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We live in a time of wonders - great skyscrapers amidst sprawling cities; rapid communications, commerce, and world travel; space flights; genetic engineering; and awesome weaponry. Rapid advances in knowledge and technology seem commonplace. Advances in computing, for example, make it possible for people of even moderate means to have powerful computers on their desktops and, through them, access to information sources around the world within seconds. A sense of amazement is appropriate as we enjoy wonders beyond what people of the past could dream about.
Not all that has happened in human affairs is indicative of progress, however. A shrinking Methodist presence in the western world, for example, accompanies the strange phenomena of some Methodists not only repudiating traditional Christianity but characterizing the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as harmful. If there was a time when liberal Christians viewed traditional Christian belief with a kind of bemused, patronizing attitude, that time seems to be past. Not only has liberal theology become more radical, liberal Christians have increasingly taken the attitude that traditional Christianity is worse than mistaken.
This attitude represents a reversal of progress not only because liberal Christians have moved farther away from the truth of the Gospel, but also because their position often misrepresents traditional Christianity in their attempts to predominate with opposing views. This muddying of the waters is, perhaps, even more consequential than their stubborn and outspoken opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is presented in Scripture and has been traditionally understood.
Contemporary opponents of the traditional preaching of the Gospel often give the impression that they represent something entirely new; that traditional Christianity was once popular culturally, but that contemporary culture and religious understanding have evolved to the place where it is no longer possible to "believe" in the traditional sense of the word. What such an attitude ignores is that opposition to God and to the message of the Gospel has always been more characteristic of the human race than belief.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Old Testament is the degree to which it shows the Hebrews in a poor light with respect to their God and their Law. From the time of Sinai, it has been the Law of Moses that defined the Hebrew community and their covenant relationship with their God. Yet, most of the adults delivered from Egypt under the leadership of Moses died in the wilderness due to their constant rebellion against the Lordship of God. Hebrew history was tumultuous even after settling in the Holy Land due to the constant tendency of the people to walk their own way rather than God's (Isaiah 53:6). The role of the prophet was often to call the people back to righteousness. The considerable body of writing stemming from the ministry of the prophets of Israel and Judah testify to the people's stubborn tendency to resist the path of faith.
The preservation of these writings in the Hebrew culture is remarkable. Other ancient peoples wrote of their successes, not their failures. It is this honesty of the Hebrews with regard to their own history, as well as the fact that the founders of Christianity were themselves Jews, that rescues Christians from the accusation that they were "anti-Semitic" in the way they characterized the Hebrews in Old and New Testament times.
The tendency to oppose rather than to follow God is seen in Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!" (Luke 13:34). In Acts, Luke records how Stephen became the first martyr of the Christian faith. The statement that finally triggers the stoning of Stephen is his declaration, "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it" (Acts 7:51-53). Paul's instructions to the Christians in Corinth include an exhortation not to act as the Hebrews did in the wilderness (I Corinthians 10:1-13). Paul's letter to the Romans includes a quote from Isaiah in which God describes the Hebrew response to His grace by saying, "All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" (Romans 10:21).
It would be completely wrong to use such Scripture as an excuse to view the Jews as worse than any other group of people, for this type of response is not restricted to the Jews -- it is characteristic of the human response to God generally. Jesus warned His disciples that they should expect the hatred of the world towards them and that this would, in fact, represent the hatred of the world towards Jesus Himself (John 15:18-19). Paul warned the church at Ephesus that opposition to the truth would arise from within their own leadership (Acts 20:28-32). Peter taught that Christians should consider opposition to be their portion for the time that they are on earth (I Peter 1:6-7).
Not only is opposition to the Gospel common in this age, opposition often takes familiar forms. It is not unusual, for example, for opponents of the preaching of the Gospel to maintain that the Gospel is by nature divisive, as did Paul's accusers after Paul preached the Gospel in Jerusalem. Paul's accusers were so determined to prevail against him that they employed an orator named Tertullus to make their case before the Roman governor Felix. Tertullus said of Paul, ". . . we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world . . . and he even tried to desecrate the temple" (Acts 24:5-6). The accusations were false, of course. While they weren't enough to silence Paul, they were enough to ensure that Paul could not continue his ministry in Palestine.
Interestingly, at the time of his arrest, Paul was in Jerusalem precisely to deliver famine relief sent by Gentile Christians to Christians living in Palestine. This act of mercy would surely have improved the situation of resident Jews as well, since Christians would have purchased food and so forth from the Jews, giving them, in turn, a greater ability to provide for their own needs. Also interesting is that the real rabble-rousers in Palestine at the time (from a Roman perspective) were not the Christians, for Christians did not take part in the subsequent Jewish rebellion that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It was Jewish rebels against Rome which led their city to its destruction. So rather than causing trouble for the Jews, the preaching of the Gospel, an acceptance of Jesus as the Christ by many, and a subsequent turning away from following after those inciting rebellion against Rome may well have saved the city from destruction. This, of course, seems never to have crossed the minds of Paul's accusers. However, one of the purposes of The Acts of the Apostles is clearly to show that Christians were good citizens of Rome, contrary to what their accusers said of them, even if their first loyalty was clearly to Jesus Christ.
Opposition to Christianity did not disappear after New Testament times. The Methodist movement faced strong opposition from its inception. Methodism's origin in 18th century England took place early in a century when many contemporary Methodists might consider the Gospel to have been much more at home. The industrial revolution had just begun, Kant and Hegel had not yet formulated their enormously influential philosophies, and Biblical textual criticism was in its infancy. Yet, when the Wesleys began to preach they faced determined opposition from many of their fellow Anglicans. It should be remembered that both John and Charles Wesley (who were brothers) were ordained priests of the Church of England, the "Established Church," just as their father had been. Yet, the Wesleys' fellow Anglican clerics largely banned them from preaching in their pulpits. A. Skevington Wood, in his book The Burning Heart: John Wesley, Evangelist, discusses the rejection of the Wesley's:
"Why were the Wesley's banned by the Established Church?" inquired J. Henry Martin, in a Wesley Historical Society lecture on John Wesley's London Chapels. The answer is substantiated by the facts. "In a sentence, it may be stated that the denial of parish pulpits was due to their preaching of the Evangelical doctrines." At this stage it was not an objection to methods: it was an objection to the message. The gospel itself was the scandel." iIn his "Third Letter to The Reverend Mr. Walker" (Helstone, September 16, 1757) John Wesley writes:
. . . And which reproach is it which we bear? Is it the reproach of Christ, or not? It arose first while my brother and I were at Oxford, from our endeavouring to be real Christians. It was increased abundantly when we began to preach repentance and remission of sins, and insisted that we are justified by faith. For this cause were we excluded from preaching in the churches . . . Therefore, all the reproach consequent is no other than the reproach of Christ . . . God never used us to any purpose till we were a proverb of reproach . . .ii
Wesley considered this opposition from Anglican preachers to be evidence that he was preaching the true message of God. Wesley did not consider the reproach he received to be truly directed against himself, but against Jesus. Wesley's thinking here would seem to be similar to Paul's in Philippians 3:10. The expression "the reproach of Christ" that Wesley uses here is an interesting one because it points to a proper understanding of the title "Christ" as one reason for opposition to the Gospel, something perhaps best considered here from the perspective of Romans 5:8.
Paul's words in Romans 5:8 provide us with the reason the preaching of the Gospel is not an act of bigotry and hatred and at the same time present us with two primary reasons the preaching of the Gospel is so vehemently opposed. Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Paul's discussion of this point runs from verse 6 through verse 11 as part of a larger argument that Paul is making in this part of Romans.
The first part of this statement connects the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the love of God for people everywhere. The thought here is the same as in John 3:16 and relates to Jesus' teaching in John 15:13 concerning the greatest demonstration of love possible for a human being to give. It is a point Paul develops in Ephesians where he speaks of God's mercy and the "great love with which He loved us" (Ephesians 2:4) and that Paul indicates is the reason for Jesus' exaltation as Lord of all in Philippians 2:5-11. The point, of course, is not just that Jesus died on our behalf, but what God has done for us through Jesus' act of selfless love.
So important is love to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul teaches that all Christian ministry is of no value unless accompanied by love. He writes this in I Corinthians 13, right in the middle of a discussion of spiritual gifts for Christian ministry. In fact, of the four places in Scripture where spiritual gifts for Christian ministry are clearly discussed (Romans 12:3-8, I Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-16, I Peter 4:10-11) love is also mentioned as part of the discussion or closely nearby (Romans 12:9-21, I Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4:15-16, I Peter 4:8-9). However, the lesson is driven home most clearly in I Corinthians 13 that no matter how smart we may be, no matter how well-informed we may be, no matter what spiritual gift God may have given us for ministry, no matter what position we may hold in the church, no matter how much zeal we may demonstrate – even to the point where we are willing to suffer and die for our faith – it is all worthless unless our ministry is a demonstration of love.
It cannot be stressed enough that if Jesus had simply allowed Himself to be crucified but had not risen bodily from the dead, then His love would have been pure sentimentality and nothing more. It is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that proves that Jesus did more than just die on a cross -- He accomplished the work God intended for Him to do there on behalf of the human race (II Corinthians 5:18-21). The importance of Jesus' work at Calvary is that He did not fail (Revelation 5:4-14). Paul makes this clear both before writing Romans 5:8 (Romans 1:4, 4:25) and afterwards (Romans 10:8-9, cf. I Corinthians 15:17, I Peter 1:3). The establishment of Jesus as Messiah and Lord by His resurrection from the dead also establishes His teaching and the ministry of His apostles.
Now, the truth that Jesus died and rose again as an act of love to the Father and for the world is not one that most people are likely to take offense at. The teaching that "God is love" provides one of the foundations of classic liberal Christianity as well as orthodox Christianity. However, this is not all that Paul refers to in Romans 5:8. Paul says that God commended His love to us "while we were yet sinners."
Paul has already made the argument in Romans 1, 2, and 3 that all people may be held accountable to God for their lives and in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Because Paul himself was Jewish and had been especially zealous on behalf of Judaism (Philippians 3:4-6), Paul had to be well-aware that this statement would not have fallen easily upon Jewish ears. In the Jewish community of Paul's day, only Gentiles were called "sinners," not Jews, for it was the Gentiles who did not live according the Law. In his epistle to the Romans, however, Paul allows no such distinction. All who sin are accountable to God regardless of their ethnic and religious associations (Romans 2:11). Further, there are eternal consequences for those who remain in their sins – including eternal separation from God for those who die outside the grace of God (Romans 2:2-16).
This message falls no more easily on contemporary ears than upon the ears of those who lived in Biblical times (John 8:24-47, Matthew 23:29-37). It is a message that is unique to the message of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures because it relates to the nature and holiness of God Himself; a God not fully or accurately described by other faiths. It is a message that often enrages those who hear it preached. Those who listened to Stephen were so enraged when he spoke of their sin that they stoned him to death. People are generally willing to hear about other people's failings, they are generally willing to admit that there might be a little wrong with themselves. But people often want their problems to be solved without wanting to do the things that really solve their problems. The statement that there is something seriously wrong in human nature often meets with an irrational and negative response. The identification of a particular sin brings an even stronger negative response, even if that sin is clearly defined in Scripture.
A little reflection will show us that while this is a common human reaction to the Gospel, it is not how intelligent people approach other parts of life. Not long ago someone close to us called to say that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She continued to have tests and to consult doctors. Medical professionals were able to determine the extent of the cancer and then prescribe the appropriate treatment. Fortunately, the cancer was not extensive, and though the treatments aren't comfortable, she is well on her way to being made well. What would have happened, however, if she had reacted by stating angrily that it was a "terrible thing" to accuse her of harboring cancer, stated that her body was as good as anybody else's or at least no worse, and refused further consultation or treatment? If she had done those things she would have condemned herself to an early death because her condition was terminal and her healing required an intervention by others. She could not save herself from this affliction, she needed the help of those who could deliver her from it.
It is no less true with sin. If we are to be delivered from it, we must have the intervention of the only One who can save us from our sin. That requires acceptance, humility, and submission to Jesus Christ (I John 1:8-10, James 4:8-10, Isaiah 57:15, Acts 13:38-39, John 8:24). Nothing is more characteristic of contemporary religious belief than the denial or perversion of the Scriptures' teaching concerning sin, its nature, and its remedy. If we are not willing to admit the true nature of sin, and that we ourselves need deliverance, and that this deliverance must come from outside ourselves, then we will not find God or experience His remedy for the sin that, as the author of Hebrews writes, "so easily entangles us" (Hebrews 12:1). Indeed, John and Charles Wesley struggled with how to practice their Christianity for years, and did not find peace until they understood that if they stood as sinners before God, they could find cleansing from sin and its consequences through faith in the grace of God through Jesus Christ (I Timothy 1:15).
The kingdom of this world has becomeThis verse is interesting not only in that it has a majestic and central place in the "Hallelujah Chorus," it is an interesting passage in the original Greek for several reasons; not the least of which is that, because of the verb, "the kingdom" is written once, not twice, as is necessary to render the Greek accurately in our English translations, and because so many words in this passage are in the genitive case. For our purposes here, it is enough to notice the difference in personal pronouns used here -- that Jesus is identified as "our Lord" but as "His Christ." This relatively small difference marks a much larger truth.
the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ
and He shall reign forever and ever.
Jesus is "our Lord" because He is the Lord of His church and will, at some point determined by God, extend His rule over all creation (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 2:18-23, Philippians 2:5-11, Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45, 7:13-14, Isaiah 9:6-7, Deuteronomy 18:18-19). John writes "our Lord" because John writes from the perspective of Christians, those who together with John have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus and thus the "Kingdom" or "rule of God" in their hearts, those who recognize that Jesus will come to establish the Kingdom of God over all creation in fulfillment of prophecy sometime in the future.
Jesus is "His Christ" because it is not only by God's choice but by God's choice alone that Jesus is "the Christ." Jesus was careful about identifying Himself publicly as the Christ early in His ministry to try to prevent His ministry from being confused with mistaken concepts of Messiah common among the Jews of His time.iii However, the early Christian community very quickly identified Jesus as "the Christ" and soon Christ became more than a title, it took on the nature of a common name when used in conjunction with "Jesus," so that Jesus is commonly referred to as "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus" in the New Testament.
Yet, even when used as a common name the significance of the title is not lost. I was once involved in a discussion about Christianity with a man who replied angrily, "Why do you keep saying "Jesus 'Christ?'" 'Christ' was not his last name, you know!" Yes, and that is just the point! "Christ" is more than just a name.
In Luke's Gospel we read about a time when Jesus was asked to read and comment upon a Scripture in the synagogue of His home town Nazareth. Jesus began reading from Isaiah 61:1, "And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me . . ." (Luke 4:17-18). When He finished reading the portion He had chosen and began to teach, Jesus said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21).
The "anointing" Jesus spoke of here is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had come upon Him at His baptism, which marked the beginning of His public ministry and, therefore, the public acceptance by Jesus of the ministry God the Father had chosen for Him (Luke 3:21-22, John 5:30, 6:38, 8:29). In the Old Testament, priests, kings, and prophets were anointed with oil to indicate that the blessing of God rested upon them and the Holy Spirit was with them when they acted upon God's behalf (Exodus 28:41, I Samuel 16:1-13, I Kings 19:16). In his first sermon to the Gentiles, Peter declared that the anointing of the Spirit upon Jesus indicated God's favor upon Him (Acts 10:38). The Hebrew for "anointed" is mashiach, which anglicized becomes our word "Messiah" and in the Greek of the New Testament becomes christos. To say that Jesus is "the Messiah" or "the Christ" is to say that Jesus is "the Anointed One." The Christian community recognized the anointing of God upon Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King (Isaiah 61:1-2, Acts 13:38-39, Acts 10:36); fulfilling Israel's expectation of an anointed King who would fulfill the plan of God for His people (Daniel 9:25-27, Isaiah 9:6-7).
Paul, who had once persecuted the Christian church, wrote to the Christians in Corinth, "even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer" (II Corinthians 5:16). In other words, once they had viewed Jesus from the standpoint of men and had seen Jesus as a mere man – simply flesh. Then, they saw Jesus from the perspective of God and thus became "Christians" – those who recognize that Jesus is uniquely "the Christ" (Acts 11:26) as demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost when the church of Jesus Christ was brought into being, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). "God has made Him both Lord and Christ" – not any person or group, but God.
Jesus did not come to be "the Christ" by action of any human group, but by the choice of God and the completion of His unique ministry (Philippians 2:5-11). Therefore, no other human being can name an equal, a replacement, or a successor. And, therefore, it is nonsense for anyone who calls him or herself a "Christian" to try to do so. Further, Scripture clearly teaches, as Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" celebrates, that this anointing of Jesus as Lord and Christ is both universal and eternal -- it is true everywhere forever (Daniel 2:35, 44-45). For these reasons it is only accurate and proper for those who reject a Christian understanding of Jesus to stop referring to Jesus as "Jesus Christ" and to refuse the name "Christian," since, for them, these terms have become meaningless. Whatever name they take, they are, in truth, unbelievers.
Opposition to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not new. So common was the rejection of Jesus in His own time that Jesus referred to Psalm 118:22-23 to describe it: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes." The Christian community thought this Scripture so important that it is quoted no less than five times in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, and I Peter 2:7). There is a marked difference between now and then, however, in that in the past opposition has characteristically come from those outside the Christian church, whereas in modern times, opposition also comes from those who, nevertheless, call themselves "Christians" and claim to be living according to the teachings of Scripture.
Methodist theologian Thomas Oden has written of our times:
Theology stands today in a comic relation to its subject matter (which is God, for theology remains a logos about a theos). It is the most humorous of all disciplines because it has worked so hard to disavow its distinctive task. No other discipline has devoted so much energy to doing away with its own subject matter. Yet despite its hardworking earnestness, contemporary theology has never received adequate comedic analysis. It is an intricate, mostly silent, stumbling single-situation comedy, however, not witty banter. iv
The comedy that Dr. Oden refers to is not one likely to be recognized by those deeply involved in the contemporary struggle between orthodoxy and radical theology. Emotions can easily run too strong to recognize the humor. The statements made by those on both sides in this struggle are, indeed, not light-hearted "witty banter." They are serious statements of belief by those who, conservative or liberal, are earnest about what they believe. But those who step back will observe what Dr. Oden does -- the comedy of people denying the very thing they say they affirm. In Christianity, this is seen in those who claim the name "Christian" and yet deny everything that the Gospel of Jesus Christ traditionally affirms. The comedy is even more pronounced when those rejecting the Gospel are in Methodist or other churches that owe their existence to the aggressive preaching of the Gospel in the face of opposition from those who called themselves "Christians."
In sharp contrast to those who are so aggressive about throwing a traditional faith in Jesus to the winds, those Christians who gave their lives for their faith in the early centuries of the church often did so because of just one point of Christian theology: they refused to acknowledge by worship any other as Lord or Christ but Jesus. On this point they were tested and on this point they were tortured and lost their lives. Yet these modern skeptics who take the name "Christian," from the comfort and safety of their countries and homes, do not hesitate to deny that Jesus is "the Christ" nor to accuse preachers of the Gospel of wrongdoing. Indeed, Tertullus would seem to make a fitting patron saint for those so opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In view of the history of the faith, those who lead opposition to the Gospel today yet call themselves "Christians" are not "leading the way" as much as they are "joining the crowd."
The reasons to follow Jesus Christ despite opposition remain the same today as they did in the early days of the Christian church and in the days of the Wesleys. Jesus has conquered sin and death on behalf of His own, He has risen, and He comes again to reign forever (Titus 2:11-14) -- and this victory is offered freely to all. Jesus offers Light, Life, and fellowship with God. Jesus' church, consisting of all who truly love and worship Him, consists of those who acknowledge Him as "the Christ" (Matthew 16:16-18) and serve Him with their words and lives.
The presence of people in the world today testifying that the risen Christ is the most significant factor in their lives shows how false the thinking is of those who believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a thing of the past. Since the time of Christ the opponents of Jesus Christ and orthodox Christianity seem always to think that the demise of the faith is just a short time away; and that by opposing it, maligning it, or attacking Christians it can be quickly disposed of. The problem for these opponents of Christianity is that both the Scriptures and those whose lives have been changed by Christ remain until this day. The problem for the liberal opponents of orthodox Christianity within Methodism is that there are many who, like myself, came out of liberal Methodism, found it wanting, and turned to the same Scriptures, the same Gospel, and the same Christ preached by the Wesleys. I would prefer that those who oppose Christ from within the church would turn to have the same experience of new life in Jesus Christ. But if not, if they choose to prefer worldly accolades and secular agendas, then it would at least be honest for them to give up any pretense to sharing the faith they so vehemently oppose.
It is time, before it is too late, for those who are a part of this comedy to recognize the truth of what they are doing and to act accordingly. Christ is worthy of better than comedy and He stands ready to bless all those who come to Him in sincerity and faith. For "we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Corinthians 1:23-25).
i Wood, A. Skevington, The Burning Heart: John Wesley, Evangelist (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Copyright 1967 The Paternoster Press), p. 84. Martin's quotes are referenced by Wood in footnote #2 on page 84: "J. Henry Martin, John Wesley's London Chapels (1946), p. 21."
ii Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition, Volume XIII, Letters (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978, reprinted from the 1872 edition issued by Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, London), pp. 204-205.
iii The incident recorded in John 6:14ff. as an example of where the people tried to make Jesus fit their concept of the Messiah and Jesus' refusal to accommodate them.
iv Oden, Thomas, After Modernity . . . What?: Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), p. 185.
Copyright 2000 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
The American Night Watch promotes Christianity as taught in the Holy Scriptures. The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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This page was last updated January 1, 2000.