Possibly The Two Most Common Christological Errors
Posted by Job on November 1, 2008
Of all the various Christological errors, perhaps the most common and the most tempting are to deny Jesus Christ as Savior while affirming Him as Lord, or deny Jesus Christ as Lord while affirming Him as Savior. Both are far more numerous and relevant than various cults that, for instance, deny Jesus Christ’s deity or the Holy Trinity.
Basically, those that affirm Jesus Christ as Lord but reject Jesus Christ as savior are those that teach salvation and sanctification by works, as well as the idea that man can lose his salvation. This group essentially claim Jesus Christ’s work on the cross only opens the door to salvation, that it makes salvation possible. However, according to these doctrines, it is ultimately up to man to do the heavy lifting either in the process of actually performing salvation or in remaining saved. In this view, Jesus Christ merely started the job, but it is the ability – and prerogative – of man that finishes it. By claiming that these things are attained by works, this group often also mistakes sanctification and justification for advancing in spiritual maturity and the presence of certain spiritual gifts. This view is reflected most prominently by Roman Catholicism but also by certain Pentecostals and fudamentalists.
Then there is the group who profess Jesus Christ as Savior but rejects Him as Lord. They acknowledge that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross not only initiates but also completes an individual’s salvation, but reject the component of the human response to Jesus Christ through faith. In short, such people reject the idea that “Lord” means “ruler”, and that accepting Jesus Christ as Lord means living a life of consistent personal obedience, especially in areas where said obedience is in areas where the person struggles with severe inconvenience or unbelief. What this view rejects is that at the very least Jesus Christ serves in His role as savior co – equally to that of His role as Lord. More specifically, it rejects that Jesus Christ existed eternally as Lord of creation long before His incarnation and going to the cross and became the Savior. Further still, not only does it use the Savior role of Jesus Christ to reject His Lordship, but also the same Lordship, the authority and dominion, of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, to make Jesus Christ more prominent than the other two Persons of the Trinity and to set them against each other (actually effectively it sets Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which allegedly enables this lasciviousness, against God the Father). It rejects the holiness attribute of Jesus Christ when that is the very attribute that makes His being Savior possible in the first place. In a similar fashion, it rejects the truth that Jesus Christ is only Savior because He is Lord, but that had He never become Savior He still nonetheless would have been Lord. Ultimately, this view claims that in becoming Savior, Jesus Christ abdicated His right to exert authority over and to judge the church.
The latter view is actually becoming the dominant one in Protestantism if it is not already. Originally it was associated with a sort of liberal Protestantism, including a liberal strand of Calvinism that asserted that salvation did not require a human response of obedient faith, because requiring such a response would mean salvation by works. Now where liberal Protestantism is now more associated with at best pluralism and increasingly denying the very concept of salvation or judgment, mainstream Protestantism now claims that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross liberates Christians from aspiring to biblical obedience, with the fact that perfect biblical obedience is impossible and unattainable in this life as the primary excuse for not even trying to resist the evil of sinful behavior and unbelief in areas where it is difficult. Perhaps the most prominent recent manifestation development of this doctrine is in the evangelical movement that claims that Jesus Christ took on the role of Savior at least in part to help people reach personal goals and enjoy personal fulfillment. (Inevitably, the “at least in part” quickly dominates the doctrine and the practice while the things that are difficult, inconvenient, and offensive retreats to the background and are only given occassional mental assent.)
The root cause of both errors? Denial of the spiritual in favor of the more easily mentally understood physical. The idea that we are saved, sanctified, and justified by unearned grace but still need an obedient response of faith is a paradox to the human mind, so much so that theologians have long claimed that there seems to be a conflict between a more Gentile (Hellenistic) and Catholic outlook reflected in the Luke – Paul writings and a Jewish outlook reflected in the books of James and Hebrews and the epistle of Peter and John. Of course, this ignores that Luke – Paul speaks plenty of works, the Palestine Jewish Christians speak plenty of grace, and both merely restate the teachings of Jesus Christ with minor augmentations from Jewish religious thought common to the era.
It would seem that another contradiction that vexes the fleshly mind is that between Jesus Christ’s being a Savior and Lord. But the truth is that human experience should solve that contradiction. Are not even non – Christian human parents capable of both showing mercy and nurturing to their own children and meting out punishment and correction when situations require it? So how much more should Jesus Christ be able to serve as both Lord to be obeyed and Savior from deserved punishment when we fail to obey? It should seem that just as there are consequences for consistently defying and disobeying the rules of even unsaved human parents that there would be even more severe consequences for consistently rejecting the Lord of creation. Just as it is impossible for any child to perfectly obey even his unsaved parents, it is impossible for a Christian to perfectly obey Jesus Christ. Yet since when does the inability to perfectly obey cause people to advocate children playing on busy interstate highways? (Then again, some have started to advocate that we need to teach our children safe sex because it is impossible to prevent your teenager or increasingly pre – teenager from indulging in fornication, but you see my point.)
So it comes down to humans having an inflated view of their own importance and a diminished view of God. The notion that man can finish the job of salvation or work to retain his salvation is based on the idea that man is inherently good and hence capable of doing these things. God’s only role is to act as an aid. Instead of taking us to heaven on a chariot of fire (think Elijah, Enoch), God bearing us up on eagle’s wings, God merely needs to provide us with a ladder or stairway so that we can get there ourselves.
The notion that Jesus Christ as Savior overpowers or cancels out Jesus Christ as Lord (we have to SAY Jesus Christ is Lord but we don’t really have to MEAN it with our behavior!) is based on inflating man’s value. We are so beloved and precious by God because of our own intrinsic self worth, a worth apart from and greater than any significance due to the fact that God created us just the same as He created a rock, that He will do anything and everything to save us not only in spite of ourselves (which indeed is grace) but in spite of HIMSELF. God is depicted as being madly, irrationally, illogically head over heels in love with a trollop or cad like a 14 year old girl or boy in enamored not so much with emotional affection for an individual but rather the rebellion against even human cultural norms present by common grace that the “bad boy” or “bad girl” represents. God’s divine and eternal punishment of the wicked is seen as a great crime and tragedy against the noble – indeed even divine – human race instead of not only His complete and total prerogative but indeed a good, great and glorious victory of God’s power and righteousness over wickedness. In this view, not only is man not truly sinful, but God is not truly righteous, so God is obligated to save man, and this obligation is not only to mankind but to Himself. God’s saving mankind is perceived as the way that God demonstrates His virtue, and a God that will not save mankind is a God in whom virtue is not present. Instead, such a god would be cruel, arbitrary, wicked, and unworthy of man’s regard, let alone service. (Incidentally, these are the neo – Marcionites who insist that the loving merciful doting absent and simple minded senile grandfatherly and powerless except to shower man with benefits God of the New Testament is “so much nicer” than the angry vengeful wrathful demanding God of the Old Testament! Rather than reject that it was the same God that was dealing with mankind in a different way due to different conditions, the basic attitude is that the “good” God the Son and the “good” God the Holy Spirit are a buffer and protection against the “bad” God the Father. Of course, this is why the New Testament church should cease their neglection of the Old Testament, and point out the places where God the Son and God the Holy Spirit made appearances in the Old Testament.)
What does the future hold for these two errors? It is difficult to say. I will say that it appears that elements of both were (and are still) in the Roman Catholic Church and perhaps to a lesser extent in the eastern Orthodox churches that were the dominant expressions of Christianity until the Protestant Reformation. So one could consider that for these errors to greatly multiply would only mean basically returning to where virtually all Christians were before Wittenburg October 31, 1517 (to overstate and oversimplify the importance of Martin Luther by a great deal). At the very least (or perhaps alternatively at most) the multiplication of these errors are playing a huge role in the leaders of evangelicalism advocating what amounts to a fundamental undoing of the Reformation.
So perhaps, then, it is that these errors will simply lead to more and perhaps even bigger errors becoming more widespread in the future.