What is a Liberal Christian?
NCW 18, April 1995
Q. In your many articles you have explained theologically what a liberal Christian is. But what is a liberal Christian practically?
This is a good question and one that I have asked myself many times. The best answer I can give is through an example. I have a friend who is a Unitarian. He lives an upright moral life and is constantly serving his fellow man. He is kind, generous and has a good sense of humour. In many ways he puts me to shame and inspires me to be better in my treatment of others. But the moment you mention miracles, the resurrection, the Virgin Birth, or anything supernatural, you always get a weak smile in return as though he is saying, "You poor fellow (for believing such superstition)".
Now this man is typical of a vast section of Christianity today. They believe in the social Gospel but not the supernatural Gospel. When I asked my friend to summarise the Gospel for me, I was not surprised when he said, "Love your neighbour." And, of course, he is abosoltely right -- except that he has missed out 50% of the Gospel message.
Jesus also said -- and He said it before He commanded His disciples to love their neighbour as their self -- that we should love the Lord our God with our whole mind, might, and strength. True, loving your neighbour is an essential part of this but it is not all. For God's great desire is that He be known and loved as He truly is. He said, through His Son, that knowing Christ was "life eternal". He also said that "no man comes to the Father save through Christ." And what sort of Christ? Christ the moral teacher? No, we come to the Father through the resurrected Christ, the atoning Christ, the sinless Christ, the miracle-working Christ...the One who died for us.
I cannot stress this enough. The social, moral Christ as mere human teacher is not the Christ who saves. Liberals aren't trusting in the person of Christ for their salvation but in His moral teachings! And that's not enough because Christ Himself testified that salvation comes through accepting His very person as God in the flesh.
The crux of the matter is whether or not you accept the deity of Christ and then testify of it to others.
It is a wonderful thing to live an upright, moral life. I know many people from other religions who do so. They are usually respected. Go to your neighbour and offer to help him and 90% of the time your help will be accepted. But go to his door and testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and 99.99% of the time your testimony will be rejected. Even if you add the moral and social dimension of the Gospel to your witness, by getting to know and befriending your neighbour, 99% of the time your message will be rejected.
Befriending people and letting our lives witness of Christ in us is, of course, important, but we can't do that with everybody. When the apostle Paul travelled on his missions he didn't settle in a city and spend all his time making friends with people. He didn't have the time. He preached boldly to multitudes and they, without really knowing anything about the man Paul, were converted in their hundreds by the Holy Spirit operating in him. The same with Jesus. He preached to multitudes. He, like Paul, probably only ever got to know a handful of people really well. In our life it is most unlikely that we will ever really get to know more than about 20 or 30 people very well. "Friendshipping evangelism" is severely limited by the fact that for the most part it operates from the human level.
I used to belong to a liberal Church and this was their method of evangelism. Their growth was pitifully small. I also belonged to a conseravtive Church and their growth was explosive. The lesson to be learned is that the supernatural is that which convicts. People deep down want to know about a God brought down to a human level. Neither, for that matter, do they want to know of an all-powerful God who is so remote that He cannot be experienced. They want to know an all-powerful God who is directly involved in human affairs, and that is who the real Jesus is, not a mere mortal teacher of righteousness as the liberals believe.
Finally, there are the "conservatives" who proclaim the doctrines of God in Christ but who in practice are quasi-liberals because they do not deep down believe what they teach, or are too afraid to witness of it "in case it is not true". For them the Word is a doctrine or a "spiritual key of knowledge" but not power and life. If we are honest with ourselves, I would say that overall the New Covenant Church of God has sometimes been a bit like that, and after seven or so years of ministry, the challenge has now gone out to make the quantum leap from quasi-liberalism to the true Gospel.
I wonder if it is actually possible to "love" someone in the fullest sense of the word without bringing the Word of Life, the resurrected Jesus, to them first. In distinguishing "liberals" from "fundamentalists" (in the broadest sense of these words) I believe we must come down to the fact of the incarnate, sinless, resurrected Jesus, because this is the Jesus who possesses eternal life. It is tempting to believe that good, kind people are saved just because they are good and kind. I believe that is false. Equally, I believe it is false to believe that a person who believes in these things is saved if he does not love as a good liberal.
Also read this article.
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Last updated on 2 May 1998
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