Whatever Happened to Jesus?

A.W. Tozer once said this in a sermon: “There are churches that have almost given themselves over to the kingdom of man. Their philosophy is man’s philosophy. Their beliefs are man’s beliefs. And their viewpoint is man’s viewpoint. They go the way man goes and they live the way man lives and yet they call themselves churches.”

There would not just be churches today that fit this description, but whole denominations. We are all aware of denominations which have very little to say nowadays about Jesus Christ and the Biblical Gospel, but have much to say about the latest agenda of the secular world.

A good example occurred in a Melbourne newspaper on Christmas Eve. Three religious leaders were asked to write about the meaning of Christmas. The first two were orthodox and Christocentric enough. The Catholic and Anglican leaders in Victoria managed to give a more or less biblical view of what Christmas was all about.

Sure, they provided contemporary examples of the spirit of Christmas, but they both recognised and emphasised the importance of Jesus’ life and work two thousand years ago. The third article was conspicuously different. Written by a moderator of the Uniting Church, one would be hard-pressed to know that the author was a Christian.

The whole piece was about the usual social causes that the secular left is especially keen to champion. Thus we had discussion about climate change (“the threat of calamity”), and the Copenhagen conference. We had talk about the global financial crisis and the need for goodwill.

But strangely, not once was Jesus Christ explicitly mentioned anywhere in the entire article. Given that this person claims to be a Christian leader, and was supposed to be writing about the meaning of Christmas, this is a most curious – and alarming – omission.

After all, even the most biblically illiterate person would somehow be able to make the connection between Christ and Christmas, if for no other reason than the word ‘Christ’ is actually a part of the word ‘Christmas’. Yes, she once did mention the “first Christmas” but that seemed to be as far as she could go in acknowledging the reason for the season.

The bulk of the piece was about how we all need to treat each other nicely, and seek for peace, justice and equity. Now these are all good things (depending on how we define them), but from a biblical point of view, they are all by-products.

That is, when we first get reconciled with God, and make our peace with our Lord, then we are able to be agents of peace in a hostile world. Only when we know a just and righteous God can we properly work for justice on this earth.

Of course because of God’s common grace to all people, we are all able to do some good on planet earth. That is because we are made in God’s moral image, and have a moral nature within us which longs to conform to God’s moral image.

But because of sin, we are all fallen, and we all have a tarnished image of God in us. It has not disappeared, but it is badly damaged, and in urgent need of repair. The only way we can restore our fallen humanity is to once again get into right relationship with God.

And that is why Jesus Christ came to earth, to die at Calvary, taking the punishment we justly deserve, so that we might be reconciled to God. That is the true meaning of Christmas. That is the very heart of the Christmas story. Thus any talk of social justice and the like is ultimately secondary, and must flow from the one source of justice, the one source of peace, and the one source of life.

There is no question that Christians, and Christian churches, should be up to their ears in social reform. The history of Christian missions tells us exactly that. Wherever men and women have gone to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, they have also demonstrated what that Gospel looks like in practical terms.

But the two have always gone together. Or they should always go together. Without the public proclamation of who Jesus is, and why he came, the good works become of secondary importance. But without a visible and tangible demonstration of how the good news fleshes itself out in the world around us, the gospel message can ring empty and hollow.

The first two denominations I mentioned seek to do both – tell the good news and live out the good news. The third one seems in many ways to have abandoned the first half of the formula, and is concentrating just on the second.

If that is the case, then it is selling itself short, and not providing a real service to fallen humanity. Yes, by all means, work for social good, but never at the expense of a clear proclamation of the Biblical Gospel. After all, it was Jesus who said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?”


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22 Replies to “Whatever Happened to Jesus?”

  1. The UCA is hopeless, because they have abandoned Hope.
    Louise Le Mottee

  2. It’s the the Uniting Church, Bill.
    That sums it up. There’s nothing more anyone needs to say.
    Phil Manley

  3. Dear Bill, The present Uniting Church is unrecognisable from the Methodist Church of my childhood over seventy years ago. They were exclusively focused on Jesus then at the expense of our Mother Mary and the Saints. However, perhaps because of that I developed a deep love of the gentle Jesus, whom they taught was the second Person of the Holy Trinity, through stories from the Bible, beautifully told, of how He lived and died for us. Consequently, as a thoughtful but troubled teenager, when I was given a valid reason to convert to Catholicism I did so out of the same love and obedience for Him which they had first instilled in me! I was brought up not knowing that there was such a person as the Pope let alone that he was the successor of St Peter because I had never heard of the Petrine Text. On hearing it from a Catholic priest for the first time and having the role of the Papacy explained I concluded that ‘If Jesus said that to his disciple Peter then He meant something important by it.’ The priest’s explanation made sense so the Papacy was the reason for my becoming Catholic. Therefore, when you think about it, it was only a matter of time before the Uniting Church began to leave Jesus out of their teaching altogether. When elders make it a practice from the beginning to omit perhaps one of the most important things Jesus said ‘the gates of Hell will not prevail against My Church’ because it was too awkward to explain to its followers then given time, the gates of Hell WILL prevail against it because it is not being true to Jesus. I hope these few comments are useful and A Happy New Year to you and yours.
    Patricia Halligan

  4. Thanks Bill
    “By their fruit you will recognize them… a bad tree bears bad fruit… a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” The foundational document of the Uniting Church, The Basis of Union is the problem; it is so loose in its wording that anything goes. Unless God prunes the tree it will go from bad to worst as the Cheshire Cat’s smile of the original confessions of the three uniting churches slowly vanishes. What we are seeing now in parts of the UCA is the grin without the cat.
    Des Morris

  5. Thanks Bill,
    I needed to hear someone explain it for me because i just coudn’t put a finger on what was wrong with what they (UCA) say.
    Also, thank you for this site.
    Daniel Kempton

  6. G’day Bill,

    This is why some of us stayed out of the Uniting Church thirty years ago and why we’re glad we did. It is the only ‘church’ that doesn’t have a clear statement on the authority of the Bible. So no wonder such wishy washy guff comes from their spokespersons.

    Andrew Campbell

  7. Phil Manley, as a student and minister in this tradition for 50 years – I have recently resigned – I am justifiably confident that you are correct.
    Stan Fishley

  8. Alan Walker, the Methodist evangelist once said: Jesus didn’t come to save souls, he came to save people. You can’t pull a soul like a rotten tooth out of your mouth, out of your body. So Christianity is concerned with the whole of life – and it’s more concerned, I think, with this life than the afterlife. And so you’re involved in the social struggle and the political and international struggle if you’re a Christian.”

    But Jesus said, “the poor will always be with us.”

    David Skinner, UK

  9. Thanks Patricia

    Of course as an evangelical Protestant I have some major theological differences with my Catholic friends. I am willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to all you love Jesus and adhere to the historic Christian creeds, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. But I still can agree to disagree with fellow believers on a number of theological fronts. And as much as possible, it is my intention to not allow this site to become a venue for various sectarian views to go back and forth. There are plenty of other sites where that can and does take place.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Thanks David

    Walker is partly right. Jesus did come to save whole people – not just disembodied souls. And we must look after both body and soul. But both this life and the next are of great importance, and we must provide people with the whole gospel. It is not just a this-worldly social gospel, but it is not just pie in the sky in the sweet bye and by either. As usual, getting the biblical balance right is always a pressing task.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. I appreciate the opening A.W. Tozer quote, “their viewpoint is man’s viewpoint”… To a degree that explains how anyone can lose focus away from Jesus. As my pastor explains, in Mat 14:29, Peter began to walk on water having fixed eyes and his focus on Jesus; As he looks away to the wind, waves he began to sink, in Mat 14:30; and in the same way anyone without a focus on Jesus of the bible may be liable to be overcome by the storms, Copenhagen, Climate Change, and fear. Perhaps we also ought to have newspaper in one hand and bible in the other as Spurgeon. Make sure our ideas of Jesus, Christmas and Christianity are biblical and not only a construct of mainstream media.

    Social justice, real social justice involves the gospel of the kingdom. Salvation, that is, wholeness, both spiritual and physical, is found in no one else… no other name but Jesus.
    See Acts 4:12.

    Leon Yeap, Perth

  12. Uniting Church members have been surrounded by that sort of mush—especially from many of those who get voted into the high leadership positions—for some years now. It is rather pathetic. But it varies from state to state. Victoria is the worst, together with WA, and Tasmania. SA and NSW and QLD have embers burning.

    It is true that, the Uniting church continues to have as members, many who hold fast to the genuine Apostolic faith. The ACC are a parallel ‘Assembly of Confessing Congregations’, in the UCA, who represent people who have fought for decades, and continue to fight for the gospel to be heard and obeyed—and they deserve our encouragement and prayer support.

    Well known Australian church analyst David Millikan has recently written an excellent article in the ACC magazine, entitled ‘The Liberal Experiment and the Culture of Uncertainty’.

    He is on the ball, when he says ‘Spong has so little of the flesh and blood Jesus left, that he is almost transparent’. He is hopeful, however, saying:” ‘Ultimately evangelical truth will prevail and the liberal experiment will wither away. In fact it is already happening. Spong’s star is on the wane…’. He also recognises that many did not respond well over the years, to the attacks that came: ‘We were intellectually lazy, and too often retreated into a defensive fundamentalism’.

    I have sometimes quipped: ‘the Uniting Church will see revival first… because it is the deadest’. That may not be the case. But often we falter because we simply underestimate the power of the gospel… and forget the identity, and good timing, of the Lion on the road, who’s roar and tenacity none can confound.

    May the Lion of Judah yet be seen, emerging from wilderness, and swamp. in the unlikely mushy haunts of the UCA.

    Trevor Faggotter (Rev.) UCA, and C of C.

  13. Doesn’t the scriptures say that the dead in Christ will rise first. Perhaps it was alluding to the Uniting Church. Just a thought.
    Roger Marks

  14. Happy New Year Bill – your article is insightful – your gift of discernment is always present in your writing and this particular article hits the nail on the head in arguing the “reason for the season” – the Christ Child.
    Patti Smith

  15. As a former minister of the Uniting Church I believe that about 80% of the members are bible-believing evangelicals. However, a spirit of control exists whereby members who are liberal, knowledgeable and articulate tend to get elected to leadership positions. Some leaders seem to have abandoned the evangelical fervour of their younger days in order to get leadership and then become conformed to the world.
    Church and Life surveys always reveal which churches are growing and they’re not those led by liberal clergy!
    Graham Lawn

  16. This is a very good site, congratulations Bill for putting it together. In reply to Graham Lawn’s recent posting, I just need some clarification here. If approximately 80% of members are Bible-believing then how are these liberal minded members getting into positions of authority in the UC? Who votes them into these positions? Has the constitution of the UC been watered down to such an extent? It would seem that there is some serious work to be done if this institution is to prevail into the future.

    Stephen Davis

  17. I attended a UCA last Sunday as my own church – because it meets at a community centre which closes over January – also has to go into recess at this time. I was priviledged to sit under a sermon that was soul-stirring, evangelical and Biblically based – yeah in my dreams. One example was “the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, if that is indeed where Jesus was born, was probably written into the Gospel account from the Exodus, because the writer wanted people to know about what jesus had done for them and not really worried about history” or words to that effect. This preacher was an example of what Francis Schaeffer called the use of the upper storey and the lower storey-contained history, with no connectedness between the two storeys – except as this minister probably meant to convey an existential irrational leap of faith, rather than the belief that the God of History had stepped into the Human condition.
    Wayne Pelling

  18. Graham,

    Are you able to fill me in on the points raised in my posting on the 5th?

    Steve Davis

  19. In answer to Steve Davis, it is partly a mystery to me but I think that many evangelicals are not knowledgeable about Church politics or/and can’t be bothered to attend meetings which are non-spiritual. Hence more liberals stand for leadership positions and get elected. Thus the members do get the leaders they deserve!
    Graham Lawn

  20. To Graham Lawn,

    Thank you Graham. That is a pretty sad situation. You would think that the mainstream would attend the meetings to put up some sort of resistance to the liberalism. I must admit that if I knew a liberal minister was about to run for a senior position at my Anglican church I would be down there to raise my objection.

    Steve Davis

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