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Is Christianity Merely a Theological Position?
By David A. DePra
It does not matter what doctrine you are talking about, there will be someone out there who will disagree with you. Worse, there are people out there that have built heretical theological systems out of their incorrect doctrines. We don’t have to look to the cults for examples. Such things are everywhere in mainstream churches. The same thing can be said for any specific interpretation of a Bible verse. There is always someone who has discovered the SECRET meaning, and who think that IT is the key to the rest of the Bible.
We need not go further back than fifty years to catalog the various, "fads," "movements," and, "sensations," that have swept the general Christian church. People are easily carried away by ANY and EVERY wind of doctrine. "Doctrine," of course, is not just a teaching. It is that, but it includes the conduct that arises out of the teaching. And examples abound as to the variety of strange doctrines that have swept away Christians.
One strange doctrine is that of, "Open Theism." This teaching states that God does not know everything ahead of time. But it is nothing more tan a pathetic reaction to Calvinism, which itself is error. Calvinism makes God a prisoner of His own foreknowledge. Open Theism eliminates the foreknowledge of God altogether. Another false doctrine is that of universal salvation. This also is a reaction to Calvinism. While Calvinism says Jesus died only for SOME – the elect – universal salvation claims that, yes, He did die for everyone. But from there it jumps to the error that everyone will be saved. Some today are even teaching that the Devil will be saved.
Many today don’t even want to use the word, "error," or, "heresy," when it comes to these teachings. They prefer to classify them as just another, "theological position." But this is nothing more than a cop-out. Teachings like Calvinism, universal salvation, and Open Theism are not merely theological positions. They are descriptions, and teachings, about GOD HIMSELF. To say that these errors are serious is an understatement, for they speak to the very nature of God, and to His plan of Redemption.
For example, Calvinism teaches that Jesus died only for the elect, which, given the history of the world, would hardly be the majority of mankind. It also teaches that only if God has elected you to be saved, will you be saved. Otherwise, you won’t be saved, or even so much as want to be saved. Now, if you and I think that this teaching is simply a theological position among many, perhaps we ought to examine whether our faith in God is nothing more than a theological position. The fact is, Calvinism, as does any other interpretation of scripture, is describing the GOD we serve. For what we say about God’s plan of salvation goes back to who He is, and what He is like.
Can we see that the issue here is TRUTH? Is Truth merely a theological position? Well, Jesus said, "I am the Truth." And He said that, "The Truth shall set you free." Therefore, the Truth is a Person. It is nothing more than a revelation of the Person of God – who He is, what He is like, and how He deals with us. If you and I think we can be wrong about those things and not suffer some consequences, we are deceived. And I’m not talking about consequences in the way of punishment. I’m simply saying that if you and I are wrong about God, we are going to be wrong about much else in our lives.
But again, if all that we think is at stake here is a theological position or perspective, then we won’t think it matters much about whether we believe the Truth. I mean, so what if we believe Jesus died only for SOME? The important thing is whether WE are one of the elect, right? And so what if we believe that God doesn’t know everything ahead of time? That won’t really matter as long as we are saved. Right?
Let’s get something straight: There is a huge distinction between being SAVED, and walking in the TRUTH. You can be saved, but totally deceived. This is possible or the apostles wrote the epistles for no reason. Because you see, all of the epistles are written to Christian people. And everyone of those letters is corrective to some degree. A few of them are entirely corrective. That is because the people to whom they were written were saved, but in error, in unbelief, or in sin. All of that is possible for a Christian. And all of that is the result of believing, and living under, ERROR, rather than the Truth.
We need to see something here. It is something that is so basic, that it is amazing that so few grasp it. We need to see that doctrines, teachings, and Biblical interpretations are the Truth – not because they are part of a theological construct which is Biblical – but because they rightly represent the PERSON who is the Truth! And a doctrine is error because it misrepresents that same Person!
It does not matter what doctrine we are talking about, take it back to what it says about the nature and character of God, and His Son, and you will discover whether it is the Truth.
Now, of course, built into this is a problem: What if we don’t know God? Well, in that case we will likely adjust our doctrine to fit the God we think we know. And this is exactly the point. All theological error is the result of not knowing God – of not knowing the One of whom it speaks. Thus, the theology is adjusted to fit the God we are wrong about. This does not mean that if we are in error about some things that our Christianity is fully off the track. But it does mean that if we wrong about the essential, basic doctrines of Christianity, that we can hardly claim to know the God from which all of them proceeded.
Christianity never emerged from doctrines. Doctrines emerged from Christianity. And if our doctrines are wrong, then our perspective of Christianity is wrong. It is that simple. Our doctrines reflect, indeed teach, what we believe about God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
So what is the solution? To study the Bible harder? Well, I’m all for studying the Word of God. But you can have multiple doctorate degrees in theology and Biblical studies and still be totally deceived. There have always been people like that corrupting the church. That is because they bring TO their study a false knowledge of God, and by the time they are done, build their theology upon a false foundation – upon their lack of revelation of the one and only true God.
In today’s church, your academic credentials are what are important, rather than your relationship with, and illumination of, Jesus Christ. This is, of course, a direct violation of scripture. And the church continues to suffer the consequences.
The Need for Revelation
The solution for error? The Truth. But Truth is NOT, and never will be, a theological system. Neither is the Truth Bible doctrines – even if they are correct. The Truth is a Person. Thus, the solution for error is a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. For once we have the personal revelation, our doctrines will have something to anchor them. They will emerge from the Truth Himself.
Now, don’t misunderstand. When I say we need a personal revelation of Jesus Christ, I am not talking about studying a bunch of Bible facts about Jesus, and then being able to recite them. I’m not talking about anything like that. I am saying that we need a revelation of Jesus Christ to come to us FROM THE OUTSIDE of us, INTO us – through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is just that simple. And unless that is how we got our revelation, I question whether we have one.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all Truth, that He would testify to Jesus, and take the things of Jesus and show them to us. Yes, often the Holy Spirit will use the Bible. And EVERYTHING the Holy Spirit reveals will be IN the Bible! But again – unless we have a revelation of the Person of Christ via the Holy Spirit – we are going to READ INTO the Bible what we already believe out of our own bias, fears, unbelief, and experience. We will never know the Truth.
So how can we be sure we have the Truth? Surrender ourselves to God.
But you see, the moment I say this, people think I mean that we say to God, "Ok, God. I surrender myself to you. Show me the Truth." And we think we are done. No. I am saying that we must truly surrender everything about ourselves to God: Our pride, our money, our jobs, our understanding, our goals, etc. We must pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done," – in MY LIFE, in my very being. God doesn’t simply want people who do His will. He wants those who BECOME His will.
The point is this: With the LIFE of Christ comes LIGHT about Him. The more the life of Jesus has a free reign in you, the more LIGHT about Him will emerge into your consciousness – which is what the Bible means when it talks about, "the renewing of our minds." But you see, there is a CATCH to this – if you want to call it that. In order for the LIFE of Jesus to have a free flow in you and I, something else must happen first: We have to die to our selves. We must take up our Cross and carry it. The only way to experience life in Christ, and thus see the LIGHT about Him, is to first come to the Cross.
But you see, we have a better way: Just study real hard. Get degrees in theology. Go to seminary, get ordained, and preach good sermons. In other words, instead of obeying the command of Jesus to, "take up your Cross and follow Me," we have fashioned an alternative path: "Just take up our degrees in theology and follow Me." I realize this is a bit sarcastic. Forgive me. But it is sometimes necessary to make the point.
There is only one way to know Truth: Bring yourself to the Cross. It is there that the pride –which often provides the anchor for our error – is crucified. It is at the Cross that the self-life --- including the RELIGIOUS self life will be dealt with. And then the LIFE of Jesus – the same life I received when I was saved – can begin to flow and move in my experience. And along with that come LIGHT and TRUTH.
Until my knowledge of Jesus Christ is the product of being one with Him through death and resurrection – until the LIGHT I have is the product of His LIFE in me – the best I can expect is that will possess many facts about Jesus. But I won’t have a revelation of Him that will set me free.
Can we see what would happen in our churches if we realized just this one principle? That Truth is a revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ? And that the only way to realize it is by coming to the Cross? Do we realize what the ramifications would be if we understood that Christianity is not a theological position? And that the differing theological positions WITHIN Christianity are NOT ACCEPTABLE as is – because they speak of the very nature and character of Jesus Christ. The issue here is freedom in Christ. That is always what is at stake when we are talking about the Truth.
What the Bible Says
If everything I am saying is the Truth, then the Bible, which is God’s written Word, ought to back it up. Let’s read a few passages:
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, (Eph 1:15-20)
There was never a person God used more to teach the church doctrine than the apostle Paul. In fact, this very epistle to the Ephesians is filled with doctrine, teaching, and instruction. But despite that, what does Paul pray that God would do for the Ephesians? That God would give them a revelation of Jesus Christ! Why? So that they could understand what he has written to them. For unless they know Jesus, they will never grasp the things of God.
Notice that Paul is not praying that God would give them some kind of, "special revelation" – as a THING. No. Paul is praying that they may be given a revelation of the PERSON! There have always been groups, cults, and movements built on revelation as a THING. But Christianity is built upon the revelation of a PERSON – Jesus Christ.
Have we recognized that Christianity IS a revelation? Of a Person? It is a revelation from the outside of us, into us, of the Son of God. This does not mean that we are passive, for we must, upon the initial conviction of the Holy Spirit, bring ourselves to the Cross. We must do that. But once we do, we are born again, and with that comes all the potential for LIFE and LIGHT in Christ. And as we take up our Cross and walk with Christ, the LIGHT becomes brighter and brighter.
Many people err because they think that the Truth is a list of doctrines or teachings. Thus, if we can just understand the true doctrines, we have the Truth! No! Truth is first a RELATIONSHIP with a Person. The doctrines – which are vital and essential – represent that relationship. The doctrines instruct us as to how to walk in that relationship. But divorce the doctrines FROM the relationship, and you have dead religion.
It is so common to grow up in a church, memorize doctrines, and think you have HIM. You don’t necessarily have HIM at all! You may have lots of true facts about Him. And that is good. Those true facts, if you obey them, will, in fact, instruct you as to how to deepen your relationship with Christ. The true doctrines of the Bible tells us that we must surrender our lives to Him, and take up our Cross.
It doesn’t seem to matter how clear I try to be, someone is going to accuse me of saying that doctrine, and the Bible, is unimportant. But if you think this is what I am saying, then nothing I add will clarify my meaning to you. The Bible IS the Word of God, and doctrine is essential! But Jesus is the LIVING WORD, and He is not a doctrine! We need to know the Person, not just facts about Him.
For instance, can we see that merely believing the teaching which states that we ought to take up our Cross and follow Christ daily is NOT the same as actually taking up our Cross and actually following Him? My goodness, how easy it is to substitute our faith and belief in a teaching for actual obedience to that teaching. To mistake knowing we ought to have an experience for the experience itself. This is why doctrine alone isn’t Christianity. Doctrine, if it is the Truth, is instruction as to Christianity.
Paul taught the Ephesians much about Christ. But if that was all they needed – written facts and instruction – then why would Paul PRAY that their eyes would be opened? That they would see the Person, Jesus Christ? He would not need to pray if all they needed were doctrines. But Paul knew that the teachings of the apostles themselves will do little for us unless we have this revelation.
Doubt that? Well, today we have those same teachings of the apostles. Look at the church. Do you see Jesus Christ in His people? Do you see Truth abounding? I rest my case.
There are other passages which verify the need for revelation:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: (2 Pet 1:2-3)
Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2 Pet 3:17-18)
Gnosticism was the belief that salvation was the result of knowledge. It got into Christianity and was successful because Christianity is, in fact, a revelation of Jesus Christ. The Gnostics, however, did not teach this. They taught that we are saved through the knowledge of THINGS, and through the knowledge of OURSELVES. And more importantly, the Gnostics did not teach that the revelation we need came from outside of ourselves from God, into us. They taught that we already had that knowledge, and that we simply needed to discover it.
If this sounds like many of our modern, humanistic philosophies, it ought to. Gnosticism is alive and well today. But it is also alive and well in our churches.
The biggest movement today in Christianity is, "the gospel of self-esteem." This is a grievous error, but one which many Christians easily embrace. Often it is a REACTION to the gospel of condemnation that is often preached. The thrust of this gospel of self-esteem is that God not only loves you, but He also AFFIRMS you. In other words, Jesus doesn’t want to deliver you from sin. He doesn’t want to change you from being a sinner to being a saint. No. He is content to leave you AS a sinner – He’ll just call you a saint because you say you believe in Him.
I’m not kidding. More and more the call for repentance from sin is today being labeled as hateful and mean-spirited. Well, that message CAN be preached that way, can’t it? But any message can. It doesn’t mean it is the wrong message. The fact is, unless you repent, you will perish. And you will not be saved. That is the gospel.
But today, anything that makes people feel bad about themselves is considered error. Yet the very first approach of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is to make them feel bad about themselves. Why? Because we ARE bad. It’s the Truth. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us there. What does He then do? Make us feel good about ourselves? NO! NO! NO! What He does is teach us to LEAVE OURSELVES ALONE – and bring us into an on-going revelation of Jesus Christ. In short, we will grow to feel good about Jesus! And once we do, then our love of ourselves will find it’s God-given adjustment in Him.
Man does not need to love himself more. He is already cursed with that, because He has no knowledge of God. Man needs to be set free from self-love by the love of God.
Today we have the, "purpose driven church," and, "the purpose driven life," etc. These are take-offs on, "the gospel of self-esteem," although written in a way that seems to affirm the true gospel, while practicing a false one. Yet the ONLY purpose God has is Christ. You deviate from that purpose, and you might still have a big church. But it won’t be in God’s purpose.
Other errors? Well, there is error of, "positive confession." Closely related is the, "health and wealth," movement. And then there is the, "holy laughter," movement which has somewhat died down over the last couple of years. In the 1970’s there began a, "shepherding movement," and it continues today under many guises, in many authoritarian churches and home groups. Now, in the last two decades, there is a movement to restore apostles and prophets – and God alone knows where that will lead.
Why are these things disastrous errors? Well, yes, because they are NOT Biblical. That alone defines them as error. But as mentioned earlier, they are error because they violate the Truth who is a Person. The Truth tells the Truth about the Truth. And error lies about Him, or at least misrepresents Him. All error IS error because the God that it is describing is NOT the true God. The Redemption that it is describing is NOT the redemption of the Bible.
If Christianity were merely a theological position, then error about Christianity would be merely theological error. But Christianity is, "Christ in us," and, "the true knowledge of GOD through Jesus Christ." Thus, error about Christianity is error about GOD HIMSELF, and about His Son Jesus. And once you are in error about HIM, you are in error about everything that matters.
Christianity is not a theological position. A theological position cannot save you, sanctify you, or change the world for Christ. Christianity is LIFE in Jesus Christ. If only the church would return to this fundamental Truth.
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