Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Churches offering a Discount

Partee, Charles. "A Mangy Scene at Christmas." Presbyterian Outlook. December 20, 2002.

Keywords: Christmas, Easter, incarnation, Jesus, creche, nativity scene

Not long ago an acquaintance of mine traveling in South America purchased a crèche for his wife. It was unusual, and it was on sale. Some Presbyterians cannot resist a bargain. The nativity scene was quickly bought and gift wrapped. On Christmas day, he discovered to his dismay that, while every other piece of the traditional manger scene was in place, the baby Jesus was absent. A Christmas scene without Christ presumably explains the cheap price.

Sadly, I know some Presbyterian Churches which offer the same big discount...In Christian congregations where Jesus Christ is not present, baptism becomes a spiritual Jiffy Lube and the Lord's Supper is fast-food take-out: junk food supposed to keep you moving along the highway to Heaven.

The issue, of course, is not the number of homiletical references to Jesus, but their meaning. Put another way, most Christians accept much of the orthodox view of the work of Christ because people still yearn for a real salvation. However, some Presbyterians are willing to settle for a symbolic savior. Therefore, the traditional view of the person of Christ is today under both direct and indirect attack. This bifurcation leads to disaster. According to John Calvin, "the blessed and happy state of the Church always had its foundation in the person of Christ" (Institutes II.6.2).

Surely, most Presbyterians will refuse to buy a Holy Family without the baby Jesus. One would hope that the strong emphasis of Reformed theology on the integral humanity of Christ will never be lost but also not maintained by discounting the substantial relation of Son to Father. The birth of Our Lord is indeed a human process, but it is also a divine gift. Resurrection, on the other hand, is a divine gift entirely. Presbyterians should continue to understand Christ's person and work, Christmas and Easter, as interlocking realities.

Charles Partee is P.C. Rossin Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Seminary

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