Is There More than One Way of Being a Christian?
ONE of America’s leading liberal Protestant theologians was nearing the age of eighty. As he would look back on his long active life, one milestone in particular stood out. As a young German army chaplain trudging among the dead and dying at the Battle of Champagne during World War I, the words of Nietzsche came to his mind—“God is dead.” “I changed from an idealist to a tragic realist” as a result, he later said.1
It was not at all surprising, then, that T. J. J. Altizer of the “God is dead” group, in a discussion with the old theologian one evening, told him: “You have opened the confrontation with the real world. You fathered us, we are your children.” But apparently those words were no small jolt to the old theologian, for he had felt that the “God is dead” group had gone too far. In fact, in his discussion with Altizer that evening he became so excited that his wife took it upon herself to insist that they go home, they agreeing to continue the discussion the next day. But the discussion was never resumed, for that night Paul Tillich suffered the heart attack from which he died.—Life magazine, November 5, 1965.
Sad? No doubt, but what is far sadder is the fact that this leading theologian—who was the first non-Jewish professor to be dismissed by the Nazis—should have indulged in such philosophical speculations under the guise of the Christian religion as to cause some of his seminary students to come to the conclusion that “God is dead.” Yes, and even more to be lamented is the fact that Paul Tillich, T. J. J. Altizer and a host of other Protestant theologians have played so loosely with the term “Christian” that for many it has come to mean any number of different things!
How can we know what it means to be a Christian? Are there many ways of being one? How can we tell? There is a way to tell, and that is by going to the only source that gives us the complete record of Jesus Christ. All those professing to be Christians do more or less recognize Jesus Christ as their pattern or they would not take the name “Christian.” If he is one meriting to be followed, then we must, logically, adjust our thinking to his.
CHRIST REVEALED A PERSONAL GOD
No one can read the Christian Greek Scriptures, free from preconceptions, without recognizing that, to Jesus Christ, God was a Person, a very real Person. Jesus tells of his coming forth from God his Father; that he was going to return to his Father; that his Father resides in the heavens; that his Father sees and hears and that he answers prayers; that he forgives; that he loves his Son; that he has affection for Jesus’ followers; that certain angels always behold the face of his Father who is in heaven.a Moreover, he said: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:17) In fact, some 180 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures we find Jesus attributing personality to God by terming him “Father.”
That Jesus considered God to have personality just as much as himself is to be seen from his references to his Father’s being one witness and he himself another and to his Father’s sending him. It takes personality to send and bear witness. That is what Jesus meant when he said: “I am one that bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” (John 8:18; 5:32) Further, we repeatedly read of God’s voice being heard from heaven.—Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28.
More than that, God’s being a Person is clearly indicated by the commandments Jesus quoted for us to ‘love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ It is also made clear from Jesus’ words that we are to fear God because he can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. And God’s personality is also indicated by Jesus’ stress upon God’s name.—Mark 12:29-31; Matt. 10:28; 6:9; John 17:6, 11, 12, 26.
In view of all this testimony, how at variance with it all are the speculations of Paul Tillich that God is Depth or the Ground of being, the inexhaustible ground of history. According to him,
“That is what the word means, and it is that to which the words Kingdom of God and Divine Providence point. And if these words do not have much meaning for you, translate them, and speak of the depth of history, of the ground and aim of our social life, and of what you take seriously without reservation in your moral and political activities. Perhaps you should call this depth hope, simply hope . . . If you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist . . . He who knows about depth knows about God.”2
What folly these modern theologians are capable of in their efforts to deny the personality of God can be seen from what the “Honest to God” Bishop Robinson has to say about God. According to him, Christians can no longer say that God is “out there,” out in space or beyond the realms of space, for all this has been explored by means of radio telescopes and these have not discovered God!3 This kind of shallow reasoning is to be expected from a Communistic atheistic Russian astronaut, but certainly not from one who professes to be a Christian bishop! Surely the Divine Spirit, the great Creator of the universe, can no more be apprehended by the powerful radio telescopes than He could be by the eyes of a Russian astronaut!
Clearly, then, when it comes to the personality of God, there is not more than one way for a Christian to view it. The God of the Bible is a Person, the Great Spirit, the Creator, the Supreme Being.
MIRACLES OR MYTHS?
Many modern professedly Christian theologians also dispute the miracles recorded in the Bible, yet the Bible might be said to be full of them. From creation and the Garden of Eden on to the last recorded events in the lives of the apostles Paul and John, the Bible tells of miracles. Moses asked for and received miraculous credentials. As he said, ‘Otherwise, O Jehovah, they won’t believe what I tell them about your having appeared to me and commissioned me to lead my people out of Egypt!’ (Ex. 4:1-9, 28-31) So also the greater Moses, Jesus Christ, was able to prove his divine commission by the performance of many miracles. In fact, there are upward of a hundred references to miracles in the Gospels and some fifty miracles are specifically described.
We have not only the accounts of the miracles themselves but also a record of the witness that these gave, thereby serving their divine purpose. Thus we read of the people who witnessed them concluding that here was a great prophet, here was THE prophet, here was the very Son of God.—John 6:14; 2 Pet. 1:16-18.
More than that, Jesus himself repeatedly referred to his miraculous works, as when he reminded his apostles of having fed thousands miraculously on two occasions (Matt. 16:9, 10) and as when he sent word to John the Baptist: “The blind are seeing again, and the lame are walking about, the lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being raised up.”—Matt. 11:5.
Not only that, but time and again Jesus pointed to his miracles as a reason for others to put faith in him: “I have the witness greater than that of John, for the very works that my Father assigned me to accomplish, the works themselves that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father dispatched me.” (John had performed no miracles, but Jesus was performing many of them.) “Believe me that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me; otherwise, believe on account of the works themselves.” “If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have both seen and hated me as well as my Father.” What could be clearer, more unambiguous, more plain and unequivocal than Jesus’ own testimony to his having performed miracles and their effect upon others, all to prove his divine commission?—John 5:36; 14:11; 15:24.
Yet in spite of all this testimony, what do we find? Rank disbelief in the miracles recorded in the Scriptures by those who profess to teach the Scriptures. Typical is the contemporary Protestant German theologian Rudolph Bultmann whose theories are becoming ever more popular. According to him, the record of Jesus Christ as given to us in the Gospels needs to be “demythologized,” freed of its myths. What are these myths? All that is written about God and Satan exercising direct influence or power in the affairs of the earth. All that is written about Jesus’ having come to earth, having had a prehuman existence, having been born of a virgin, having performed miracles, having died sacrificially and having been raised from the dead and having ascended into heaven is to be gotten rid of as just so many myths. Not that the record is all a patch of falsehood, he says; it is just that the words telling about these things do not mean what they seem to say or mean! Bultmann would have us believe that “all this is the language of mythology, and the origin of the various themes can easily be traced in the contemporary mythology of Jewish Apocalyptic and in the redemption myths of Gnosticism. To this extent the kerygmab is incredible to modern man, for he is convinced that the mythical view of the world is obsolete.”4
But, then, how can we account for the phenomenal rise of Christianity? Why did not Gnosticism or Judaism create such an impact and produce such eloquent missionaries as the apostles Peter and Paul? Why did not their leaders inspire the devotion that Jesus Christ did? Surely such theories are not only lacking in faith but unreasonable, and it is patently dishonest to label them as Christian. Why, all these modern theologians would attribute a higher degree of morality to Mohammed than to Christ and his apostles, for Mohammed explicitly disclaimed the power to perform any miracles!5 There are not many Christian ways to view the miracles of Christ but only one, and that is to give them full credence!
CHRISTIAN MORALITY RELATIVE?
Not content with robbing Biblical Christianity of its vital, indispensable elements, such as the personality of its God and its miracles, many of these modern theologians would also rob the Christian religion of its high standards and principles. Thus “Honest to God” Bishop Robinson, when on a witness stand, testified that he saw nothing objectionable or scandalous in a book that portrayed adultery in a favorable light; and more than that, he is a member of England’s Homosexual Law Reform Society, which would make homosexuality legal between consenting adults.6 According to him, whether certain sexual acts are wrong or not all depends upon whether “love” is involved.
But here again, the Christian Greek Scriptures do not allow for more than one way of being a Christian. With Jesus morality was not relative. Certain acts were right or wrong per se, in themselves. Thus he categorically condemned divorcing a wife for any reason other than adultery. Far from granting a wide latitude for sexual pleasure, Jesus set an extremely high standard, as can be seen from his words spoken in the Sermon on the Mount: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matt. 5:28, 31, 32; 19:3-9.
If Jesus so condemned promiscuousness between the sexes, how much more must he have been opposed to promiscuousness within the sexes! That homosexuals are promiscuous is apparent from their ever seeking new partners. Whoever heard of two homosexuals celebrating their fiftieth anniversary of being ‘married’? In fact, their promiscuousness is posing no small social problem, as can be seen from a report that appeared in a leading medical weekly: “Homosexuality is proving a new and major source of VD, especially in cities.”7
No question about it, judging from the Scriptures as well as the fruits of homosexuality, among which must also be listed lack of mental and emotional strength and stability, such practices are not compatible with Christianity. The apostle Paul, not the modern theologians, had the right way, the Christian way, of looking at homosexuality: “Likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.”—Rom. 1:27.
THE CHRISTIAN COMMISSION
‘Is there more than one way of being a Christian?’ is a question that might also appropriately be asked regarding the Christian’s commission. Perhaps nowhere is this commission more succinctly stated than at Matthew 28:19, 20, where are found Jesus’ words: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”
But the German theologian Schleierbach of some 150 years ago, who appears to have blazed the trail for the modern liberal theologians, got into difficulty with the Prussian government because of his “liberal political activity.”8 And today we find clergymen involved in politics world wide and espousing ever so many secular causes.c The late Albert Schweitzer was a Protestant clergyman, who, having lost his faith in the supernatural elements of the life of Christ, left his pastorate, studied medicine and then went to Africa to minister to the physical, the medical needs of Africans.
Many missionaries are following his example by devoting themselves to the physical rather than to the spiritual needs of the people. These are being praised for being concerned about the “real needs of the people.”9 Regarding this trend a missionary quarterly states: “The evangelistic missionary is often forced into a teaching or advisory role or some similar task where it is difficult for him to undertake direct evangelistic work.”10
But is that what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned his early disciples to teach others, to do what he had taught them to do? True, Jesus at times ministered to the physical needs of the people but these were wholly incidental to the spiritual benefits he offered and were done by supernatural means and primarily to prove his divine commission. His primary role was that of Teacher; that is why we find him so named some forty times in the Bible, whereas only once is he addressed as “Physician.” He also referred to himself as such on one other occasion, but it was as a physician that healed spiritual, not physical, ills.—Luke 4:23; Matt. 9:9-13; 23:8.
His early disciples understood it all that way. The record of their activities shows that the emphasis was ever on the “foolishness of what is preached” by which people might be saved. And all preached; there was no clergy-laity distinction.—1 Cor. 1:21; Acts 8:4; Rom. 10:9-15.
WHY SO MANY VIEWPOINTS?
From the foregoing it is clear that there are not many ways of being a Christian but there is only one way. A Christian believes in a personal God, he has faith in the miracles recorded in His Word, he lets himself be governed by the principles set forth in that Word and he recognizes the commission to go and make disciples of others. Then, what accounts for these differing viewpoints and many more that fly in the face of the plain statements of God’s Word by men who claim to be “Christian” ministers, theologians?
The Scriptures, reason and the facts give us logical answers. For example, we have the words of the apostle Paul that “faith is not a possession of all people.” What could be more plain than that? And since, as he says at another place, “we [Christians] are walking by faith, not by sight,” it is to be expected that those without faith would be unable to understand, appreciate and accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God.—2 Thess. 3:2; 2 Cor. 5:7.
Moreover, God’s Word tells us that, “if, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” Yes, what else can we expect, since Satan is “misleading the entire inhabited earth,” “transforming himself into an angel of light” so as to deceive many?—2 Cor. 4:3, 4; Rev. 12:9; 2 Cor. 11:14.
Another reason for the position taken by these “liberal” theologians appears to be a concern to please, to be well thought of by those who are saturated with worldly wisdom, and so they make all manner of concessions. They take the position that “contemporary man,” or the “intelligent man,” cannot and does not believe in a personal God nor in miracles. But in this they sadly err. Thus a current book reports that “a large number of books have appeared in recent years in which scientists of very varied types have given reasoned expression to their conviction of the truth of Christianity and have argued not merely that Christianity and science are compatible but also that it is only in the light of Christian doctrine that the scientific exploit and achievement can be seen to make sense.”11
Another reason that might be added as to why these modern theologians would have it that there are other ways of being a Christian aside from the way the Christian Greek Scriptures plainly indicate is that they prefer the wisdom of this world, such as philosophy and psychology. Why, it is even said that Paul Tillich chose philosophy as his field and the Evangelical Lutheran ministry as the gateway to it.1
For this they find no precedent in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul did not come with man’s wisdom but with God’s wisdom, so that his hearer’s faith would rest on God’s Word and not on man. Well did he show that “not many wise in a fleshly way were called, . . . but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame.”—1 Cor. 1:26, 27; 2:1-16.
Another reason why there are such varying views as to what is a Christian is that many do not understand why God has permitted evil or wickedness and so they are taken in by the arguments of atheists and others that God does not exist, or that he could not be a person or that at least he is not deserving of our worship for either he is not almighty or he is not just and loving or else he would put an end to wickedness. However, the Bible shows that God has good reasons for permitting evil and wickedness and that in his due time he will put an end to them.d
And most serious of all, there is the question of honesty. Why do men who are atheists in fact keep speaking in religious terms? Some of them even admit their dishonesty, as one professor of theology did: “I would ask to be defrocked if that could be done in a quiet, inoffensive way, but it can’t . . . If somebody wants to fight about a name, then I guess I would have to admit that I’m just not a Christian.”12 Certainly to call oneself a “Christian atheist” is palpably dishonest.
The Scriptures and reason make the matter plain. They show that true Christians will have faith in a personal God and in his performing or causing to be performed miracles by his servants upon earth; they will recognize the high principles set forth by Jesus Christ and fulfill the commission to preach and to teach. There is no other way that accords with God’s Word for one to be a Christian.
1 Time magazine, October 29, 1965, p. 80.
2 The Shaking of the Foundations—Paul Tillich (1949), pp. 63, 65.
3 Honest to God—J. A. T. Robinson (1963), pp. 13, 14.
4 New Testament Theology and Mythology—Bultmann.
5 The Koran, Sura 17, verse 59, Ali version.
6 The New Yorker, November 20, 1965.
7 Medical World News, June 9, 1961.
8 Encyclopedia Americana (1956), Vol. 24, p. 378.
9 The Christian Century, December 8, 1965.
10 International Review of Missions, January 1966, p. 88.
11 The Secularization of Christianity—E. L. Mascall (1966), p. 193.
12 The New Yorker, November 13, 1965.
b Webster: “The original Christian gospel preached by the apostles.”
c See Awake! August 8 and 22, 1966.
d See Awake! October 8, 1966.