Friday, June 07, 2013

[what and Whom]

E. Stanley Jones writes about the centrality of Jesus, and about division and unity. While he is speaking in the context of India in the early 1900's, his words are very relevant today:

This Christian spirit scattered here and there in many hearts in India must express itself in some kind of corporate relationships. Some kind of a church will be the final outcome. We will put our Western corporate experience at the disposal of the forming church in India and we will say to her, “Take as much as you may find useful for your purposes, but be first-hand and creative and express Christ through your own genius.

While we cannot tell what may be the final outcome of this expression of the Christ of the Indian Road on the part of his followers in India, we can see at this distance certain things that will be avoided and certain things gained if they center everything upon Christ.

If India keeps this vision clear, she will be saved from many of the petty divisions that have paralyzed us in great measure. For at the central place of our experience of Jesus we are one. It is Christ who unites us; it is doctrines that divide. As someone has suggested, if you ask a congregation of Christians, “What do you believe?” there will be a chorus of conflicting beliefs, for no two persons believe exactly alike. But if the question is asked, “Whom do you trust?” then we are together. If the emphasis in our approach to Christianity is “What?” then it is divisive, but if the emphasis is “Whom?” then we are drawn together at the place of this Central Magnet. One has the tendency of the centrifugal and the other the tendency of the centripetal. He is the hub that holds together in himself the divided spokes.

Christianity with a what-emphasis is bound to be divisive, but this tendency is lessened with a Whom-emphasis. Note the things that have created denominations in the West: baptism, human freedom, rites, ceremonies, church government, dress, order—the points of division have been nearly all “whats.” The church divided once over the “Whom,” namely, in the Unitarian issue. Here it had a right to divide, for the question of who Jesus is is vital and decisive. Everything is bound up with that question.

Christianity breaks into meaning when we see Jesus. The incredible becomes the actual; the impossible becomes the patent.

Do not misunderstand me: The whats of Christianity are important, a body of doctrine is bound to grow up around him. We cannot do without doctrine, but I am so anxious for the purity of the doctrine that I want it to be held in the white light of his Person and under the constant corrective of his living Mind. The only place where we can hold our doctrines pure is to hold them in the light of his countenance. Here their defects are at once apparent, but only here.

But we must hold in mind that no doctrine, however true, no statement, however correct, no teaching, however pure, can save a man. “We are saved by a Person and only a Person, and, as far as I know, by only one Person,” said Bishop McDowell. Only Life can lift life.

Excerpt from CHRIST of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones (NY: The Abingdon Press, 1925), pp 155-156, 163-164

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