christians be holy and righteous. Our Lord said to his disciples: "If a man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul" (Mt. 16:24-26)? If you are not a Christian or not a faithful Christian, will you not obey our Lord and Savior today?
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