Leo Tolstoy and the Real Meaning of Christmas

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Maybe you have seen this before, but I just came across it.  This is Leo Tolstoy's take on Jesus, pitting the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount vs. the Jesus of the Creeds, namely the Nicene Creed, and of theology.  It's from his 1894 work, The Kingdom of God Is Within You.
 
The Sermon on the Mount, or the Creed. One cannot believe in both. And Churchmen have chosen the latter. The Creed is taught and is read as a prayer in the churches, but the Sermon on the Mount is excluded even from the Gospel passages read in the churches, so that the congregation never hears it in church, except on those days when the whole of the Gospel is read. Indeed, it could not be otherwise. People who believe in a wicked and senseless God-- who has cursed the human race and devoted his own Son to sacrifice, and a part of mankind to eternal torment--cannot believe in the God of love. The man who believes in a God, in a Christ coming again in glory to judge and to punish the quick and the dead, cannot believe in the Christ who bade us turn the left cheek, judge not, forgive these that wrong us, and love our enemies. The man who believes in the inspiration of the Old Testament and the sacred character of David, who commanded on his deathbed the murder of an old man who had cursed him, and whom he could not kill himself because he was bound by an oath to him, and the similar atrocities of which the Old Testament is full, cannot believe in the holy love of Christ. The man who believes in the Church's doctrine of the compatibility of warfare and capital punishment with Christianity cannot believe in the brotherhood of all men. 
And what is most important of all--the man who believes in salvation through faith in the redemption or the sacraments, cannot devote all his powers to realizing Christ's moral teaching in his life. 
 
It strikes me how susceptible people are to having a merely sentimental view of Christ, or, like Tolstoy here, merely an ethical view (if you understand what I mean by that) of Christ.  It is a susceptibility all too apparent in this season.  
 
I'll paraphrase J. Gresham Machen's final telegram to his good friend John Murray, sent as 1936 came to a close and Machen's life ebbed away.
 
So thankful for the Creedal Christ -- the God-Man who came the first time in utter humility and will come in again in utter glory and in between offered himself up "for us and for our salvation" as the perfect sacrifice -- no hope without Him.

Posted December 20, 2010 @ 5:11 PM by Stephen Nichols
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