By J. Angus Harley

I was told today that it was Easter week. Not that I care about it, but it serves as a background to the conversation I later had with an elder. The elder preaches a sound Gospel message. However, he adds his own spin some of the time, and today was one of those days. The result was a kind of Gospel mish-mash. I wouldn’t have bothered to say anything to him, except it involved some considerable misrepresentations of the Gospel. In doing this, I was able to bring to bear the NCT view of a Gospel text- which he flatly rejected.

Here’s what he argued. The Gospel message is founded on the ‘facts’ that we are all made in God’s image, and that we Christians should therefore lift up everyone to see beyond their individual ‘brokenness’, and to receive the Gospel, so as to bring that divine image back to its proper home in Jesus Christ.

After the meeting, I sat down to speak to him about his Gospel (I have never in my years in the U.S. done this, so it was my first time). I said I appreciated his Gospel messages (and I do), but I could not understand why he would base this morning’s Gospel rendition upon the doctrine of the image of God. He was flummoxed, and began to give me a short form of the same message. I said to him that the Good News was not, “You are in the divine image; you are therefore unique and valued; be raised from your brokenness through faith in Jesus Christ”. I said Jesus and his apostles never came remotely close to this view. The Gospel was simple: repent and believe. The divine image in Adam was a bust. There is no ‘victim culture’ in the Gospel: no one has been dispossessed of anything. Nor is the Gospel to do with finding your true self. The NT boldly declares that we are sinners, broken by the Fall, and that the image of God in us is busted beyond repair. We are sinners in need of grace and a new image; not ‘humans’ in need of finding our ‘image destiny’ in Christ.

He then said, look, what do you do with Ephesians 2:9-10? It teaches that mankind was made in the divine image, and that Jesus restores it in them.

I said to him that he was replacing the new creation with the old creation. Paul is talking about the new creation (see 2 Cor.5:17). It is a New Covenant, and a new heaven and earth, a new creation, that the NT is concerned with. I added that the image we have in Christ is brand, spanking, new. It is not the old redux. It is a heavenly image that reflects the risen Son, Jesus Christ, the Man from heaven (1 Cor.15).

The discussion went on to a different theme that was prominent this morning, too. He and the congregation went ga-ga in reflecting upon Jim Caviezel’s experiences in making The Passion of Christ (there’s the connection with Easter). Caviezel experienced mystical spiritual things as he played Jesus, so he said.

I asked the elder if he was aware that Caviezel was a card-carrying lover of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. He didn’t answer that question. Instead, he turned the issue into the ‘greyness’ of the Gospel. Yes, he eventually conceded that RCism as a system was heretical. However, we cannot judge anyone individually, for we don’t know people’s hearts, and, the NT is full of examples of saints of different knowledge and spiritual maturity- this was the elder’s view.

I said to him that the different levels of maturity had nothing to do with the Gospel, nor with the written apostolic demands on Christ’s community. The believer’s depth of knowledge does not impact the Gospel in any way. I asked, doesn’t the Gospel message stand on its own? Is it not black and white, clear cut? How can one be a Christian without accepting it? Is idolatry part of the Gospel? Praying to human beings? Is glorying in idolatry part of the Gospel? Was Jesus wrong when he said, “You shall know them by their fruits” (Matt.7:15-20). Jesus wrote this for his disciples’ sake.  Was Paul sinning when he wished that the Judaizers would castrate themselves (Gal.5:12)? I also argued that the different levels of maturity were not in regard to overt idolatry! I said in response to the elder that any supposed ‘greyness’ recorded in the NT is set WITHIN the boundaries of the Gospel, NOT OUTSIDE of it. Paul is so clear on this issue that he calls the Galatians to task. He does not say that they are confused, or in different levels of knowledge; rather, he writes:

“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal.3:1-5).

The ‘greyness’ here is not in regard to Gospel knowledge, but it is founded upon one simple fact: those who had accepted it were now denying it!

The elder’s mistake was that he had an underlying theology of humanity that influenced the Gospel itself. It came out in his view of the retention of the original image of Adam and its supposed value for the Gospel. It came out again in his view of blatant idolators perhaps being Christian because sinful human beings made in Adam’s image, and beset with his fallen image, get things muddled- but don’t worry Christ can correct it all!

I am so glad that the NT, our Lord, the apostles, and their collective Gospel did not leave us in any doubt. Earth does not fit into heaven; and heaven does not try to re-do earth. It is a Gospel of Good News precisely because it brings a new life, from a new world, to create new creations, with a new image. By following this message, we avoid the Gospel mish-mash that is so prevalent today.