Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Scripture: Five Examples of Doctrinal Errors that Arise When this Key is not Used.
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (John 5:39, 40)
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" - (1 Tim 2:5)
"The Scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them. Whoever turns aside from this object, even though he wears himself out all his life in learning, he will never reach the knowledge of the truth." - John Calvin
Almost all errors and inconsistencies in our understanding of Bible texts occur when our interpretation is less than Christ-centered. This is foundational. Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. The importance of the Bible (OT & NT) is that it testifies about Jesus Christ (John 1:43-45, Acts 3:18, Acts 17:2-3, 2 Tim 3:14-15,1 Pet 1:10-12, Rom 1:1-3, 16:25-27, Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46).
Jesus never condemned a Pharisee for taking Moses too seriously. They take him far less seriously than they should. For Jesus says, "If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for He write of Me. But if you don't believe His writings, how will you believe My words. Your accuser is Moses." (John 5:46). So to understand Moses is to come to know Christ when He is revealed. Likewise, Abraham saw Jesus' day and was glad, the Bible testifies. And "...foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." (Gal)
Here are some examples of specific doctrinal errors that fail to take into account the above biblical principles ... These are produced by an interpretative grid or presupposition that arises from Christless or less-than-Christocentric views of Scripture. In the following, I wish to give 5 examples of current popular, but erroneous, interpretations, that err simply because they fail to see the centrality of Jesus Christ in their understanding:
1) The False Unbiblical Assertion that Salvation can be Lost
The claim by some that a Christian can actually lose his or her salvation is a prime example of reading Christ out of the text, because the focus becomes your own moral ability rather than Christ. Some erroneously believe that a Christian, after being saved by Christ, can make certain choices that will lead to the loss of their adoption and justification, and thus, their salvation in Christ. In other words, they must, by their own effort, or with the Spirit's help, maintain their just standing before God. With such a view, Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Such a doctrine should immediately make us think of Paul's warning in Galatians: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3) But why is Paul so stern as to call them foolish? Because they have forgotten that Christ and Christ alone has saved them. To think that we can add to Christ's perfect work is to utterly misapprehend the Gospel at its core. For, we ask, is it Jesus or something else which is sufficient to carry you to the end? Any addition to Jesus Christ is to believe that justification is found in something else has forgotten about the centrality of Christ.
So we ask in relation to this doctrine, is it Christ who saves us, or does He merely assist us so we may save ourselves? The warning passages in Hebrews actually warn against this very error. They start by pointing out that Jesus is superior to the angels, to Moses and to the Sacrificial System. The warnings of falling away are actually warnings about going back to something inferior to Christ, like the sacrificial system which only pointed to Christ. To read that a particular sin can make us lose our salvation, is thus, to utterly forget what the context of the Text in Hebrews itself is. So the assertion that a Christian can lose salvation is the first error that we have spotted that arises because Christ was not seen as the ultimate interpretive presupposition. Some other ultimate presupposition guided our exposition.
Synergism is the error that affirms that the natural man can cooperate with God in the regeneration process (the new birth) ...that an unregenerate person has the moral capacity to embrace the Gospel apart from the work of the Spirit changing the heart. Again, remember what our interpretive Key to the Bible is? Jesus Christ. So, in relation to regeneration and conversion, when the gospel is preached, what makes people to differ in their response to it? Does Jesus Christ make us differ or does something else? This "something else" may take various forms; it may be something native to the human constitution (i.e.. Pelagianism) or something alien yet universal (i.e.. Arminianism)? In either case, the point is that it is not Christ that makes the difference. Anyone who claims that the difference arises from one of these something-else's has failed to see first our hopelessness as fallen creatures apart from Christ and second the exclusive sufficiency of Christ's saving work. If I am different than my neighbor because of something other than Jesus Christ, then Christ, whatever role he may play, cannot be central to my understanding of salvation. He is only partly responsible for it. It is the grace we have in Christ that saves, and nothing in addition to it.
3) Four-Point Calvinism
Four-point Calvinism fails the test of Christ-centered interpretation because this view tends to see the TULIP as an abstraction. But the TULIP only works when we see Christ at its center. Consider the TULIP as a chiasm with the "L" at the top of the pyramid. It is Jesus Christ which makes sense of all the doctrines of grace. Four-point Calvinists who reject Limited Atonement but embrace irresistible grace must consider this: Irresistible grace is not some abstract doctrine but must be seen in relation to Jesus Christ, specially in relation to the grace purchased by Christ upon the cross. The Spirit of Christ illuminates, regenerates and effectually brings to faith his elect. And this enabling, effectual grace is, from first to last, Christ-centered. It does not come out of a void, nor from some hidden source of grace in God the Father. Therefore Christ must have died for the elect so as to purchase that grace in a way – a redemptive way – that he did not die for the non-elect. That is why we often call it particular redemption. Irresistible grace is one of the redemptive benefits purchased by Jesus Christ ... and it was never granted to the non-elect nor intended for them. Four point Calvinism not only fails the test of Christocentricity but fails to acknowledge that the Trinity always works in harmony. The Father elects a particular people for himself, Christ dies to secure their redemption and the Holy Sprit unites the same to Christ applying the benefits of Christ's redemption to them. I believe that until Jesus Christ is seen as central to the TULIP then four-pointers will continue to reject the christocentric nature of the Scripture and the gospel is partly distorted as a result.
Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory which, they believe is a purging place where the vast majority of Christians go just after death. Why do they go there? Well, if a person dies with any spot or blemish or stain on their soul, according to RCC, or any impurity, instead of going directly to heaven they must first go to this place of purging which is this intermediate state between earth and heaven. Over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has affirmed that the grace of justification is infused into a person at the time baptism, and that the grace of justification remains intact UNLESS a person commits a mortal sin. This is a sin so serious, according to RCC, that it destroys Christ's justifying grace in the soul. And so a person who commits such a mortal sin, has to be re-justified as it were,, brought again into a state of grace, but this time, not by Christ, but through penance or a purging of their sins through an unknown number of years in Purgatory. Which again accents their belief that Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Rather then, we must work off our sins after death for 1000's of years until it is paid. Where is Christ in all this? Was His work insufficient to cover their sins completely and once for all? To this day, this remains one of the main points of tension between Protestantism and the RCC.
5) Emerging Church (Jesus as Example but not Savior)
The emerging church is another belief system which fails the test of Christocentricity. Although they often pride themselves on being "red-letter" Christians who only want to follow Jesus, most of the time they fail to emphasize any accompanying need for Christ as Savior. The result is that they are preaching only half a Christ with such an overemphasis on the teaching of the kingdom, that they have forgotten to teach people how to get into the kingdom to begin with. In other words, there is great effort to teach Christ as a moral example for us while there is little or no vital teaching that he is Savior. The result of refusing Christ as savior has created a church movement that is highly moralistic and graceless. In the 1980s I remember the Lordship controversy where some were teaching that we could receive Christ as savior but not Lord. Now in the emerging church we have the opposite error: those who want to yield to Christ's kingdom Lordship but the refusal to yield to him as Savior. Of course if one truly yielded to Christ's Lordship they would believe in him as Savior as well. But Few things could be more arrogant than to read the Sermon on the Mount and fail to see our moral inability to live up to it and the consequent necessity of a bloody atonement to bear the punishment for our rebellion.
We cannot bifurcate Jesus into two halves. The gospel is not an either/or supposition where we can see Jesus as a moral example but not see our spiritual bankruptcy and desperate need of His saving grace. This is a failure to confess that Christ lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserve. The gospel is first declarative - that is, it is news about something God has already done for us. It is not, "preach the gospel, use words if necessary." The declaration of God's accomplishment for us will indeed make us want to live for him due to joy, but we cannot make an idol out of our self-salvation project or simply become "Jesus followers" without seeing we can do nothing, including believe the gospel and be subjects of his kingdom, apart from his saving work. As a recent example of this problem: A friend of mine attends an emerging church in our area was telling me about a baptism where two girls confessed their newly found faith. They spoke glowingly about how the life of Jesus as a model way to live but spoke nothing of the fact that they were broken sinners justly deserving the wrath of God save for Christ's mercy alone. My friend went to ask the elders about this after the baptism, and in following up with these girls, they discovered that they had not understood this aspect at all. Listen, if any person does not understand this basic, foundational truth of our sin and Jesus Christ as Savior from God's wrath then they have not understood the gospel, period. I am afraid most emerging churches commit this grievous error, and while there may be true Christians in them, the teaching is largely unChristian. Unless we renounce all self-sufficiency and recognize that we deserve God's just wrath save for Christ's mercy, arrogance in our own ability and merit can only result. But God's wrath for man's sin is denied by false teachers like Rob Bell with teachings like his popular "the god's are not angry tour". The error of the emerging church is that it emphasizes what we can do for God, not what He has already done for us in Christ. But the gospel is not advice about how to live but it is news of One who did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Each of these above five errors (and many others like them) occurs when the our hermeneutic - our ultimate presupposition - is not Jesus Christ.
Fact is, it is the doctrine of 'grace alone' in Jesus which enables us to see that we are no better than our unbelieving skeptical neighbor - because we are just like them. Salvation by grace alone because of what Jesus has done for us has set us apart (with nothing to boast of in ourselves) and it enables us to minister to others because we have just about everything in common with other sinners like ourselves. We are beggars leading other beggars to bread, that is, the bread called Jesus. Speaking about Christocentric ministry Tim Keller says: "The gospel of grace leads us to be: humble, without moral superiority knowing we were saved by grace [alone], gracious, remembering our former deserved spiritual poverty, and respectful of believing poor Christians as brothers and sisters from whom to learn. The gospel alone can bring "knowledge workers" into a sense of humble respect for and solidarity with the poor ... All problems, personal or social come from a failure to use the gospel [Jesus as central] in a radical way. All pathologies in the church and all its ineffectiveness comes from a failure to use the gospel in a radical way. Avoiding the excesses of the dispensationalist, charismatic, or mainline liberal churches (who all lose the balance of the gospel truth in different ways), a gospel-centered church will break stereotypes and shine brightly in the city."