"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of
our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto
the world" (Galatians 6:14).
One of the most remarkable features of religion in our time is the whole
idea of "Christianity plus." My friend Peter Toon has written extensively
about "the American supermarket of religions," where people are encouraged
to shop around for the ingredients of a "religion" all their own. A little
Christianity, a little Buddhism, a dab of Unitarianism—it doesn’t matter,
it’s all "good," according to one’s tastes.
Others have called this phenomenon "cafeteria Christianity," wherein
the only unifying principle is choice itself. One "customer" at the cafeteria
says, "I chose a mixture of the Gospel and materialism, and I call it ‘liberation
theology.’" Another builds a different kind of "tray" for himself, and
says, "I chose the ‘happy parts’ of the Bible, where it say that God loves
me, but I left out all that business about God’s justice and his demands
that I obey him—I call it ‘seeker friendly Christianity.’" And a third
says, "I passed up all that ‘complicated spiritual stuff’ about worship
and fellowship with others. I just wanted some good rules for personal
living, and the Hindus had some terrific ideas that I’d never thought of
What just about everybody misses about this approach to the Christian
faith is that adding things to Christianity never gives us "Christianity
plus," but only "Christianity minus." A real religion, if we are not merely
indulging ourselves in a little religious snack, is a life-defining set
of beliefs and obligations, since in its technical meaning a "religion"
is what ties all of reality together, whether for a single human being
or for an entire culture. A "religion" is what human beings "rely on" to
make sense out of absolutely everything.
When we "add" to Christianity, we must necessarily leave something else
out. And to be fair to the "supermarket" and "cafeteria" browsers, this
is not a new problem. We encountered the first known example of this problem
two weeks ago, when the reading was also taken from the Epistle of St.
Paul to the Galatians. People called "Judaizers" were trying to convince
the Galatians that they should add the regulations of the Old Law to their
St. Paul rightly told the Galatians that, if they put their faith in
various works of the Law, they would be changing the Gospel itself, which
offers mankind salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified
and resurrected Son of God made man. Thus, instead of "Christianity plus,"
they would end up with no Christianity at all. As one of my seminary classmates
used to say, "Christianity isn’t a buffet or a smorgasbord—it’s a sit-down
dinner where one eats what the Lord sets before him."
It is in the same spirit, and guided by the same Holy Ghost, that St.
Paul continues his dissection of the Judaizers in this week’s Epistle.
When anyone offers an addition to Christianity (which is always in practice
a subtraction), all any of us can say is "God forbid that I should glory,
save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified
unto me, and I unto the world." After all, it is the fallenness of the
world that offers us the delusion of "additions to Christianity," because
the world is constantly seeking to reclaim us from Jesus Christ, who bought
us out of slavery to the world (the literal sense of "redemption") at the
price of his own Blood shed for us all on the cross.
Sin is not creative, but destructive, so the fallen world is stuck with
the same old tricks to try to entice us away from Christ. What is unusual
about our time is how childishly vulnerable we are to "the same old tricks"
dressed up a little as if "going to church" were interchangeable with "going
to the mall." We have forgotten our inheritance of the hard-won lessons
learned by St. Paul and the Galatian Christians.
We have, likewise, neglected (or, God forbid, rejected) our particular
Anglican heritage of unequivocal witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ and
the seamless integrity of the Christian Faith. How many of us, for example,
really take the time to study the Articles of Religion, even though they
are printed in the back of every Book of Common Prayer? If we knew these
Articles, we would also know immediately that God has not called us to
a "supermarket" or to a "cafeteria," where we may choose what we would
like to believe.
Take, for instance, Article XVIII, "Of obtaining eternal Salvation only
by the Name of Jesus Christ." This Article not only tells us the Truth,
it gives us the Truth right between our eyes:
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man
shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent
to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy
Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men
must be saved.
"Christianity plus" (which we have seen must always be "Christianity
minus") is a self-imposed curse, since only we can submit ourselves to
the mercy of someone or something other than Jesus Christ the Lord. Only
we can tell or accept the lie that man-made additions to the Gospel (called
"Law" in the Article), or man-made alternatives to the Christian religion
as given in the Scriptures (called "Sects" in the Article), or man-made
moral codes supposedly based on Nature (which is, of course, fallen nature)
can save us as well or better than the Blood shed by Jesus Christ on the
We need to reclaim the whole of the Faith, and with it the spiritual
power to witness that faith without flinching, because that, too, is part
of our Anglican heritage. We need to remember great men like John Stark
Ravenscroft, who served as Bishop of North Carolina from 1823 until his
death in 1830. We can read about him and other great Anglican Christians
in older, "pre-supermarket of religions" books like E. C. Chorley’s Men
and Movements in the American Episcopal Church.
Bishop Ravenscroft was a plain-spoken witness to Jesus Christ and the
glory of his Cross both in his private conversation and in his pulpit.
Two anecdotes about him stand out as pertinent this morning. When his old
friend Colonel William Polk (the father of Leonidas Polk, who was both
an Episcopal bishop and a Confederate General) asked Ravenscroft if a man
of high morality and clean living would get to heaven by these means alone,
the Bishop answered, "No, Sir; he would go straight to hell." In his first
sermon before his diocese, Ravenscroft explained why this is so:
On the doctrines of the cross, then, as you have taken, maintain your
stand, my reverend brethren. Preach them in the simplicity and sincerity
of hearts that feel them, with the earnestness of men who wish to save
their own souls, and the souls of others. The entire spiritual death, and
alienation of man from God, by the entertainment of sin; the reconciliation
of God to the world, by the sufferings and death of his only begotten Son;
the atonement of his blood; justification by faith; acceptance through
the merits of the Saviour; conversion of the heart to God; holiness of
life, the only evidence of it; and the grace of God, in the renewal of
the Holy Ghost, the sole agent from first to last, in working out our salvation
from sin here and from hell hereafter. In fewer words, SALVATION by grace,
through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. [see Ephesians
Ravenscroft gives us a good example for our lives by his courage and
faith. By his words, he gives us the pattern of what should occupy our
hearts and minds in our knowing and understanding of our Christian faith
in communion with God the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, and by
the Holy Ghost. And thus, he shows us what it means to say with St. Paul,
"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
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credit St. Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.