What Jesus Considered the Essential Tenet

September 15, 2011

In light of the interesting comments and conversation resulting from yesterday’s post, I have elected to spend one more day on Jesus before moving on to Paul, regarding doctrinal expectations. The gospels give us no evidence that Jesus was insistent upon a particular “system” of doctrine. The Pharisees had a very punctilious system of doctrine, but there was something seriously wrong with them spiritually, and Jesus called them out about it all the time. Things could be distilled into a far less complicated framework of belief. For Jesus, there were two main core beliefs around which everything else would fall into place “doctrinally”: the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus’ identity and work as the Sent One to make that Kingdom visible and effective. The inauguration of the Kingdom is a big subject beyond my scope today, but closely related to the second. Who is this Sent One?

In Matthew 16, Jesus has a sit-down with his disciples, and asks them what the buzz about him was. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” he asked. This was practically a catechism question, but he got various answers, all arising from the different expectations of Messiah percolating in Judaism. The disciples mentioned Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jeremiah. Then Jesus turned the question to them: “Okay, so who do you guys think I am?” Notice the question is personal on both sides of it. Jesus addresses the disciples “you guys” directly, and instead of asking about the Son of Man, he asks the question in terms of himself. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated his identity as “the Son of Man,” and ultimately defined that title by his actions.

Peter pipes up, “Well, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Peter used another term synonymous with Messiah (the Christ) and relationally described as the Son of God. Huge. Because Jesus affirmed Peter’s declaration, we know that this is a true doctrinal statement, certainly a faith statement, and the very core of our understanding of the Incarnation.

Another reason we can categorize this as a doctrinal statement is because of what Jesus says next: “Whoa, dude! You didn’t get this out of a textbook! God himself revealed this to you! Yes, Peter! and upon this rock I will build my church.” Volumes have been written about the meaning of this statement (whether Peter or his faith declaration were the rock upon which the Church is built). At the very least, its significance rests upon the expectation that followers of Christ, to be held together as the Church, would believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Messiah (Savior) and Son of God.

To this day, Christology is at the heart of Christianity. The identity of This One, the Sent One, as Son of God and the Christ, the Messiah, is the central fact—yes, doctrine—around which everything else true and meaningful revolves. And throughout his ministry, as described for us by four gospel writers, Jesus continually called people to himself, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the only “way to the Father.” As John Stott was so fond of saying, “There is no Christianity without Christ.” And not a Christ we fashion for political purposes, like first-century Jewish leaders were wont to do (and some still reject because Jesus just didn’t fit their preconceived notions of a political leader).

The purity of any church teaching must be measured by its faithfulness to Jesus Christ’s view of himself, as articulated in Scripture and revealed and applied in our lives by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I know that some in the PCUSA have stumbled here, others have poured new meaning into old words to accommodate fuzzy thinking about Jesus. Yes, I know that there are several legitimate and helpful ways to understand the atonement (and yes, there are some illegitimate and unhelpful ways, too). But when all is said and done, the essential tenet of the Reformed faith is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He said it, he acted like it, he proved it by his resurrection, he sent his Holy Spirit to promote it, and commissioned us to preach it.

Tomorrow, I promise: A word on Paul and doctrine.


4 Responses to “What Jesus Considered the Essential Tenet”

  1. Derek Simmons Says:

    Oh Mary, if only this were Skype and you could see both my smile and the tongue-in-cheek when I say,
    I couldn’t have said it better myself.
    Thanks for being a God-glorifying faithful remnant; an ember among the ashes over which the Holy Wind may blow.
    Your Brother in Christ,
    Derek Simmons

  2. Chris Enoch Says:

    Another hardy amen from here. Glad you use the “d” word (doctrine). Most in the PC(USA) is afraid of it….

    -Chris Enoch

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