I remember as a kid, when my brother and I saw Back to the Future for the first time. It was such a crazy concept to us; that you could actually go back in time and alter the past to change the future. But at that time I don’t think my small mind could grasp the idea that changing the past could essentially take you out of the future. Due to Marty McFly’s well meaning act of heroism to save his father from being hit by a car, he altered the first meeting between his parents, which would eventually result in love, marriage, and kids (including Marty himself).
Not being able to understand what changing the past could do to our future, my brother and I dreamed of where we would go and what we would do differently. Since we grew up in a Christian home, our minds immediately went to going back to the time of Christ. But as young boys who only thought about action and explosions, we decided it would be best to go back just before Jesus was crucified and save him. Oh, did I mention we also suggested bringing machine guns? All they had back then were spears and swords. Who could stop us? But at that young age, we didn’t realize the importance of Jesus’ death and later His resurrection any more than we understood the consequences that played out in Back to the Future.
Recently, writer Andrew Sullivan wrote an article in Newsweek titled “Christianity in Crisis.” In his piece, he speaks about the decline of organized religion and the problems going on with the Church. About how politics these days somehow weave their way into religion, destroying the essence of our faith, and bringing to light more and more people who claim to be Christian one minute but then go and do something contradictory the next. He gives us a few examples of people who led good lives, claiming to have the formula for a pure apolitical Christianity. But I believe he picked some pretty bad examples to follow. One of those examples was Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson decided one day that he was going to dissect his Bible to only leave behind what he felt were important principles to live by. The end results were just the teachings of Christ. Jefferson believed everything else to be “misconceptions,” thought up by Christ’s follower’s, who didn’t really understand what they were part of.
Jefferson was a deist. He believed in a god who created everything but now simply sits back and watches everything unfold; a god who doesn’t get involved at all. Jefferson’s bible was stripped of everything that had to do with miracles, the word becoming flesh, or anything supernatural. This included Christ’s resurrection. Jefferson’s version ends with Christ being laid to rest and… the end.
Are you kidding me?
Andrew Sullivan even quotes Jefferson as saying that he’s a real Christian, being a disciple of Jesus’ teachings. Frankly, cutting out what you don’t like about the Bible and leaving in a few parables and stories doesn’t make you a Christian. It makes you more of an historian.
What makes us a Christian is our belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection; that this one act brings us out of the darkness and into the light. Without it we are nothing. Jefferson fails to see the whole reason why Jesus Christ was here. He came to pay the price for our sins. He was the final lamb to be slain. He had to die so that we may live. But just as important is the fact that on the third day he rose from the grave. Death could not hold Him and, through Him, death will not hold us either.
I agree with Mr. Sullivan that Christianity is in a crisis, but for a completely different reason. In the crisis that Sullivan explains, there is a lot of horrible stuff going on within the walls of certain faiths or even specific churches. But is any of that new? The crisis he speaks of spans all of time. It has always been going on, and I believe it always will, no matter how peaceful and loving people become. It was this crisis that enraged Christ to turn over the tables at the temple. It was this crisis that put the conspiracy together to kill Jesus. It was this crisis that got the government involved in his death. This is not new. This is not something that popped up out of nowhere over the last few hundred years. It has been going on forever.
The crisis in Christianity that I see is that too many people are following in the footsteps of people like Thomas Jefferson. This is a big deal and a deadly trap to fall into. Too many people are picking and choosing what they like about God, Christ and the Bible and tossing the rest. They claim to be Christians just because they do good deeds, love their enemies, and don’t raise a fist to those who oppose them. While all those are good and most undoubtedly Christ-like, we can only claim to be Christians by believing in Him; being born again and having Him transform our lives. Our sin separates us from God, we need someone to stand in the gap on our behalf. Christ came to Earth to be that person or we would be in the darkness forever.
What I didn’t understand at a young age now is clear, as I have gotten older. Christ’s death had to happen, just as George McFly had to get hit by that car. To change that is to completely miss the point. His resurrection had to happen. As bad as I wanted to show up with guns blazing and save him from being killed, it had to happen for all of us. Christ himself could have called 10,000 angels to come set him free. But He didn’t. He chose to endure the beatings, He chose to endure being nailed to the cross, He chose to die for us so that we may live. The only way to the Father is through Him. He gives us this gift, a gift we do not deserve and a gift we can’t earn. But He gives it to us freely because of His love for us.
Jefferson (and Sullivan) talk about Christ as, basically, just a good guy with some good ideas. That’s fine, but it’s not what humanity needed. We didn’t need another philosopher; we needed a savior. That is what following Jesus is really all about.