Archive for the 'Atonement and the Church' Category

Atonement and the Church

Friday, April 13th, 2007


The almost wholesale belief within the church of substitutionary atonement is a remarkable testimony to the absence of spiritual insight within this supposedly august body. Substitutionary atonement is by definition impossible it is a non sequitur, for the entire purpose of atonement is to restore unity to a broken relationship. Vicarious suffering, though a noble gesture, is pointless if the desired goal is at-one-ment, which is what atonement actually means. If, however, the desired goal of theological speculation is to achieve an understanding of how one can feel forgiven in the face of a justifiably angry God then vicarious sacrifice for divine appeasement just might fit the bill. In fact it appears to be just the ticket, for the church has grabbed hold of it with universal enthusiasm. But if your desire is to know the Father, to be one with the Father in unity with the Son, then a vicarious sacrifice is nonsensical. The reason it is nonsensical is that the entire Christian message is that we have been redeemed not from the punishment of sin so much as from its power. We have been made alive together with Him.

For Jesus to be punished vicariously there would need to have been an agency separate from mankind to do the punishing. For if the sole cause of Jesus death is that sinful man put him to death how then is His death vicarious? Surely we know both the cause and the agency of His death, all that we can marvel at is the hand of God which allowed it, indeed desired that it would happen to thus enable us to be free from the sickness of our souls; a sickness that consumes us to the degree that we would rather live feeling justified in our sins by putting an innocent man to death. A man whose only crime was to speak the unpalatable truth whilst also performing acts of power that astonished man and glorified God. His very coming was a sacrifice and His suffering, rather than being a substitute for our punishment, was the real thing, suffering humiliation in genuine love for us. He had to suffer death for us, for how else were we to be set free from our hostility and blindness?

All talk of vicarious atonement is man separating himself from the full truth of his own guilt. Of course he makes these pronouncements of theological profundity with an air of piety that disguises fear. For he knows that he is guilty of the blood of Christ and desperately wants to feel assured that he is forgiven. This desperation for assurance is his sole motivation, even to the degree of persecuting anyone who disagrees with his theological speculation!

How is this so? The answer lies in the false assumptions that are made concerning what it means to be a Christian. The entire edifice of the Church is built on the false premise that its members are followers of Christ. If anyone questions the veracity of their claims, the smugness of their assurance, they are immediately labelled heretics with unteachable spirits. In what way are they unteachable? Merely that they don’t believe the Church that it is following Christ.

If the Church’s assumptions are wrong concerning salvation then their doctrines are necessarily also wrong. If you presume that you are a Christian because you believe that Jesus is the Christ and you are taught that your sins are forgiven you even while you yet walk in them then you are inclined to say what a gracious God He is! How can this be so? How could such good fortune fall upon me? The answer – vicarious atonement! Jesus, the righteous one, died in my place taking the punishment for my sins! How wonderful! If I believe this then I am saved!

But attaining unity, atonement, with God, is not merely a matter of His forgiving sinful man his misdeeds, but a way of providing a means of attaining conformity to His likeness. If man is merely forgiven of his sins and yet still remains a sinner, as taught by the Church, of what benefit is Christ’s sacrifice? His death was in vain if it failed to achieve real atonement and that is men who no longer sin, or, to paraphrase scripture, men who no longer live for the deeds of the flesh but the will of God.

The Church is content with a pseudo-Christianity, a faith without works. For the works that are implied in scripture are not mere ‘good deeds’ but are the actions that flow from blameless men, living in conformity to the Son of God, empowered by His Spirit, revealing the reality of His resurrection, and thus bearing witness to a reality that other men do not know. This is what Paul meant when in discussing so-called Christians said in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 4 verse 19), “…I shall find out, not the word of those who are arrogant, but their power.” The Church today assumes, in its arrogance, that it has the word of faith, but it totally lacks the power that flows from real conformity to Christ. This is why its doctrine of atonement is so horribly wrong, for it assumes that it is atoned without arriving at at-one-ment, confessing a doctrine it does not understand. What is more if there is within the Church a man who really knows real atonement he will be condemned as arrogant, for in the Church’s understanding of atonement a man if he really loves God must invariably sin against Him! If a man says “I was so horrified at my sinful life that when I was confronted with the full agony of Christ’s suffering the affect of sin, I felt unable to continue in my sins and repented in a sorrow too deep for words, and I would rather suffer death than sin against Him” that man is regarded as a heretic. For apparently only a proud and arrogant man can reach that level of sorrow!

There must then be a different knowledge of what is meant by atonement than that which is taught by the Church. Jesus said of similar men recorded by Matthew (chapter 23 verse 13), “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven in front of men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Because the way to life is so difficult there are few who are prepared to pay the price of putting to death all of their sinful passions, instead they simply declare it impossible and claim atonement by another method. Vicarious atonement means that Jesus does all the hard work and the believer just picks up the spoils, he doesn’t even have to stop sinning! I think the word for such belief has been described as ‘cheap faith’ for it costs you little and there is no love of God in it. Jesus also said in John's gospel (chapter 10 verse 1),“Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.” This is what the Church has done; it has entered by another door. For the door is Christ, and the entry is through His cross. Atonement then is dying with Christ to sin, being dead together with Him to sin’s power through His atoning work on the cross. He bore our sins that we, in full repentance, might die with Him, might conform to His image, through our joining with Him in death. Just as Peter says in his first letter (chapter 4 verses 1 & 2), “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”

Jesus says in Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” The Church has forgotten their cross when they preach substitutionary atonement. They preach a comfortable gospel, a doctrine of convenience, a gospel that does not join them to Christ in His death to sin.