Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 4

At this point I will look at one example of a new religious group and how their misunderstanding or neglect of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross caused irrefutable harm. In their very early beginnings in Sacramento, California, Aggressive Christianity, at first known as Free Love Ministries, began by putting more emphasis on demonology and a aberrant teaching known as “Manifested Sons of God,” than on the scriptural teaching of salvation by grace because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

According to Jim and Lila Green, founders of the group, the sins of humanity were in some ways caused by demon possession.20 They also believed that a group of people more spiritual than the average Christian would arise in the last days to overcome God’s enemies and death. This is the manifested Sons of God teaching. The Greens, of course, forgot that Christ has already done the work of overcoming enemies and death on the cross. We live in the already, not yet time, united to Him, waiting for our complete salvation. (Col. 2:13-15)

Both of these teachings, Manifested Sons of God and demon possession, negate the grace of Christ’s death on the cross. That is because both teachings use humans and techniques to rid humanity of sin and problems. For Aggressive Christianity righteousness comes by removing demons from bodies and by becoming more spiritual. They believe that any encounter with God happens through a deeper spirituality and knowledge that is arrived at by such religious techniques as praying in tongues for several hours and fasting for excessively long times.

In order to keep new converts to Aggressive Christianity purer and free from demons, they were encouraged to move into the group’s commune and to not communicate with their families. Eventually several wives were branded as demon possessed and spiritually dead. They were made to live in a small shed and expected to do heavy labor. Their husbands were separated from then and encouraged to have nothing to do with them. One small boy was tied to his mother’s leg while she worked since it was revealed that he also was demon possessed.

Thankfully one of the women walked away and sued the group, which ended their time in Sacramento. This group divorced their concept of Christianity from any real work of grace. 21
On the one hand, Aggressive Christianity began with strident and harsh concepts and methodologies devoid of the true meaning of the cross. And the outcome led to the abusive destruction of families. On the other hand, a kind of sloppy sentimentality, that divorced Christianity from the orthodox teaching of Christianity, helped to shape a far more violent ideology. Nineteenth century liberal theology in Germany developed a theology that was devoid of many orthodox Christian doctrines.

To Friedrich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) the father of liberal theology, human consciousness or experience led to knowing God. And that knowledge based on experience was intended to lead to an understanding that Christianity was the highest form of religion. The emphasis was on experience and the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity; original sin and the need for a cross were eliminated. Adolf Harnack (1851-1930) insisted that “the whole Jesus’ message may be reduced to these two heads—God as the Father, and the human soul so ennobled that it can and does unite with him--” 22

Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) who William Placher describes as ‘the leading theologian of the ‘history of religions,’ posited a view of religion which insisted that various religions were shaped and held by differing national groups due to their religions dependence on “the intellectual, social, and national conditions among which it exists.” He did not invalidate other religions but rather insisted that the various religions and civilizations connected the people to various experiences of God in different ways. Troeltsch saw European culture as a product of a “deorientalized Christianity.”23

This easy theology, devoid of serious Christology, atonement, or any other important Christian doctrine was a seedbed ready for the German Christians to spring from. Arthur C. Cochrane in his book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, writes:

The “German Christians,” regarded from the standpoint of Christian faith, were a liberal, nationalistic sect which, at the initiative of the National Socialist Party, formed a union of various schools and groups. These schools and groups, in spite of all differences, were united in their nationalistic tendencies and liberal Christianity.24 (Emphasis mine)

In an attempt to make love and brotherhood the basic doctrines of a reconstituted Christianity Liberal theologians and church leaders backed one of the most tyrannical rulers in history. Walking through a door that eliminated the holiness of God, the sinfulness of humanity and the cross of Jesus Christ, they had no way of comprehending the great evil that was on the other side. They joined forces with what some have seen as the greatest cultic movement in contemporary times.

Interestingly enough the views of this liberal Christianity began with attempts to do apologetics with people involved in enlightenment thinking and then with the Romantic Movement. Which means in contextualing the gospel for a different or diverse culture one should proceed with great care. How do we proclaim the good news to the many diverse new and old theologies and religions in such a way that they will hear the message? How do we do this without leaving behind the truth of God’s word?

20 For a paper refuting the idea of Christians being demon possessed see, Gunther Juncker, “Doctrines of Demons,” at Naming the Grace,
21 For information on Aggressive Christianity when they existed in Sacramento, see Viola Larson, “Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps,” Noticing this link is gone I am replacing it with this
. (Paper also on file at Naming the Grace) For an excellent update taken from El Paso Times see,

22 Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity, in Placher, Readings, 150.
23 Ernst Troeltsch, “The Place of Christianity Among the World Religions,” in Placher, Readings, 154,155.
24 Arthur C. Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1962), 74.

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