Distancing Through Philosophy
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8).
In our study, we have been noting concepts that have distanced God from the ordinary man and his everyday experiences. I have done this by showing these concepts as symbols of mediation that hinder a personal relationship, or what we have called an Abba (personal) relationship, with God. It is my contention that much of what is called the Christian religion in the West, falls into this category of distancing symbols. In other words, they are symbols that tend to remove God from the everyday experiences of the common man. In our study we have noted some of the chief or master symbols of religion that have distanced God. So far in this study, we have looked at the symbols of law, holy men, institutions, ritual, and icons. In this chapter, we are going to look at a symbol that is closely linked with the symbol of law and institution, that is, the symbol of philosophy or human wisdom.
I will begin by giving a definition of how I will be using the term philosophy. In our study we will use the term to apply to a discipline that seems to have as its goal, a systematic explanation of the world and in some cases, even God, which is based on human observation and human logic. In ancient times, this discipline was more theistic than in modern times and was one of the important factors that influenced the worldviews of both Christians and pagans. In fact, it is commonly accepted today that much of Western Christianity can trace at least one of its many roots to the philosophy of Aristotle.
The early church engaged in Greek and Roman philosophy when it began to take the gospel of Christ into the world of the Gentiles. The early church engaged these disciplines with great caution, a caution that was later thrown to the wind as the church became more worldly and institutionalized. However, the question is, how did the church get sidetracked into a quest for human wisdom, a quest that would move it away from its center, Jesus Christ and the everyday experiences of the common people? There is no simple answer I can give as to why the church got entangled in the wisdom of this world, other than to point out it lost connection with its Head, Jesus Christ. Of course, if you lose your head it can be a very serious problem. But we still come back to the question as to what caused it to move away from Christ.
There is no doubt that one of the greatest factors in this movement away from a simple faith toward worldly philosophy came out of the polemics that early Christians had with pagan intellectuals. The first century church proclaimed Christ in a style that we might call affirmation, affirming that Jesus was the Christ and then proving it from the Scripture and the personal testimony of those who had witnessed the resurrection. However, as time went on the church found itself in polemics with some of the great thinkers of the world and felt that it must engage these men on their own ground. In order to do this, the church would have to synthesize the world of the philosopher with the world of Christ. This all began with a noble effort to wrap the gospel in a language that could be understood by everyone, even the educated. In fact, we see this very thing in many of the New Testament writings. Most writers of the New Testament tried to use language that their readers were familiar with and could easily be understood by everyone. However, there is one great difference between New Testament writers and those of later generations and that is the former knowingly subverted the words and concepts of the world making them point to Christ, while the latter subverted the teachings of Christ with worldly wisdom in order to remake the gospel. Their motives for this were many, but one of the foremost was their desire to attract the intellectuals of the age and make it easier for the carnalminded masses to accept the gospel. Of course, this remade gospel often reflected the spirit of the age more than Christ.
Religion of the Educated
When it was seen that philosophy could be integrated with this new faith (though it completely subverted it) the faith became attractive to many of the highly educated. We need then only to note that the highly educated have, by their very nature, a will to power and would rise to leadership in the church. We then gradually see Christianity become the religion of the educated and the scholar. In a matter of a few centuries, a movement that was started by a carpenter and a group of fishermen filled with the Spirit, had become an institution controlled by the highly educated and the elite of society. When this happens, it becomes very hard for the poor and uneducated to maintain their place. So we can see that Christianity became a religion of the head instead of a religion of the heart. In this, the common people were once again distanced from God, as the knowers and their body of knowledge were placed between God and the common people. As the body of knowledge grew, it continued to distance the uneducated, poor, and the common man from God while at the same time it continued to give more and more authority and status to the highly educated clergy and their institutions. This gave them the leisure to study and write. Without their awareness, the church, in fighting the philosophies of the world was itself becoming the very thing it was fighting.
The Lust of the Knowers
There is little denying that another factor in this subversion was the lust that intellectuals have for recognition by their peers. It seems that Christian intellectuals have always had the propensity to feel they must justify their beliefs to the worldly knowers. In order to do this, they seem to believe they must take the latest secular theories and synthesize them with the faith, not realizing or maybe not caring, that most of these theories have paganism as their root. This lust for intellectual respectability, coupled with man’s tendency to build systems of beliefs, all add up to radical subversion of the gospel and the distancing of the common man from the true Christian gospel.
141How Forms of Mediation Have Subverted the Christian Faith
Roy A. Clouser has written an excellent book pointing out how irreconcilable most human theories are to a Christian worldview. His book is entitled The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, (University of Notre Dame Press). In his book, Clouser shows how all theories have as their foundation, a religious belief making many of them totally irreconcilable to a Christian worldview. This book is long overdue, and I highly recommend it.
Love Affair with Human Reason
In the exaltation of the knowers in the Christian community, I also see the beginning of the church’s love affair with human wisdom and reason. The immediate effect of this love affair was that the church began to interpret knowing God as a cognitive function instead of a relationship that was based on man hearing and obeying the Word of God. Instead of hearing and obeying, the church began to think that its major purpose was to analyze God and Scripture under the microscope of human reason. Of course, this in essence sets human reason up as the judge of God’s Word instead of God’s Word judging human reason. The devastating effects of this love affair with human reason would not be totally realized for over a thousand years, until the time of the Enlightenment, when human reason would be deified and revelation totally rejected. This was because it could not be squeezed into a naturalistic paradigm of the Age of the Enlightenment.
This love affair with human reason also contributed to the greatest hindrance of true faith. That is the belief that correct knowledge or theology is true faith and everyone who does not have the right theology or knowledge is lost. It is evident from the Gospels that this was not the view of faith held by Jesus. To Jesus, true faith trusted Him and His relationship to the Father. This is seen in Jesus ascribing true faith, sometimes great faith, to a Samaritan, a syrophoenician woman, and a Gentile centurion. None of these people had the right knowledge of God or what we might call today an orthodox theology, but who would argue that they were not saved by faith? When faith is reduced to knowing the right ideas or doctrines then it is subverted. Through this subversion, faith is reduced to a work of man, which can be produced by one man teaching another. However, Jesus pointed out to one religious leader that the true faith is a work of God and comes from above (John 3:1-5). Human effort can produce church members and members of a sect, but it will never produce true Christians, a lesson that our church growth friends have yet to learn.
Devastating Effects of Success
Needless to say, all this could not have happened in isolation from other factors that were happening at the same time in the church and in the cultures it was entering. Its very success was one, if not the chief factor, that opened its doors to worldly philosophy. As Christianity grew in popularity, its social status grew as well. It soon found more and more educated and upper class people entering its ranks. These educated and social elite who had entered the church found it very difficult to reconcile their interests, ambitions, and life styles with the simple faith proclaimed by Jesus. Most of these people were accustomed to the showiness of pagan religion and culture that found Christianity somewhat plain and drab for their taste. How could the pretentiousness of pagan religion and society be synthesized with the Jesus of the Gospels? Of course, the answer was to turn to the philosophers, who by this time had become the theologians of their time. It became the job of the theologians to put together two things that were the direct opposite of one another and totally inimical to one another, which is the radical teaching of Jesus Christ and the life style and beliefs of the pagan masses. This endeavor would take a highly educated type eager to please the status quo and the institutions that provided them the leisure to study and write—institutions that were controlled by the rich and highly educated.
It is only recently that theologians have been willing to point out the inconsistency between human cultures, the church, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. The reason for this newfound bravery is not a renewed desire for the truth, but rather most of these men now work for a university that is no longer controlled by the churches. Thus, there is no longer fear of the loss of one’s position. However, the lower clergy still vehemently maintain the status quo of their sects, culture, and their institutions against the plain and radical teachings of Jesus.
In order to maintain this synthesis between the world and the teachings of Christ, the church would have to also create institutions that could socialize the lower clergy whose main function is and was the socialization of the unconverted masses who had entered the church. In this, the church be
came a major player in the general socialization of Western culture, a role the Lord never intended it to take on, but one that it has laboriously tried to maintain. In this role the church was reduced to the handmaiden of Western culture. As long as it maintains this role it will continue to compromise the radical teachings of Jesus in order to stay in the favor of Western culture. It must do this out of necessity, for the masses that comprise this group are not willing, nor do they have the power, to conform to the teachings of Jesus. In this hybrid form, the church will continue to compromise until it recognizes that it cannot institutionalize Jesus, nor can it teach the ethics of Christ to those who do not have the Spirit of Christ. Unfortunately, the church is in such a deplorable spiritual state that it can no longer discern who has the Spirit and who does not.
A New Reformation
In order for the church to experience a new reformation, it must be willing to forsake the model of the philosopher (the knower) and again assume the model of the hearer and receiver as it relearn how to listen to the voice of God. It must humble itself and recognize that the Spirit and knowledge of Christ is not imparted like worldly knowledge. The true knowledge of Christ can only come through the work of the Spirit and is a supernatural working of God that cannot be reproduced by man, nor analyzed by man, much less reproduced by some formula, even a Biblical one. You see, God refuses to be systemized and one will never invoke God’s favor by submitting to a system or a formula of salvation. God is not in a formula. He is in Jesus Christ and can only be found by those who earnestly seek Him through a true faith that is expressed through love and obedience to Christ. This faith is a simple faith and is available to all who call on God out of a pure heart.
All of this is not to say that God does not use educated men to proclaim and do His will. Through the centuries God has always used both educated and uneducated to proclaim and fulfill His eternal purpose. However, the danger of human wisdom or knowledge is expressed numerous times in the Scripture. The apostle Paul gives us this warning, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). We need to take note of the fact that in this text the apostle does not condemn all philosophy, but rather is warning his readers of a philosophy or religion that does not have Christ as its center and foundation. Philosophy in itself is not wrong, but when people start with an ideology that is founded on something other than Christ, it can only lead to the moving of Christians away from their first love. Christians must be cautious whenever they touch the world, but especially careful when they touch the secular, religious ideologies and philosophies of the world, because these things have demonic powers to move the unstable and immature away from Christ. However, this gives rise to a real problem, which is, that the knowers among us never view themselves as unstable and immature, for to know, in their thinking, is equal to maturity and spirituality.
Faith and Knowledge
The basic difference between the Christian system and that of worldly philosophies is the former is based on faith while the latter on logic and knowledge that has been gathered through observation and human learning. Thus, philosophy has at its foundation, observation and human deductions about the observations. This is equally true in much of Western theology where deductions are drawn from the observations of others, which are often generations removed from the first witnesses. In contrast, faith is based on revelation or illumination. No one will ever find the true God purely by human observation or learning, for God is a God who hides Himself from the eyes of men who do not have the Spirit to seek Him through simple faith. If you recall, it was the knowers who did not know Jesus. I could go so far as to ask the question, does a belief that is founded on observation and human logic really constitute a Biblical faith? Can human knowledge of any kind ever add anything to true faith or is theology simply faith trying to understand itself? Did a faith founded on observing the miracles of Jesus survive the test of true faith? We can gather faith that is based on evidence or human deductions alone is not faith, but rather knowledge, and knowledge that is based on empirical evidence is not faith, but is rather a certain kind of knowledge. It is a soulless knowledge that has very little to do with what we would call true faith. This may help us to understand why Christians are called believers instead of knowers. Of course, the knowers among us hate to hear this kind of talk because this puts them on the same level as us common folks who must depend on simple faith and the working of God.
Two Kinds of Faith
We need to look at the word “faith” anew. For many, the word seems to carry a vagueness and uncertainty about the thing that is in view. However, when the word is used in the Bible for the faith of a Christian, there seems to be a certainty involved (Heb. 11:1). I propose that faith for the Christian is an imputed faith which carries with it all the certainty of any other form of knowledge. In other words, faith is just another way of knowing. But it is surely a different way of knowing.
In the Scriptures we can find the word faith used in a number of ways. It is used to describe the weak and often uncertain human emotion which is very similar to a wish that contains a certain amount of doubt and lack of trust. It is also used to denote a purely intellectual recognition. Both of these kinds of faith seem to be based on human observation and empirical evidence and are spoken of as something less than saving faith (John 12:42, James 2:19). This kind of faith might be compared with a theory in the natural sciences. It is based on evidence, but is not yet proven beyond a doubt. Therefore, it cannot be viewed as absolute knowledge. However, when the evidence gets strong enough, the theory then is spoken about as fact even if it has not been absolutely proven. Why should we expect anything different in the area of faith? If faith is just another way of knowing, should we not expect it to reach a point of absolute knowledge? However, this is not a Biblical faith. For this faith is still the work of man and lives with the fear that new evidence might overthrow it. Therefore, it is constantly trying to prove itself and defend itself from new knowledge or theories.
We could go so far as to say, a faith that is based on facts, evidence, and human deductions about the facts, can never be certain. Therefore, it cannot be called knowing. Yet the Bible says Christians can know through the Holy Spirit (1Tim. 2:20-27). It cannot be denied that God uses facts, evidence, and human reason to communicate to humans. However, the certainty of this knowledge only can come through the Holy Spirit. We hasten to point out that this knowledge that comes from the Spirit is limited to confirming and knowing that Jesus is the Christ (John. 14:21). It does not guarantee infallibility on every religious subject under the heavens. What it does guarantee us is that Christ will be formed in the hearts of the true believers and they will be transformed into His likeness by the power of the Spirit. It also confirms our inheritance as God’s children (Rom. 8:16).
It is obvious from just a casual reading of the New Testament that there are two kinds of faith exemplified in the disciples’ experience of faith. We see them placing their faith in Christ early in His ministry. This faith was based on the mighty acts that they saw Him perform (John 2:11). However, it was not a faith that was void of doubt and uncertainty. This kind of faith we might call a worldly faith, for it is the kind of faith of the carnal Christian or earthly man. But who would contend this was the same kind of faith that these men had after they received the divine life of Christ to live in them? After the giving of the Spirit to these men, they never seemed to have any doubt or uncertainty in their faith. Some may respond by saying it was the resurrection that gave them this assurance. Yes, but only in the sense it was the event that enabled the Lord Jesus to give the Spirit. Absolute faith does not come from empirical evidence. If it did, the disciples would have had it before the resurrection. No group of people in the history of the earth had as much empirical evidence as the disciples. Yet they doubted. What changed their faith? Was it more empirical evidence in the form of resurrection? No, it was the divine life, which carried with it the faith of Christ that changed them and gave them an absolute faith that was not really theirs, but the faith of their Lord (Gal. 2:20 KJV). This kind of faith we could call the faith of the heavenly man, for it is the faith of Christ and is supernatural because it comes from above (John 3:1-5).
All true Christians who have the Spirit of God in them, have at some time, experienced this absolute faith to some degree. However, for many it is a fleeting experience, for their flesh soon drives it out. This happens when they decide to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit. When a man is living in the Spirit, he is living in and by the divine life God has put in him, and by the faith of Christ, which is a part of that divine life of the Father. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live BY THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, KJV). When a man is living by the faith of Christ in him, then he will have a certainty of faith and the assurance of salvation (1 John. 5:13).
One great thinker of the Christian faith found the secret of true faith one night when he was alone with God. He wrote of his experience with God on a small piece of paper and carried it in his coat pocket. A friend found it after his death. The note read: “In The year of Grace, 1654, on Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr, and of others in the Martyrology, Vigil of Saint Chrysogonus, martyr and others, from about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve in the evening FIRE, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and scholars. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” This was written and experienced by the father of modern physics, Blaise Pascal. You can see he found the secret of true faith.
Faith and Love, the Handmaidens of Knowledge
When the church reduced faith and love to the handmaidens of knowledge, it began to believe that faith could be captured and put into systems that are at the command of the knowers. Then it is assumed that if you can find the right system, you can make sons of God or restore the church by simply imparting the right knowledge or system. When this happens, the faith becomes subject to man, his reasoning, and his methods instead of man being in subjection to faith. Time and time again, I have watched preachers run carnal men (sometime small children) through what I call the Christian machine (their systems) thinking that they were producing Christians, only to find a different kind of carnal man coming out on the other end of their machine. Thus we have only a carnal man who then has all the self-righteous and moral biases of a religious man added to his other carnal ones. They go in as carnal men who believe that they are lost sinners and come out carnal men who believe they are righteous and saved and, of course, proud members of a sect. In this experience they receive their first vaccination against Christ and true faith. When this happens the masses are Christianized, and Christianity is paganized. In essence, we have just drawn a picture of the church growth movement with all of its methods, programs, and systems. When knowledge is exalted, we also begin to see a subtle shift from sin being the problem of mankind to ignorance being the problem. This amounts to a tremendous shift in emphasis, for the sickness will determine the cure. If the problem is ignorance, then men have some control over the problem. However, if the problem is personal sin and spiritual powers outside of man, then mankind has no control over the problem and must face his finitude, which is the very thing that the knower refuses to do. On the other hand, if sin is the problem, it would seem that the cure would be an emphasis on prayer and confession of one’s finitude, which are symbols of man’s dependence on God.
Philosophy and Division
Another problem that the church has experienced from a philosophical mindset is that it wants to analyze and divide things which should not be analyzed or divided. In short, it seeks to understand things by breaking a thing down to its basic elements and then attempting to analyze the pieces, believing that when it understands the pieces, it will have a better explanation of the whole. Though this method may be fine for science and philosophy as human disciplines, when it is applied to the things of God; it opens the door for a legion of demons to enter the faith. One of these demons is that men seem to easily lose sight of the whole and in turn become preoccupied with the pieces.
When this happens, people begin to lose sight that the whole is Jesus Christ and they drift in all directions, often focusing more on spiritual subjects than on Christ. Then the intellectual war begins as each person and group tries to bind their fragmented human deductions on each other as though they were God’s Word.
I use the word fragmented because all human knowledge is fragmented. It is very unlikely that any human being, or even a group of humans, could ever hope to gather all the information on any given topic, and even if they could, what would guarantee that their logic would be inerrant in interpreting the information? Here, some fall back on the promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit would teach His disciples all truth. However, when these promises are viewed in their contexts, it becomes obvious Jesus is not promising His disciples that they would know the truth on every possible subject under the religious sun. This would reduce the Holy Spirit to a crystal ball. I believe these passages teach that the Spirit would teach them and show them that Jesus is the Christ and the implication of that knowledge for the believer’s life. If this be the case, the work of the Spirit would be to get our attention off all the subjects of religion and back on the center of our faith, which is Jesus the Christ. This includes getting our attention off the Spirit onto Christ. The work of the Spirit is like the work of John the Baptist, to point men to Christ. Making the Spirit larger or emphasizing any other subject, does not bring glory to Christ or the Spirit, but can only lead into the radical errors of dogmatism, mysticism, and Gnosticism.
Faith as Philosophy
Still another problem that arises from turning the faith over to a philosophical mindset is that men begin to look at it and treat it as a philosophy—in other words, something to think about and talk about rather than something to be obeyed. It is here that the clergy and orthodoxy are the guiltiest. They seem to spend much of their time engaged in eternal twaddle. They study, study, study and nothing ever seems to change. They are mere talkers, philosophers always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth by obedience to it (2 Tim. 3:7, Titus 1:10). The philosophical mentality always leads to a people who sit around and analyze the Scripture, not for the purpose of obeying it, but rather to satisfy the craving of the mind for the knowledge of good and evil, an endeavor that might be highly questionable for Christians. My friends, we need to understand that knowing the Bible does not mean that one has God’s approval. All it means is that one will be judged more harshly. The man who is approved and known of God is the man who obeys and loves God and his fellowman (1 Cor. 8:1-3). We have seen that philosophy has subverted the faith by making a synthesis between paganism and Christianity. However, we must go beyond subversion to our further theme of the distancing of God from the common people and their everyday experience through forms of mediation. How can philosophy distance God from the common people? I believe it is obvious that the common man and woman do not think of themselves as philosophers or as having the ability or even the desire to engage in the discipline of philosophy. It is the common belief among average people that philosophy is a discipline for intellectuals and not the common folk. Therefore, when Christianity is imaged as a philosophy, the average person is immediately distanced from it.
Increasingly, at the encouragement of the knowers among them, the church of the common folk has given over its divine right and responsibility of teaching Christ to the knowers and the institutions of higher learning created by them. This has left the impression that if one really want to know Christ and be a leader in the church, one must go to a Christian college, Bible school, or seminar, which by the way, are all symbols of the knower. This in turn leaves the impression that those who attend an institution are somehow more qualified than those who do not. Does this not leave the impression it is the knowledge given by the institution that prepares one for the ministry or Christian service? What about the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit? Where do they come into all this so-called educating? I grant you that all this strengthens the grip of the main institutions (churches) and also the sub-institutions (schools), but how does it make Christ larger? In fact, some churches have found that the tail is now wagging the dog instead of the dog wagging the tail. By this I mean, some churches are finding that they no longer control their schools, but rather the schools now control them. In this, we again see the tremendous control that the knowers have over the Christian movement.
In light of this, it may be time to ask some hard questions about the wisdom of building all these institutions in the name of Christ. Where do these institutions get the right to preach and proclaim Christ? Where is the proof that these institutions have really promoted the cause of Christ? In view of the horrible state of the churches and Western culture, I personally find it somewhat hard to see any overwhelming evidence where the Christian schools, that are so profuse in our land, have done much to save the churches or our culture. Could it be that all of these institutions are just another broken reed that man has put his trust in? Could it be that the institutions we are building, in themselves, are becoming symbols that distance the common people from God? Is not the building of institutions just another form of secularism that reflects the spirit of this and past ages? When did Christ give an institution the divine right to teach the word of God? When the church turns teaching the gospel over to a profane organization, does it not profane the Word of God by putting it in the same category as science and math? Is it not often the very students, who have not the Spirit, in turn use their carnal knowledge of the Bible to attack and belittle the Scriptures and the whole Christian movement? How can you force someone to study the Bible for a degree and not profane the living Word of God in the process?
Let me close this chapter by pointing out that our goal as Christians is not to know, but rather love God and to be known by God. “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:13). Amen.