Many Christians have a desire to go back to the first years after Jesus to find the purest form of Christianity. There is even a push to change the way many Christians have often spoke about the Bible as the foundation of the faith. Not to minimize the importance of scripture, but to get back to living the faith in a way that the first Christians did before there was a Bible.
The sermon series by Andy Stanley at Northpoint Church in Atlanta, is currently focused on this perspective. The idea is that Christians are misrepresenting the real reason why people should believe in Jesus. Every time someone says that they believe something because “the Bible tells me so”, they are succumbing to this misleading ideology. They are, in effect, putting their faith in what the Bible says, when they should be putting their faith in the actual event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. After all, isn’t that really what our faith is based upon?
But here’s the kicker, every generation, since the time of Jesus, has failed to live up to the true purpose of Jesus message. According to Andy, we have always been infected by rules, and laws, and misinterpretations of Christ’s intention to free us completely from the Laws of the Old Covenant, and to embrace the Law of Love. All we need to do is ask ourselves every moment of every day, “what does Love require of me?” If we would do that, we would be at peace, and Christ’s mission will be fulfilled in us.
The purpose of NorthPoint Church is to provide a place of worship that is “less detached from the real world”. The goal is to be less offensive to people, and to “make it easier for people to embrace faith.”
So what’s wrong with Andy’s message? Should we be concerned about this new style of Christianity?
On the surface, everything he says make perfect sense and is true. The first Christians didn’t have a New Testament. Jesus did fulfill the old law and gave us the Law of Love. We should always act from a heart of Love. But the conclusions he draws from these truths do not hold water once they are drawn out.
Let’s start with his assumptions about the early Christians. Although it is true that they did not have the New Testament, and that they did not base their teachings off of the NT, they did in fact pass on “either by word of mouth or by tradition” the things that Jesus taught them, according to St. Paul. But if we are to be consistent with Andy’s philosophy, then why are we instructed to Repent and be Baptized? This seems to be just another rule to follow. Does love really require me to be Baptized? Shouldn’t this just be an optional ritual?
If Northpoint truly wants to rid itself of all obstacles that might push unbelievers away, wouldn’t you want to avoid the ritual of baptism? After all, that is the reasoning behind not having religious art around the building, or having communion every service, or a litany of other “rituals” that are avoided because they might offend someone. Yet Baptism remains. On what basis? I would assume it is because that is the one “ritual” that could not be comfortably avoided without feeling like scripture is being contradicted. Yet the very nature of Baptism is itself up for debate. Is it simply a sign of my faith in Christ? Or is it a sacramental act necessary for salvation under normal circumstances? If it is simply a sign, then why require it at all? Seems to go against the whole message of Christ fulfilling the old ways where Laws and Rules and Traditions were the thing.
The inconsistency in the message is the problem. He’s willing to take the All Love no Laws thing to a point, but he himself can’t seem to commit to it fully, because it eventually pits him against his current interpretation of scripture itself. That’s where he ends up just being another preacher in a long line of innovative preachers who come up with, what they think, is the problem with Christianity, and that they have discovered the missing link that is superior to all other attempts to find the best form of Christianity.
The ironic part is that this is nothing new. It will grab a-lot of attention like the megachurch movement did for a while, like the Jesus Movement did for a while, like many other movements did…..for a while.
I would also have to ask this question, what good is Love without rules? What does Love require of us? It requires that we follow it’s rules. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Do not commit adultery. Do Not Steal. etc, etc. Jesus said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Finally, I have to comment on the picture that Andy gives of the early Church. He has said that the problem with the Christians is that they kept trying to hold on to the traditions and laws of their past. This is how he explains away the injection of Creeds and Rituals, and basically the whole “Sacramental Theology” of the Church. These things were all a misinterpretation of Jesus’ teachings.
So basically, Andy is saying that he knows better then the first Christians like Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Clement of Rome, who all were in support of Infant Baptism, Baptismal Regeneration (actually washes away sin), Eucharist, and Apostolic Succesion, etc. But let’s just say Andy is right when he assumes that the Church misinterpreted Christ’s message and started all of these rituals because they were trying to hold on to their Jewish ways (even though many of them were not Jewish, but Gentiles), isn’t it odd that nobody figured this out for 2,000 years? Finally, God revealed his true plan through Andy. Or……..
Perhaps, when Jesus said “I will build my Church” he actually meant that the Church was something that would start with Peter and the Apostles, and would grow and develop, and expand all over the world, just like the Catholic Church has done. Perhaps, the Fathers of the Church weren’t all wrong to expound on the teachings of Christ through the development of doctrine, revealing more and more of what the Church was meant to be generation after generation. Perhaps, Andy, after 500 years of protestant churches splitting up by the thousands, realized that he needed a brand new approach, and the only way to separate himself from becoming just another denomination, was to separate himself from the Bible and it’s many interpretations, and focus more on the message of Love and the Resurrection.
You can’t really separate your christianity from your doctrine. Does he still hold the Trinity? Why? Because of the Bible? Not according to Andy. We are suppose to stop saying I believe it because the Bible tells me so. Then how do you know what to believe? Seems to me that you need more than a preacher or a Bible, you need an authoritative Church, established by Christ, upon which the gates of hell will not prevail. A Church of Bishops that passed down the teachings of Christ orally at first, and then also by letter. A Church that then gathered together at council after council to eventually determine which letters were inspired, mostly determined by the fact that they were being read at the Mass of the Christians before they received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Something the disciples of the Apostle John did themselves receive! Even the Apostle Peter said “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism wasn’t just a public expression of ones faith, it was “for the remission of sins” according to Peter.
In conclusion, sometimes the simplest answer isn’t always the right one. So instead of following someone who just recently figured out a new way to live for God, perhaps we should be looking more closely to the way that has sustained billions of Christians over the last 2,000 years. If there was a better version of the faith, similar to Andy’s, in the first centuries, history doesn’t acknowledge it, and the early Christian martyrs of the Church didn’t seems to know anything about it. In fact, they gladly gave up their lives for others to make sure that the Truths of Christianity were maintained and passed on. Without them, Christianity according to Andy would not exist. If this is the first time in 2,000 years that anyone has properly interpreted Christianity, then I think we have to be concerned about what God was doing that whole time.