RC Sproul On Christ And Antichrist(s)

There are so many portraits of Jesus in the galleries of this world that it seems hopeless to clarify the confusion they have wrought in people’s minds about who Christ is. So many conflicting images of him are put forward that some people have despaired of achieving an accurate picture of his true identity.

We need Christ. We need a real Christ. A Christ born of empty speculation or created to squeeze into the philosopher’s pattern simply won’t do. A recycled Christ, a Christ of compromise can redeem no one. A Christ watered down, stripped of power, debased of glory, reduced to a symbol or made impotent by scholarly surgery is not Christ but Antichrist.

The “anti” of Antichrist can refer either to the prefix against or the prefix instead of. In language there is a difference; in life it is a distinction without a difference because to supplant the real Jesus with a substitute portrait is to work against Christ. To change or distort the real Christ is to oppose him with a false Christ.

No person in history has provoked as much study, criticism, prejudice, or devotion as Jesus of Nazareth. The titanic influence of this man makes him a chief target of the arrows of criticism and a prime object of revision according to the interpreter’s prejudice. The historical Jesus has suffered the fate of the waxed-nose figure. His portrait has been altered to suit the fancy of those seeking to line him up on their side, to make of him an ally in a host of militant causes, many of which are mutually exclusive. In the theologian’s laboratory Jesus can become a chameleon. His skin changes color to fit the backdrop painted by the theologian. Rigorous academic attempts have been made to get behind the New Testament portrait of Jesus, to discover the “real” historical Jesus. These attempts to penetrate the wall of history, to peek behind the veil of the primitive apostolic witness have taught us much about the prejudice of the scholars but have added little or nothing to our understanding of the real Jesus. What the scholars discovered behind the veil was a mirror of their own prejudice and a Jesus created in their own images. The nineteenth-century liberals found a “liberal” Jesus; the existentialists found an existential hero; and the Marxists discovered a political revolutionary. Idealists found an idealistic Jesus and pragmatists discovered a pragmatic Christ. To search behind or beyond the New Testament is to go on a snipe hunt armed with the flashlight of pride and prejudice.

…Unbelief is judged by Jesus not as an intellectual error but as a hostile act of prejudice against God himself. It is this sort of unbelief that is destructive to the church and to the people of God.

Redefining Christianity is no easy task. Christianity has been given definition by two weighty factors: (l) the existence of a body of literature, indeed primary sources about the founder and teacher of the Christian faith, Jesus of Nazareth; (2) the existence of two millennia of church tradition which includes points of disagreement about particular issues of debate among denominations, but which reveals remarkable unity of confession about the essentials of Christianity. To redefine Christianity requires one to neutralize the authority of the Bible and relativize the authority of the creeds. The struggle of the church for the past 150 years has been precisely at these two points. It is not by accident that the eye of the storm of controversy within the seminaries and the church in our day has focused on issues concerning the Bible and the creeds. Why? Not simply because of words and paper but because of Christ. One must banish the Christ of the Bible and the Christ of the creeds in order to redefine Christianity.

The church is called “the body of Christ.” Some refer to it as “the continuing Incarnation.” Surely the church exists to embody and carry out the mission of Christ. The church is inconceivable without Christ. But the church is not Christ. It is founded by Christ, formed by Christ, commissioned by Christ, and endowed by Christ. It is ruled by Christ, sanctified by Christ, and protected by Christ. But it is not Christ. The church can preach salvation and nurture the saved, but it cannot save. The church can preach, exhort, rebuke, and admonish against sin. It can proclaim the forgiveness of sin and give theological definition to sin: but the church cannot atone for sin.

It was St. Cyprian who declared, “He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the church for his Mother.” We need the church as much as a starving baby needs his mother’s milk. We cannot grow or be nourished without the church. Possessing Christ and despising the church is an intolerable contradiction which none can bear. We cannot have Christ without embracing the church. But it is possible to have the church without truly embracing Christ. St. Augustine described the church as a corpus permixtum, a “mixed body” of tares and wheat, of unbelievers and believers existing side by side. Unbelief can gain entrance into the church—but never into Christ.

The Christ we believe, the Christ we trust, must be true if we are to be redeemed. A false Christ or substitute Christ cannot redeem. If it is thought unlikely that the biblical Christ can redeem, it is even less likely that the speculative Christ of human invention can redeem. Apart from the Bible we know nothing of consequence concerning the real Jesus. Ultimately our faith stands or falls with the biblical Jesus. Lay aside theories of biblical inspiration if you must, doing so at your own peril, but even apart from inspiration the New Testament represents the primary sources—the earliest documents of those who knew him, the record of those who studied under him and were eyewitnesses to his ministry. They are the most objective historical sources we have.*

*Sproul, R. (1996). Following Christ. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. For some reason Logos Bible Software is not allowing me to see the page numbers of the quotes. However, all quotes can be found in chapter 1 titled “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”

About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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