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Christ is himself Christianity

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  (Mark 10:45)

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6) 

I've just finished reading B. B. Warfield's classic article, "Christless Christianity" (1912) available online here. This long journal article is worth the time invested in reading. Warfield's research influenced his own student, J. Gresham Machen, especially as reflected in Machen's Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and What Is Faith? (1925). 

What makes this relevant to us today is that orthodox (by that I mean, historic) Christianity has always needed to defend the unique position of our Lord Jesus to Christian faith itself. Ever since the Enlightenment skeptics have sought to separate Jesus Christ (or the Jesus of history) from Christianity. This is done a number of ways, for example, by saying that the historical Jesus cannot really be known (historical uncertainty), or that he was a myth created by the early church (idealism), or that he came to show the way to know God but did not claim to be the object of faith (a religious founder), that is, he did not declare himself to be God, or that he himself was essential to what he came to teach. 

So the real Jesus ends up being a patchword of historical pieces, or a grand and embellished myth, or a religous founder who really didn't place himself at the center of this new religion we now call Christianity. So, we can have, according to the critics, a form of Christianity without Jesus being central to it. Today we may see even in evangelical circles a tendency to sideline the person and work of Christ, perhaps by neglect rather than outright denial, as less important than what he supposedly came to do, such as bring prosperity, personal peace, social justice, human flourishing, community-building, or the preservation of any nation. These are secondary, however, to what he accomplished upon the cross.    

Warfield thoroughly and ably answers the higher critics and demonstrates that we cannot separate the person of Jesus from the work of redemption that he accomplished.  He closes his article with a wonderful quote from Herman Bavinck in Magnalia Dei, published in English (1909) as Our Reasonable Faith, and now in print as The Wonderful Works of God (WSP, 2020). Jesus is not a mere founder, teacher, way-pointer, moral example, or spiritual inspiration. Bavinck writes, 

"Buddha and Confucius, Zarathustra and Mohammed are indeed the first confessors of the religion founded by each of them, but they are not themselves the content of such religion. Their connection with it is in a sense accidental and external. Their religion could remain the same even though their name should be forgotten or their persons be supplanted by others. In Christianity, however, all this is very different. True, the idea has sometimes been expressed that Christ, too, never wanted to be the sole Mediator, and that He would gladly acquiesce in the neglect of His name, if only His principle and Spirit lived on in the church. But others, who have themselves cut off all connection with Christianity, have in an impartial way attacked this idea and have refuted it. Christianity stands in a very different relationship to the person of Christ than the other religions do to the persons who founded them. Jesus was not the first confessor of the religion named after His name. He was not the first and the most important Christian. He occupies a wholly unique place in Christianity. He is not in the usual sense of it the founder of Christianity, but He is the Christ, the One who sent by the Father, and who founded His Kingdom on earth and now extends and preserves it to the end of the ages. Christ is Himself Christianity. He stands, not outside, but inside of it. Without His name, person, and work there is no such thing as Christianity. In one word, Christ is not the one who points the way to Christianity, but the way itself. He is the only, true, and perfect Mediator between God and men. That which the various religions in their belief in a mediator have surmised and hoped, that is actually and perfectly fulfilled in Christ." (Our Reasonable Faith, p. 281)


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