I found some preceptive examples of Christian wisdom in an paper by David Clough entitled, ‘Karl Barth on Religious and Irreligious Idolatry. This quote is about ‘irreligious criticism’. But it speaks to the issue of distorted gospels and their embodied idolatry: The statement is, ‘Man makes religion. Religion does not make man.’
The tenor of our posts on this website is that Jesus makes human beings who are not clouds without rain. Jesus makes people of substance who are sons and daughters of God.
RELIGION IS NOT LIFE
Religion may be a corridor to life but is never life itself.
We can live as serious ministers of religion, yet because it is religion we are ministering we might tend to specialise in ‘something and nothing’ which is what Jesus was getting at when he spoke of the difference between mere words and words that are spirit and life. Something and nothing is the result of drinking the ‘cup’ instead of the water.
Anything not Christ is not the water of life.
There is no substitute for the water of life and this is ours as the result of union with God. Oneness with God as a discipline and a pattern is the result of familiarity with a genuine gospel rather than a distorted or diluted gospel. These gospels purvey some version of separation and self-effort. The Gospel of oneness with Christ is a gospel in which ‘veils of illusion’ are removed and we are drawn progressively into the reality of our inheritance: Our union with God.
OWN GOSPEL/OWN GOD
People can make ‘gods’ out of key doctrinal beliefs. With some a church distinctive is made into a false grace where Believers imagine they are ‘covered’ because they adhere to an iconic denominational behavior.
Clough observes that “Every religion and every cult which sets up a God, that is an unreal being, a being different and separate from real nature … and which makes it an object of worship, is the worship of images and consequently idolatry.” A legalised god is an idol.
This meshes with the truth that Christ alone is our life and that Christ’s gospel and that of the apostles is the only real gospel. This is the gospel of the incarnation where we are graced entirely with Christ’s person and where Christ comes in our flesh and becomes us is the reality in which we live - as indicated by The Lord’s Table and it’s message of our one substance with God.
Clough expressed the foundational truth that any ‘Idolatry is human action seeking to evade the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.’ This is the kind of bent religiosity that insists that Jesus as the Light of the World must accommodate Himself to our light and our version of the Gospel.
REPRESENTATIONS THAT ARE NOT GOD
Clough quotes Karl Barth’s observation that religion creates images and icons that are substitutes for Christ. Religion focusses people in some churches on their chief idol– a religious icon that denotes their identity and the hub of their belief. ‘The representation.. has always and everywhere been compressed into [iconic] pictures of deities.’ In so doing “Creating the Deity [idol] according to his [man’s] own image—and in a confident act of self-assurance, undertaking to justify and sanctify himself in conformity with what he holds to be the law.”
This kind of obstinacy makes people immune to the light of the genuine gospel while incubating a false christ.
‘But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away’ 2 Cor 3.14-16 NIV.
A PERVERSE IDOLATRY
It is significant that Barth uses the word ‘law’ since it implies that legalism is a form of idolatry that defines sacredness as rites and behaviours when the sacred proper is only ever represented by Jesus as the Son of God. Barth wanted the church to understand that the mixture of god with not god produced mongrel ideas that claimed God’s favour where it did not belong and robbed god’s presence from those it was meant to enliven with His spirit and life.
‘So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image’ 2 Cor 3.18 NIV.
The Christ of God is the Christ of Jesus, Paul and John. This is the Christ of the 'apostles doctrine.' Partisan gospels, half gospels and the sacralising of icons and behaviours that are not God, imprisons people in a confused knowledge of God and a twisted knowledge of themselves. This is why cults and sects need to come to Christ to have their veils taken away.