An examination and critique of the current state of Christianity in America, which shows the pervasive influences of Pelagianism and Gnosticism–these heresies are closer than you think.
Michael Horton had me at “Joel Osteen.” I was blown away by the incisiveness of Christless Christianity, a stunning work that made me so, so thankful to be attending a church deeply rooted in Reformation orthopraxis.
The first section of the book deals with the prosperity gospel, looking at Osteen and others of his ilk who preach that God wants good things for you, but who never mention Jesus or the cross in any of their sermons. Horton shows that the “easy” road that these teachers proclaim is actually just another form of legalism. All you have to do to live the good life is to follow God and be a good person. God helps those who help themselves. The onus of salvation rests squarely on our shoulders. God does not come down to us; we build a stairway to him. This is Pelagianism, which says that we must play a part in our own redemption. The reformers (Calvin and Luther, etcetera) countered this heresy by preaching that salvation is by grace alone–we do nothing.
The second section of the book delves into the Emergent church and public spokesmen like Jim Wallis and Rick Warren, those who preach that churches are to take up where Jesus left off, and continue to redeem the world. This is the “living gospel” or “deed without creed.” Horton explains how these teachings betray Gnostic tendencies that elevate human beings above God.
Even more important in this section was Horton’s depiction of the church as a place where believers come to be served by God through the sacraments and the Word. Too often the modern church becomes another workplace, with believers encouraged to throw themselves into ministry. In fact, church itself is hardly necessary at all. Just go and “live the gospel.” The sacraments become “means of commitment” rather than “means of grace.” Here again, we find a legalistic gospel that says that our works are the most important thing in the salvation equation.
Horton emphatically states that believers need to receive the Word and the sacraments, out of which will flow worship and service. Too many churches get it the wrong way round, saying that we need to get our hearts right with God on our own. He writes,
The church has a very narrow commission. It is not called to be an alternative neighborhood, circle of friends, political action committee, or public service agency; it is called to deliver Christ so clearly and fully that believers are prepared to be salt and light in the worldly stations to which God has called them. Why should a person go through all the trouble of belonging to a church and showing up each Sunday if God is the passive receiver and we are the active giver?
…Not only once upon a time, on a hill far away, but each week the Son of God comes to serve us. We may protest. We may think that it is we who need to serve God rather than vice versa. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us as he told Peter that this is actually an insult, a form of pride. We are the ones who need to be bathed, clothed, and fed, not God.
…the main purpose of singing in church is not to express our inner experience, piety and zeal but to serve each other by making ‘the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16)… Pastors and teachers are not cruise director who provide venues for everyone to channel all of their gifts and energies to the church, but they are deliverers of the message of Christ.
So much good news here!