Friday, May 19, 2006

The Almost Christian

I once asked a leader of a megachurch in Singapore, “Do you know the fundamentals of the Christian faith?”

He replied emphatically, “Christianity is all about Christ. I know Jesus, and that’s enough for me. It’s love that matters. Don’t talk to me about doctrine. Talk to me about Christ, and Christ alone.”

This megachurch leader reminded me of a worship service I attended more than a decade ago. That worship began with a blaring cacophony rivalled only by the most jarring rock band in Asia. As the drumbeat builds up to a crescendo, the worshippers trembled violently as if a thousand volts were passing through their bodies. Some jumped and gyrated like cobras enchanted by the tune of the pipe. Hands were waving wildly like willows in the wind; faces were flushed as in an apoplectic rage.

Suddenly, the worship leader muttered an incantation, “God loves you! Show Him that you love Him too!” The mesmerized audience responded with twitching eyelids and flipping, dishevelled hair. This was accompanied by the ear-piercing shrieks of unintelligible sounds and babbles thought to be the manifestation of the Spirit. The sequence of worship was repeated for 2 whole hours in different rhythms: samba, rumba, slow rock and bossa nova. Even a short rap session performed by a group of teenagers was squeezed between songs.

Noticeably, the audience were entranced. But most of all, the worshippers felt worshipful. Amidst the drumbeats, the waving hands and the nodding heads, the worshippers could feel an ambience of love, as though God loved them - acne, warts, and all.

The lights were dimmed. A man in suit started a sermonette on the topic of “love.” His theology is uncomplicated, and could possibly be summarized in three words: God is love. He preached that Christians ought to love indiscriminately. Even the God he described was an adorable, sensitive, and “a very nice guy.” Not very much like Jehovah of the Old Testament, he says. “God is concerned with salvation, not revenge!” “God is love, my friends. So how can a loving God send anyone to hell?” “Jesus loves you, no matter what you do.” I saw tears flowing down the cheeks of those in the auditorium. But if God really loves man no matter what man does, He is not the God of the Bible, isn’t He?

The preacher went on to give his treatise on Christology. Once again, his doctrine of Christ is relatively straightforward. It can be summarized in a sentence: “Jesus loves you.” And “you” refers to “whosoever is listening to his sermon.” His Jesus is a sentimental Jesus, an effeminate God-Man who tries very hard to woo sinners to Himself. This Jesus probably had bushy eyebrows, thick lips and epicene features. Most crucially, this Jesus loves everybody, and knows nothing of hell. If there were really hell fire, this loving Jesus would make an ice cube so huge even He cannot lift it. And the rich man in hell wouldn’t be asking Lazarus for a drink. There will be a cocktail bar not too far down the street.

Jesus, according to him, is the greatest entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). He is the CEO of the largest organization on Earth – the church. The pope and bishops are His trusted henchmen. And tithing is the best investment shareholders can make in this company. The most naturally thing to do – of course, for the successful deputy CEO – is to urge all shareholders to empty their pockets into the company’s investments.

Unfortunately, the lovey-dovey CEO called Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible.

This is the Christ of an “almost Christian”, and the God of an almost Christianity. The “almost Christian” believes in an almost Jesus. But that almost Jesus does not save. Likewise, the almost Jesus’ of Mormonism, Armstrongism, Jehovah Witness, Romanism and Liberalism do not save.

The journey of faith must never be devoid of Truth. True faith is based upon sound knowledge and doctrine. Sound doctrine is based upon the Word of God, and genuine faith enables the Christian to delight in sound doctrine. Bishop J.C. Ryle once commented, “You can talk about Christian experience all you wish, but without doctrinal roots it is like cut flowers stuck in the ground - it will wither and die.”

My sister once worshipped in a mega-church in Singapore. But when the theatrics no longer conjure up those sentimental feelings, the mind is left with a chasm too wide for any stage histrionics to bridge. Paul said, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).” This lack of knowledge was eventually filled with a mawkish, New Age positivism. And Theism was replaced with her newfound New Age Pantheism.

Aidan W. Tozer warned, “The unattended garden will soon be overrun with weeds; the heart that fails to cultivate truth and root out error will shortly be a theological wilderness.”

My sister remains till this day a victim of a “zeal of God” which is not according to knowledge and sound doctrine. She was an almost Christian. But an almost Christian is tragically not a bona fide Christian.

Many benighted souls like my sister may eventually join the ranks of the “almost Christians” in church history, together with Balaam the prophet, Jehu the king, and Judas the apostle. Sadly, the world hates them, because they were almost Christians. And God hates them, because they are but hypocrites and deceivers. Ultimately, they deceive themselves unto eternal perdition.

I shall conclude with a sobering thought from B. H. Carroll:

“A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness.

The modern cry: 'Less creed and more liberty,' is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy--it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.

Just so it is not good discipline that created backsliding and other sins of Christians. But discipline is oftentimes the only means of saving a church. To hold to discipline for immoralities and relax it on doctrine puts the cart before the horse and attempts to heal a stream while leaving the fountain impure. To Christ and the apostles false creeds were the most deadly things, and called most for the use of the knife. . . .

Again, I solemnly warn the reader against all who depreciate creeds, or who would reduce them to a minimum of entrance qualifications into the church.” (An Interpretation of the English Bible: Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews, pp. 140-41, 150)


ddd said...

I agree. I just can envision the time when we can and must cut ourselves off totally from the mainstream Protestant churches in 'Christendom', and consign them to the same status as the Romanist heretics. To these churches, when they have come to a stage whereby they are filled up to the brim with all manners or heresies and wickedness, Anathema sit!

Sze Zeng said...

Yup. That's the dimension our megachurches bro & sis lack of.