Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Academic philosopher, atheistic author and anti-religion activist Sam Harris enthusiastically criticizes and energetically campaigns for at least the restriction if not the outright abolishment of all religion. He does give a nod to those of us who are not wise enough to see things as he does and persist in seeking answers from something or someone other than ourselves. Mr. Harris' fellow non-believers, such as the notorious English atheist/philosopher Richard Dawkins, goes so far as to concede that we believers may need – and possibly have the right – to meet together to discuss ideas of right and wrong and support one another through tough times; but only as long as we do so in a sensitive, tolerant, all-inclusive, no-fault way. He admits that some sort of ethical standards are necessary and would allow for some idealism in those who insist on it; but only as long as no mention is made of sin, absolutes pertaining to right and wrong, and salvation through a particular Deity or religious system.
This deity-free or Christ-less church would be allowed to soothe our conscience but never be permitted to challenge any other faith-system by stating an iron-clad belief in any particular doctrine, supposedly leading to a more just, less strident, more accepting society and world. The end result being that someone’s philosophy of ethical behavior and just living would be promoted – in this instance, his – and eventually forced on us all. History, however, surely teaches us that man’s inability to sort through the vagaries of right and wrong and our dismal attempts at forcing people to adhere to one person’s philosophy over another’s faith ends in catastrophe. Thousands, even millions of “malcontents” paying a price for their lack of cooperation through lost jobs, confiscated homes, separation from family members, torture and death.
The church has experienced this type of persecution before and has even been guilty of inflicting a similar injustice on others as well; but at its best, the church has persisted in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation to be had in him, finding purpose in practical ministry in his name and power.
Realistically, what would a Christ-less church’s function be? We would be relegated to serving as one more social movement like so many others, at times genuinely addressing the physical and emotional concerns of others but with little more spiritually to offer than a feel-good gospel where everything works out in the end either by good fortune or manipulation. A system eerily similar to the one-world religious/political order scripture seems to warn about. In that church, where everything is good and of equal value – as long as it conforms to government oversight – Jesus warned his disciples that they would no longer be accepted. “…in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” John 16:2 (See also Matthew 24:4-13) An “ideal” Paul once believed in and practiced, before his eyes were opened to the full meaning of faith through his encounter with Christ.
The essence of Christian ministry is expressed simply in John 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already…” After fully grasping this aspect of the gospel, Paul was able to powerfully state the bedrock principle of his ministry, resolving “…to know nothing… except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2 (See also Romans 1:2-4) Further asserting that, "…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” 1 Corinthians 15:17) He acknowledged that this concept would be hard for some to accept, many seeking experiential evidence (Jews demanding a "sign") while others anticipate a philosophical explanation (Greeks looking for wisdom); yet Paul insisted that the stumbling block of crucifixion and resurrection was indeed the fullest expression of God’s power, wisdom and love. ( 1 Corinthians 1:22-24) John explaining, “…the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 If we were to conform by removing the significance of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection from our worship services, we would run the risk of placing ourselves solely under law again, a law not of God’s making but devised and enforced by man.
Paul rightly responded to a similar issue confronting the church in his day, “I am astonished that you are...deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel… which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one (already established), let him be eternally condemned.” Galatians 1:6-8 “Salvation (being) found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,… the twelve… to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time… to James… all the Apostles… and last of all… to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:2-8 Those who teach otherwise, claiming a superior wisdom while attempting to embrace a wider audience, foolishly exchange the glory of an immortal God for images patterned on the principles of mortal man. ( Romans 1:23)
This may very well be a wave of the future, where true believers won’t be persecuted only by those outside the church, but by those who believe they are cleansing and purifying it; even as they destroy the foundational elements of belief in Christ and salvation through his name alone. (Jesus insisting, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6) But whether we are assailed from within or without, our response must be the same, as “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32,33 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18; “…for the salvation of everyone who believes…”! Romans 1:16
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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