Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Implications of the Incarnation - The American Vision - by Dr. Joel McDurmon

[From the author’s book, Manifested in the Flesh]
The natural does not ascend to the divine or the supernatural. The bridge is gulfed only by revelation and by the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Salvation therefore is not by man nor by means of man’s politics, or by any other effort of man.[1]
[E]ven now those barbarians who have an innate savagery of manners, while they still sacrifice to the idols of their country, are mad against one another, and cannot endure to be a single hour without weapons:but when they hear the teaching of Christ, straightway instead of fighting they turn to husbandry, and instead of arming their hands with weapons they raise them in prayer.[2]
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (Matthew 28:18)
The fact that the Son of God was manifested in the flesh has far reaching implications. The basic formula of Christ as fully God and fully man extends to the way we understand religion and salvation personally and collectively. God speaks to us through the Mediator, the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5-6, Heb. 1:1-2), the Word made flesh, and through the written Word of the Scriptures. Any attempt by any individual or group of individuals to present some other path, revelation, method of relating to God, or means of salvation, necessarily rejects the truth of God and replaces it with the religion of fallen man—a false incarnation.
The End of Mysticism
Since Christ is both fully man and fully God, a correct understanding of His Incarnation corrects errors on two fronts: those who would diminish His deity and those who would deny his true humanity. The former run into the error of seeing Christ as only a man: a special man, perhaps, but only a man, nonetheless, and therefore, unable to save man from depravity. The opposite error is the subject of my book: the denial of Christ’s humanity. This scenario reduces Christ to a phantom of human imagination. He may be a “god,” but since this god has no historical manifestation, then he suffers the fate of all the gods of human history: he is relegated to mythology. More importantly, since this alleged god cannot reveal himself in history, then it is left to man—each individual man—to define this god as they like.
This “personal Jesus” view is simply another version of what has always been known as “mysticism.” Mysticism is the belief that one only needs to know God through their own inward witness, and not through an objective revelation such as the Scriptures and the Incarnation of Christ. The problem with mysticism is that once the Scriptures and Christ’s perfect humanity have been set aside, the resulting images of God begin to look more and more like the people who make them. Talk of Christ as an historical reality ceases, and talk of “What Christ means to me” grows more popular. Mysticism reduces God to a spirit only, and denies that He has ever entered history in a defining way. Thus the defining is left to the individual; and, as a result, every man creates his own god and his own rules.
Late Oxford professor O. C. Quick explains the dangers of such unguided mysticism. He begins,
We need a guide along the path who is familiar also with the surrounding country. We are on the edge of an abyss, the moment we emphasize the reality of the inner communion with God in such a way that God Himself begins to be represented simply as an inward presence pervading human life or the life the world as a whole.[3]
He continues, exposing the relativistic nature of mysticism:
It is well to assert that the Word of God is very nigh to us, in our mouth and in our hearts, and that He Himself is closer to us than our own bodies. Yet it is fatally easy to pass from that assertion to the thought that we are ourselves divine, that to vex ourselves over sins and limitations is a waste of energy, that all we have to do is realize how great and good we may be—and forthwith the mists of our doubts and the shadows of our failures will vanish in the new light shed by the revelation of our own higher and diviner self.[4]
Notice that the elements which mysticism partakes of parallel those of the mystery religions: exclusive knowledge (of self), enlightenment, and man as divine. All of this becomes a logical option to man the minute we forget that Christ came as the full and perfect revelation of both God and man. The lust to touch God purely through personal inward reflection denies that God has already descended to man, and died in his place.
Mysticism does preserve the all-important spiritual side of religion—that God can and does reveal Himself in a very real way through individual experience and inward witness. But as far as it pursues a direct line to God to the exclusion of Christ’s very real historical manifestation in the flesh, mysticism denies the truth rather than preserves it. In such a case,
we cannot escape the practical result, that the centre of gravity in our religion shifts from our Lord to our own souls. . . . It will be to our own experiences, our own feelings, our own achievements, that we shall turn in our search for communion with God. We shall judge Christ by them, instead of judging them by Christ. The last stage will be reached when we regard the Godhead Itself as no more than an experience of our own; and just when we think we have scaled heaven itself, we shall in reality have done no more than drag down with us into the pit where we have fallen a god of our own imagination. For our religion will be self-centered, and nothing can draw us, out of the morass save the divine compassion of the Savior we have misunderstood.[5]
This “practical result” is the great sin of our era—relativism—and it lies behind the re-emergence of mystery religions, new age movements, self-help-style Church movements, Oprah-book-club-style “spirituality,” and modern Gnostic-like movements that promise that the way to God is found through personal knowledge or personal experience.
The Incarnation of Christ signals the bankruptcy of all pretended mysticism. In order that man have a truer understanding of the nature of God than that available through his own feelings, the Son of God descended and manifested Himself in the flesh. He thereby revealed God perfectly to men, revealed man perfectly to man, and represented man perfectly to God. No individual or organized group of individuals can pretend to have any greater personal experience of God than the simple person of Jesus Christ as revealed in history and, especially now, in the Scriptures. The minutest deviation from the definitive revelation of Jesus Christ is an error of the human heart, and a false path to God.
A recurring theme of modern man is emancipation or liberty. In many of the wars and revolutions of the modern period, the rallying cry involved some notion of freedom or independence. Yet we still have a world of oppression, war, and debt—and these grow as we speak. This is because all modern revolutions have been political at heart, and not ethical. They have aimed to rearrange the conditions of society rather than to renew the hearts of men. Where man seeks to achieve any level of goodness apart from the true revelation of God and man in Jesus Christ, the effort will devolve into some form of coercion or chaos.
Nietzsche’s attempt at replacing Christ with a “higher man” provided following generations with plenty of intellectual ammunition with which to assault Christian liberty. Under the plan of elevating man to a status where he could truly enjoy life, Nietzsche set in motion the wheels of the war machines of human avarice. He, in a sense, saw this coming. He knew that the overthrow of traditional values, which he saw as lies (funny that someone engaging in a war on morality would worry about lies), would mean the end of human peace. He writes,
For when truth enters into a fight with the lies of millennia, we shall have upheavals, a convulsion of earthquakes, a moving of mountains and valleys, the like of which has never been dreamed of. The concept of politics will have merged entirely with a war of spirits; all power structures of the old society will have been exploded—all of them are based on lies: there will be wars the like of which have never yet been seen on earth.[6]
This being first published in 1908, the astute observer will note that history has proven Nietzsche correct in this regard. The war against Christianity has indeed been disastrous on all fronts. This is the inevitable result when man—collective man, governmental man, tyrannous man, machine-gun, tank, helicopter, nuclear missile-armed man—does not submit to a higher divine law, but sets his own law and agenda.
Against all the failures of man, Christ has revealed the true path to human liberty: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-2). The foundation of human liberty is found in following Christ, the living Word of God. Thus, a proper understanding of Christ becomes all too important for social order.[7] By understanding Christ alone as truly divine and yet fully man, entered into history, we deny that either divinity or true humanity can be found in mere human institutions. No individual and no institution—State, school, or church—can claim ultimate authority in the earth. Christ rules all of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), and His Incarnation makes this possible. Where mysticism leaves open the question of God to each individual—of who shall be God incarnate, or who represents God—Christianity claims that Christ is God Incarnate and He represents God. If man answers the question for himself, then some collective agent of man will eventually triumph. It will be either the power of the mob, or the power of a tyrannical state. There will be a higher man, but he will likely be in a black suit with a tax invoice, or in a blue suit with handcuffs and a gun. The State becomes the ultimate representative of man, the highest appeal in the earth, and therefore an incarnate deity. It takes on a messianic role, claiming to provide for the welfare and safety of its people. Men become subjects to the care of the State, rather than free men under God. God provided a way out of human tyranny in the Incarnation of Christ: no State has a legitimate claim to ultimate authority, because Christ is the true King of kings in the earth.
True freedom can only be found in the shadow of God’s wings. Likewise, true safety, welfare and salvation. All of the things that modern man desires, but denies in principle through his self-centered humanism and mysticism, God has provided through Jesus and His teachings. Only when the State bows beneath the rule of the King of kings will men begin again to experience a free society; for only when the power of both individual and collective man is checked by the ethical rule of law will man be free from the haunt of his tyrannous fellows. The Incarnation lays the foundation of this liberty, for only there is man seen as a new creature, able to follow God’s ethics, and only there is God manifest in history so that no other ruler has ultimate authority in the earth.
We must not follow a man-made god, but rather the One true God-made-man. We must not allow human imagination to intrude upon the “express image” of God in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation of the Son of God meets the needs of human salvation and godliness at all levels (2 Pet. 1:3). It exposes the easiness of a mere “inner” spirituality as spiritual laziness and self-centeredness, in that Christ truly manifested in the flesh in history. Thus the mystic must deal with the historical revelation of God before and ever above his own feelings. As well, the Incarnation denies tyranny and demands that all civil rulers reign justly beneath the Prince of the Kings of the earth (Ps. 2:10-12; Matt. 28:18; Rev. 1:5-6). The law of God is revealed as the path of order and peace in the earth, and the lust to rule on the part of mere men is checked by the rule of Christ on earth. If we truly mean it when we pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), then we must take the true understanding of Christ as fully God and fully man, and apply that truth to all of life.