He who accepted death as the wages of sin--and by that act vindicated His sinlessness--was not able to be holden of death; His life had to swallow up death and did swallow it. And this is God's grace: that what we see as the end of all humanity, in so far as it is ours, is nothing else than the infirmity of age, the hospital, the battlefield, the graveyard, decomposition or ashes--but, in so far as it is the humanity of Jesus Christ, what we see at the same time just as definitely, nay, much more definitely, is nothing but resurrection and eternal life.
God, Grace and Gospel
Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers No. 8
What Gate of Hell Stands Just Ahead?
What Gate of Hell Stands Just Ahead?
Theologian, Arthur C. Cochrane, writes of an interesting train ride taken by Karl Barth and Dr. Hermann Hesse. Dr. Hesse, who became a member of the Confessing Church Movement, was one of three in a committee writing a constitution for the German Evangelical Church, an attempt at a church union during the years of Hitler. Dr. Hesse and the two other theologians invited Ludwig Muller, an advocate, for the German Christians, the heretical movement of the day, to be a part of the group. They were attempting to protect the church by compromise. In the midst of all the politics and troubles Muller and the German Christians were creating, Hesse called on Barth. Hesse states:
In my utter helplessness I telephoned Karl Barth and asked him to go with me to Berlin. It was July 3, 1933. We met in the train at Hamm. [This may refer to Hamburg] Barth put into my hand a pamphlet and said: `Read that!' … It was entitled Theological Existence Today. I read and read while the professor paced up and down the train. It was an attack upon us three men, upon the `German Christians,' and the Young Reformation Movement. All of us were accused because of our natural theology. As I read, the scales fell from my eyes. Here lay my mistake since my early days under Schlatter! Besides Holy Scripture, another side of revelation had been authoritative for me, namely, nature. When I had finished reading, I was deeply moved. I could only give the professor my hand and say: 'You are right! I am grateful to you for everything!' Then began for me through God's great grace a whole new era.1
Barth's conclusion about the struggle of the Church in Germany at this time was that even if the hated “Aryan paragraph”* was defeated the problem would still remain. The problem was the failure of modern Protestantism to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God's final revelation. Barth believed that that problem had simply “broken out in the `German Christians' though not first or only in them.”2 The German Christians began with a theological stance that embraced both Liberal theology and Nationalism. As liberal Christians they accepted a revelation of God in nature but rejected a great deal of Scripture. As Germans they embraced the “Nation” as their most important identity. Because they believed revelation was grounded not only in Jesus Christ but also in the events of history and the nation, they rejected the Old Testament, Paul, the doctrine of original sin and justification by faith. 3 They understood “nation or blood” to be as important as Jesus Christ and therefore excluded any doctrine that stood in the way of nation.
That is an old battle and of course the Church, which followed Jesus Christ alone, was faithful, in ministry, prison and death, and in ministry after World War II. Sadly, Satan never leaves the Church alone. After the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness the scriptures state the devil “departed from Him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13b) There is a growing movement in the church today that is also founded on other revelations that have their focus in nature and events rather than Christ. Not the soil and blood of one nation as in Germany, not the event of one leader arising in a nation to act as a savior akin to Hitler, but still a focus in nature and events that have began to supersede Jesus Christ as Lord.
This new revelation that is based in nature rather than God's Word, has to do with life forces, which are considered sacred; the life forces are found in relationships, community, connections and sexuality. To the German Christians Jesus was the heroic figure, not the savior; to the new heretical movement He is part of the community but not Christ and certainly not the savior. To the German people, the volk, (somewhat like our community), was elevated to a religious status and considered a part of revelation. To the new movement, community, relationships, connectedness and sexuality are revelatory. Any biblical doctrine that stands in the way of the advocates of the new movement is eliminated or changed, but the important point to remember here is that this is a movement grounded in a revelation that is not biblical.
I will look at the beliefs of those who support an unbiblical/ immoral sex life for Christians as well as those who promote Radical Feminist theology. I believe that advocates for these two views, as they support each other, tend to merge into one movement. Sexuality, one of the places of extra-biblical revelation, is referred to as “the Sacred Mystery” in the title of an article in the Presbyterian magazine Horizons.4 Likewise, James B. Nelson, who insists that Jesus is not the unique Christ and sees him merely sharing the “Christic reality” with everyone, believes “the orgasmic sexual experience brings its own revelation.” Speaking of the two different aspects of the orgasmic male sexual experience he writes:
Both are deeply grounded in a man's bodily reality. Both dimensions of life are fully present when a man is most human. And to be fully human is to know the Christ-not as supernatural invader but as that reality truest to our own natures, and as that reality which intimately connects us with everyone and everything else. 5
Rita Nakashima Brock, who believes that “revelatory and saving events of Christianity” must be found in “a larger reality than Jesus and his relationship to God/dess or any subsequent individual Christ,” finds revelation in community and connectedness. 6 Brock states: “The reality of erotic power [her understanding of God] within connectedness means it cannot be located in a single individual. Hence what is truly christological, that is, truly revealing of divine incarnation and salvific power in human life, must reside in connectedness and not in single individuals.”7 Notice it is connectedness that brings revelation not Jesus Christ. Brock's only real reference to deity is her term “erotic power.” She sees this as the power of life and also calls it feminist Eros. She writes, “its manifold forms create and emerge from heart, that graceful, passionate mystery at the center of ourselves and each other.”8 In this new way of understanding Christianity all biblical doctrine is erased.
Carter Heyward, who states she is “not much of a theist," believes that God is “power in relation.” She believes “power in relation is sacred because it holds us together far beyond our capacities to imagine and because we can draw upon this power, taking it in, embodying it, bringing it to life again and again in the world.” 9 Believing that all images of Jesus, even biblical ones, “are culturally and politically derived,”10 Heyward posits a new definition of Jesus. She does this giving spiritual authority to human experience “as relational beings.” Heyward considers such experience a “sacred source.” She writes: “This Christology originates in the `meetings' of larger and smaller, the world of others' experiences and my own experiences in the world.”11 Of Jesus, Heyward writes:
Jesus was divine in the same way we all are-together, in mutual relation with our sisters and brothers. No one of us alone is “God.” God is the Holy Spirit connecting our lives, moving with us and through us.
God is our Sacred Power for healing and liberation. God was Jesus' sacred power as well.12
The books and materials of this movement contain few differences in regard to the essentials of their belief. According to most of these advocates, Jesus Christ is not the final word to the Christian Church. And the Church, her Lord, her martyrs and confessors are nothing compared to their “new theologies.” In contrast to such heretical teaching, God's word gives all the authority to Jesus Christ. He is the only sacred mystery, and that mystery is made known in the words of Scripture. (Colossians 1:26-28)
He is Lord over our sexuality. In Jesus Christ, God's unique and final revelation, we understand that our sexuality is a gift meant for men and women in marriage. What Jesus had to say about marriage is the Christian's standard: “He answered, `Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female,' and said for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” Although we know that God created humanity, male and female, in the image of God, we cannot truly understand either our sexuality or who God is without knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. The Father is eternally the Father of Jesus Christ and we understand Him to be our Father when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord. In obedience to God the Father, to Jesus Christ our Lord and to the Holy Spirit we receive the gift of our sexuality maintaining a life of holiness both within marriage and singleness.
He is Lord over our community, our connections and our relationships. The Church is our first community if we are Christians. But without Christ it is only a community. We are reminded in the New Testament that Peter's faith that Jesus was the Christ was the foundation of the Church and that it was Jesus who would build His Church. (Matt.16: 15-20) We are also reminded that, “the gates of Hell will not prevail” against the Church of Christ. On the other hand, when the understanding of community and Christ is turned upside down and the community invents a different Christ the gates of hell will certainly invade the community. If that should happen that community would not be the Church.
In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out the necessity of the community being a spiritual community. By this he means the community based on the “manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ.” Using the terms “human community of spirit” and “community of Spirit” he makes a distinction between a community brought together by human contrivances and that that is built on the Word of God. He writes:
It is the deep night that hovers over the sources of all human action, even over all noble and devout impulses. The community of the Spirit is the fellowship of those called by Christ; human community of spirit is the fellowship of devout souls. In the community of the Spirit there burns the bright love of brotherly service, agape; in human community of spirit there glows the dark love of good and evil desire, eros. In the former there is ordered, brotherly service, in the latter disordered desire for pleasure; in the former humble subjection to the brethren; in the latter humble yet haughty subjection of a brother to one's own desire. In the community of the Spirit the Word of God alone rules; in human community of spirit there rules, along with the Word, the man who is furnished with exceptional powers, experience, and magical, suggestive capacities. There God's Word alone is binding; here, besides the Word, men bind others to themselves.13
There is today a sifting happening in the mainline denominations. As always and as usual the weeds (tares) and the wheat are growing together, but nonetheless, there is a kind of judgment happening that is not unlike the time of harvest when the grain is sifted in order to remove the chaff from the wheat. Some may leave the mainline denominations but that is not necessary since God, himself, will do his work of shifting. The call for renewal as well as the call for a missional church can only be accomplished under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As some in the church reject that Lordship they will remove from themselves the, "bright love of brotherly service,"as well as the "ordered brotherly service." They will lose the authority of the Word of God and will be left with human authority that often rends and tears destroying the compassion and mercy that the saving work of Christ bestows on humanity. But the sheep are safe hidden under the Word and held together in a fellowship of brothers and sisters who rejoice in the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
This gate of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Not because those who confess Christ are perfect, (they are not), not because they are greater in number, (they may not be), but because Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. Jesus will build His Church, strengthening His children and calling into repentance both the faithful and those who dwell in the shadow of Hell's gate. The Church stands under the Lord Jesus Christ.
By Viola Larson
* The Aryan paragraph was an insistence that only Aryan's could belong to the German Church, thus effectively excluding Jewish Christians from the Church. The Declaration of Barmen addressed this issue and the Confessing Church refused to obey such a law as the Aryan paragraph within the Church.
1 Arthur C. Cochrane, The Church's Confession Under Hitler (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1962) 103,4.
2 Karl Barth, Lutherfeier 1933, in Ibid. 119.
3 Ibid. Chapter 3, “The Rise of the `German Christians.'
4 S.L. Walker, “Interpreting the Sacred Mystery: One Women Shares Her Personal Theology of God's Gift of Sexuality” Horizons
, July/August 2001, 15. The writer advocates sexual experiences before marriage if the relationship consists of “deep commitment, loving care and faithful expression.” For a good review see, Robbi Telfer, “Horizons Review: July/August,” www.vow.org/horizonsreview-11.html
5 James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow, Eds. Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press 1994) 213,14.
6 Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power, (New York; Crossroad 2000) 69.
7 Ibid. 52.
8 Ibid. 25.
9 Carter Hayward, Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right: Rethinking What It Means To Be Christian, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1999) 5.
10 Ibid. 17.
11 Ibid. 34, 36.
12 Ibid. 66.
13 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: A discussion of Christian Fellowship, (San Francisco: Harper & Row 1954) 31,32.