by Mike Ratliff
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1 ESV)
Some friends sent me an email they had received from Frank Viola pertaining to The ReChurch Library in which he discussed his new book Finding the Organic Church. He then talked about how well it was selling and then made suggestions that Christmas was coming and what a great gift it would make, et cetera. Then he thanked Leonard Sweet for his contributions in their developing something called A Jesus Manifesto. I honestly did not know what to expect as I read the “manifesto.” As I went through it point by point I began to realize that the focus of this “manifesto” was to abolish within the believer much of what we are taught throughout the New Testament that are actual manifestations of the growing in Christlikeness within genuine Christians. It also attempts to do away with all doctrines and the processes surrounding systematic theology in which we learn the depths of God’s sound doctrines.
The “manifesto” tells us that to “Seek a truth, a value, a virtue, or a spiritual gift, and you have obtained something dead.” Really? Here is the “manifesto’s” definition of Christianity:
It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person. Biblical community is founded and found on the connection to that person. Conversion is more than a change in direction; it’s a change in connection. Jesus’ use of the ancient Hebrew word shubh, or its Aramaic equivalent, to call for “repentance” implies not viewing God from a distance, but entering into a relationship where God is command central of the human connection.”
While I agree that genuine Christianity is not an ideology or a philosophy, these two men have given a totally unbiblical definition of the Gospel. The Good News of the Gospel is not, “that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person.” Yes, salvation involves entering into a relationship with God where He is central to our all, this is not the biblical definition of repentance.
Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8 ESV)
This is a rebuke spoken by John the Baptist against the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him preach. True biblical repentance (μετανοιας) bears (ποιησατε) fruit (καρπον) which is evidence of its validity. The Greek word Matthew used here translated as “repentance,” μετανοιας, literally means, “a change of mind, a change in the inner man.” This is in reference to a person’s acceptance of the will of God by the mind instead of rejection. Who can do this? Only those who have been changed into a new creation through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) are able surrender their will this way to God’s will. This is an exercise of faith by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:1-10) as a gift from Him. The Gospel is not a revelation of Christ as one in which beauty, truth, and goodness are found in Him. While this is a true statement, it is not the definition of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that those who were helpless to repent and come to God to walk according to His will because of their utter sinfulness and spiritual death in trespasses and sins have an advocate who is their propitiation before the Father whom they have offended. He, Christ, has paid the price for their sins on the Cross. Those who believe in Him, receiving Him as Lord and Saviour (John 3:1- 21) have forgiveness and eternal life. That is the Gospel. That is the good news. Genuine Christianity is this truth with Christ at the center. It is those who are saved by the Gospel, the Church, serving Him as their Lord and Saviour. To say, “Christianity is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less,” is very misleading and incomplete.
Following this statement are ten points intended to show “a massive disconnection in the church today” hence the need for this “manifesto.”
The ten points are grand statements about the “purpose of God” in Christ, et cetera. They are eloquent and are obviously intended to enlist the reader in their cause to get the Church to sign this “manifesto” in order to get it back into the proper relationship with Christ. I have no problem with some of this because I have been teaching for quite some time about the spiritual bankruptcy of religious externalism, which most of these 10 points attack as well. The problem comes at point 8. Here is the text.
8. It is possible to confuse an academic knowledge or theology about Jesus with a personal knowledge of the living Christ himself. These two stand as far apart as do the hundred thousand million galaxies. The fullness of Christ can never be accessed through the frontal lobe alone. Christian faith claims to be rational, but also to reach out to touch ultimate mysteries. The cure for a big head is a big heart.
Jesus does not leave his disciples with CliffsNotes for a systematic theology. He leaves his disciples with breath and body.
Jesus does not leave his disciples with a coherent and clear belief system by which to love God and others. Jesus gives his disciples wounds to touch and hands to heal.
Jesus does not leave his disciples with intellectual belief or a “Christian worldview.” He leaves his disciples with a relational faith.
Christians don’t follow a book. Christians follow a person, and this library of divinely inspired books we call “The Holy Bible” best help us follow that person. The Written Word is a map that leads us to The Living Word. Or as Jesus himself put it, “All Scripture testifies of me.” The Bible is not the destination; it’s a compass that points to Christ, heaven’s North Star.
The Bible does not offer a plan or a blueprint for living. The “good news” was not a new set of laws, or a new set of ethical injunctions, or a new and better PLAN. The “good news” was the story of a person’s life, as reflected in The Apostle’s Creed. The Mystery of Faith proclaims this narrative: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” The meaning of Christianity does not come from allegiance to complex theological doctrines, but a passionate love for a way of living in the world that revolves around following Jesus, who taught that love is what makes life a success . . . not wealth or health or anything else: but love. And God is love.
This is subtle, but I am sure that you can see the intent in these statements to divide the Christian from any sense of solid, sound Biblical Doctrine that includes not only the Gospel, but how to walk before Him as we should. While I teach that we are taught to emulate Christ in our walks, where do we learn this? We do so through sound doctrine which is given to us in God’s Word. The subtle difference from that here is that we are to simply follow Jesus as a way of life sans allegiance to complex theological doctrines. My brethren. I love my Lord and I seek my way from Him every day, but I also know that the doctrines I teach are the truths God has given us that we can know Him and His ways and the purpose of the Gospel and the Church.
As I said, the points in the “manifesto” are subtly deceiving. As with all deception there are elements of truth and I agreed with much of what it said. However, the points I did disagree with I found to be core or vital parts of our faith. If we follow what is taught here by rejecting all teaching of sound doctrine then where is our truth? To say that all we have to do is follow Jesus, but then we reject His own teachings of doctrine then how do we do it and how do we know if we are following Jesus Christ or some other Jesus? This is crucial my brethren. If we follow this “manifesto” then we have no foundation and are like sheep with no shepherd.
The truth war is often fought along very subtle lines. When words are used by those in error that are the same ones we use in Orthodoxy, but with very different meanings then we must rely on the Hoy Spirit to help us discern what is truth and what is only pretending to be. Truth is what God says it is. It is not subjective. It is totally invalid to say that truth is only truth if one believes it to be so or false if one does not believe it. Truth is truth regardless of ones belief that it is so or not. This is why the faith that believes the Gospel, believes in Christ and receives Him as Lord and Saviour is supernatural faith that comes as a gift from God Himself. (Ephesians 2:8,9). We cannot serve God within religious paradigms designed outside of His truth and guidance and will. All we can do when we stray from this is as filthy rags in His sight. We are called to obey Him and the place we learn how and where to do that is in the sound doctrines we are given in His Word. This is why we must have godly Bible teachers who will teach what it says, nothing more, nothing less. From this we learn of the real Jesus Christ and He points us where?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
This is how we walk before the face of God as true Christians. We can only do this as living sacrifices, separate from the world and its ways. We walk through each day in spiritual worship separate from the corruption of the world. Instead of being conformed to this world, we submit to the constant renwal of our minds by immersing ourselves in God’s Word. As we do this, God changes us. We are transformed from fleshly people saved by grace to Christlike disciples who follow Jesus, carrying our own crosses until He takes us home to be with Him. This is not seeking to make the world a better place, but to simply obey Him in all things as we walk in repentance.
Soli Deo Gloria!