I had a spiritual conversation with a stranger this week like none I’ve ever had before.
The setting wasn’t unusual. I was sitting beside a gentleman on a plane flight. And, we struck up a conversation as passengers sometimes do.
Neither was the man’s spiritual journey all that unusual. Apparently, he had grown up in a family that had religiously attended a mainline Protestant church. When he had become an adult, the man had drifted away from the church. But, in past three years, though, he had begun attending an evangelical mega-church near his Florida home. And now, he had a renewed interest in his childhood faith. That’s pretty common: I know dozens of people with similar stories.
What differed from the norm, however, was my response to this man. You see, I discovered that though this man considered himself a Christian, he actually espoused New Age and humanist beliefs. Yet, because he didn’t really understand Christianity, he didn’t even realize that these beliefs are incompatible with Scripture.
When I asked him what he believed to be the essence of Christianity, he referred to its moral code – not the salvation of lost humanity. When I asked why Jesus died, he said Jesus died simply to provide an example of how to respond to pain and suffering. And, when I asked if he believed in a literal heaven and hell, he said, “No, not at all. Heaven and hell are just states of mind.”
Now normally, I’d respond to this sort of answer by explaining Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” But, I’ve become increasingly aware that average Americans have a mostly pagan worldview. And, you can’t dismantle that worldview by just explaining one verse: you need to tell the story of redemption starting at the beginning. So, I asked him a question I’ve never asked a seeker before: “What, then, was the purpose of the sacrifices in the Old Testament?”
The man tilted his head to the side, rested his chin on his hand, and after a few seconds of silence replied, “I have no idea.” Here, this man had spent his entire childhood in the church. He’s been attending an evangelical church for the past three years. And, he knows nothing – absolutely NOTHING – of man’s separation from God and the need for a sin sacrifice!
So, as best I could in a very short time, I gave a survey of the Old Testament. I told how Adam and Eve’s rebellion infected mankind with sin and sentenced us to death; how God instituted sacrifices to show that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin; and how the Passover pointed to Jesus: just as the blood of an unblemished lamb caused the angel of death to pass over the homes of the Israelites, so the blood of Jesus – our Passover Lamb – covers our sin so we can escape eternal death.
“That’s fascinating,” my new acquaintance responded. And, he added that I had given him a lot to think about. But, this man had given me a lot to think about. How can it be that children graduate out of our children’s churches, finish confirmation, attend our youth groups and still fail to understand the story of redemption? Why do we explain the gospel in many evangelical churches beginning in the New Testament – midway through the story?
That’s not how Jesus did it. When he explained who He was to the men on the road to Emmaus, he started with Moses and the Prophets. He explained Himself in the context of the Old Testament. If we want to avoid the heresy and syncretism so prevalent in our society today, I suggest we do the same.
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