Thursday, October 20, 2011

The redemption of Christ: was his death necessary? # 4 & Final

I give two examples here of groups that became evil when the cross of Christ was neglected. I end with a suggestion about contextulizing the gospel and the cross in a way that helps without denying Christ's redemption.

At this point, in my postings, I will look at an 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 an 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 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 ignored the biblical teaching that Christ has already done the work of overcoming enemies, including 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 of Christians, 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 pure 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 by a revelation, supposedly given to Lila Green, 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]

Aggressive Christianity began with strident and harsh concepts and methodologies devoid of the true meaning of the cross. The outcome led to the abusive destruction of families. Starting from a different direction, a kind of sloppy sentimentality, that divorced Christianity from the orthodox teaching of the cross, helped to shape a violent ideology which engulfed a whole nation.

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, 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] Basically all three denied the necessity of Christ’s redemption bought on the cross.

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, the Nazis. 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?

So to push this question of contextualization deeper, how, for instance, does one go about offering the gospel to Delores Williams who believes “People do not have to attach sacred validation to a bloody cross in order to be redeemed or to be Christians?” She is not asking the same questions that early Jews and Athenians were asking about God, nor is she seeking the same kind of answers the medieval scholastics was when they formulated their theories about atonement. We might start from her questions or even from her weaknesses. We would surely start from her position as one who is an advocate for the needs of Afro-American women, and as one who is concerned for those who are ancestors of slaves.

Williams sees Afro-American women’s survival in the present, as well as the survival of those who were slaves, rooted in their strengths. She believes the cross, understood as sacrifice, harms her position. So she needs to see the cross as neither advocating for slavery nor wimpishness on the part of women. Nevertheless she still needs to see the cross as Christ’s great sacrifice for sinners. She needs a clear picture of God’ holiness, humanity’s sin, and God’s redeeming love.

Paul the Apostle is an example of a Christian who proclaimed the Gospel contextually. In his preaching in Athens he appealed to his listeners using the words of some of their Greek poets. And he used the many gods they worshipped as an opener to speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:22-34) In 1Corinthians 9 verses 19 through 22, Paul speaks of becoming as a Jew, becoming as a Gentile, (those without law) and becoming weak for the sake of the weak, that he, “may by all means save some.” Paul, however, has not denied the Gospel here, he has not compromised the person of Jesus nor found fault with the atonement.

Rather, he is avoiding offending their scruples that he might either bring them to Christ or if they are Christians “win them for greater strength.”[25] But Paul is strong in his emphasis on the doctrines of the faith in particular the cross of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Jesus Christ, the one who is fully God and human, who died for us, who carries our sin away on Himself, who stands before God the Father for us, this is the great offer to the religions and cultures of our day. We must come in a spirit of humbleness and empathy, shedding any of our cultural layers that are contrary to the gospel and harmful to Christ’s message. But we cannot compromise the gospel; we must preach only that good news which is scriptural, the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Those in Christ stand before God robed in the righteousness of Christ enjoying and pleasing their creator because of the death of Christ on the cross. Those in the religious world, including those who call themselves Christians, who deny the cross of Christ, stand without, striving to encounter God, and sometimes accepting a doorway toward evil rather than the One who is the Truth, the Life and the Way. (John 14:6)

[20] For a paper refuting the idea of Christians being demon possessed see, Gunther Juncker, “Doctrines of Demons,” at Naming the Grace, . &   A Brief Analysis of Deliverance Ministry Doctrine  by Dr. Robert Wetmore 

[21] For information on Aggressive Christianity when they existed in Sacramento, see Viola Larson, “Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps,” (Paper also on file at Naming His Grace) This group has moved on. I link here to there new site to the page that is telling- they are more then a New Religion they are a cult-

[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.

[25] Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, revised version, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company 1996) 135-137.


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful series, Viola. Thank you for the time and care you obviously took with this.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

Thanks John,
It has been a long time since I did workshops, (which is where this began) for Evangelical Ministries to New Religions. Presbyterianism keeps me too busy: )

Anonymous said...

"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. "

Simply put, that is ideologically driven faulty reasoning. Completely baseless.

Viola Larson said...


I am not sure if what you wrote was aimed at the liberal theology that led to the German Christians accepting the Nazis or if it was aimed at what I said. Could you be a little clearer and leave your name city and state.

Chris Enoch said...

Viola- what a great series of posts. I have been sharing with my session. Sometimes, I am actually a bit hopeful about the PC(USA; just knowing that there are faithful people such as you in it is helpful.

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

God bless you,


Viola Larson said...


I never thanked you. Sorry, your words help. Blessings back to you.