There are several trends affecting Christianity today. One of them is the ‘post-evangelical’ movement (of which I’m a part) that rejects the politicizing of faith and embraces the basic tenets of Christ’s teachings. Another one, however, is quite different: There’s a growing segment of people who accept the teachings of Christ, but reject his divinity and deny the existence of the Holy Spirit. They call themselves Christians but claim that Jesus was simply a great philosopher, not God incarnate. The Barna Group, a faith-based research organization, reported this trend in a 2009 survey.
There’s just one problem with this view: To be a Christian means to be saved. And according to scripture, the only path to salvation is accepting the divinity and redemption of Christ. The Bible makes this exceedingly clear:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
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“I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
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When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. […] I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:12-14, 17-19)
In this final passage, Jesus was testifying to his divinity. Many people liked Jesus’ other teachings: help the poor, honor your parents, abstain from usury, live in peace with everyone. But whenever Jesus spoke of himself as the salvation of the world, they became uncomfortable. Jesus made it plain that to truly accept his teachings, one also had to accept who he was–the Son of God. It was during these times that many disciples abandoned Jesus (see John 6:25-66).
What amazes me is that people who have absolutely no affiliation with Christianity understand this principle. Recently, Bill O’Reilly, a conservative political commentator for Fox News, claimed during an interview with the head of an atheist organization that Christianity is a philosophy, not a religion. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, a secular Jew, responded with the following:
“Christianity is a religion. Christianity has a philosophical element, but there is a difference between a philosophy and a religion. For instance, let’s look at Socrates and Jesus. They have a lot in common: loose fitting clothing, beards, sandals, teaching through parables…martyrdom. But here’s where we find the distinction between philosophy and religion: After their martyrdom, one of them got better. I’ll give you a hint. It’s the one who ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead–whose kingdom will have no end.”
[shows clip: O’Reilly says, “You don’t have to believe Jesus is God to admire his view on life.”]
“No. But you have to believe Jesus is God to be a Christian. I like a lot of Jesus’ philosophy–love your neighbor, a little cheek-turning, stone not casting–it’s very nice. But while I can get an ‘A’ in his philosophy class, I don’t get to go to the after party.”
You can watch the entire segment here: Jon Stewart on Christianity
The point is, if this principle is clear to atheists and secular icons, it should be clear to everyone. Anyone can admire Jesus and his philosophy all day long. They can follow some of his teachings and live a noble life in the eyes of others. But to be called by his name (Christ) means to have embraced Jesus in his entirety, both his philosophy and his divinity. I don’t go to church to worship the Golden Rule. I go to worship The Messiah. Wearing the Christian label won’t save anyone; only the blood of Christ can do that.