Scientology crops up in the news from time to time. It is again being talked about, this time about whether or not it should lose its tax-exempt status. More disturbing than its abuse of money are its basic beliefs. According to its own statements, Scientology teaches that “man [is] basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself, his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe.” The troubling aspect of this is that many people in western civilization have adopted these ideas as their own.
The liberalism at the beginning of the twentieth century had the same optimistic view of man as being basically good. In a bizarre sense, so did Marxism. It was not man that was so wrong; it was the political environment. Liberate people from political oppression and man takes a great step toward utopia. But these positive reviews of the essential nature of man fell on hard times with two world wars and continuing personal experience that man is not really that good. However, the ideas persevere, despite the evidence to the contrary. Now it is popular to say that there is good and bad in everyone.
The idea that man’s spiritual salvation depends on himself is reflected in the humanist belief (stated in the Humanist Manifesto II) that “no deity will save us, we must save ourselves.” Whether we admit it or not, this idea is pervasive throughout the world. Muslims believe that their good must outweigh their bad to ever have hope of paradise and its accompanying gratifications. Many people in our own culture are trusting in the idea that they “are a good person” so they will go to heaven.
Where is the concept of attaining brotherhood with the universe? The environmental, global warming cabal is filled with those who believe in the sacredness of mother earth. This nature worship has become the default position of many of our educational institutions.
The widespread acceptance of these premises is fertile ground in which sects such as Scientology plant their seeds of false hope. Think of the confusion surrounding just one of these basic concepts. If man is basically good, why does he need to be saved? What is he being saved from? And how can we save ourselves, as the humanists say, if we are not really lost?
However, man cannot escape his own personal guilt. The liar knows that he lied. The thief knows that he has stolen. The adulterer knows that he has lusted. All the excuses in the world do not undo real guilt. We are not talking about guilt-feelings, but real guilt. No amount of denial, self-help, or community service can erase the real guilt of sinners no matter how much they try to rationalize their actions.
Much of the defense of long years of evolution and the frantic denial of the first chapters of Genesis stems from the wishful thinking that there is not a God who keeps track of every deed that we have ever done. The idea of coming judgment where every man will give account to the Divine Sovereign is anathema to modern thinking. But there is that nagging guilt, that inner condemnation that every one senses. The German theologians called it “angst.” American frontier evangelists called it conviction. The sinner stands convicted of sin.
Here is where true teaching and preaching must point the way to the only solution that is eternal. It is important that the message of Christ is not distorted. Jesus Himself said, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17, 18). Jesus did not come with a message of condemnation but with a message of salvation.
The unbelieving world is already condemned. They sense it. They feel it. They are defensive. But it is there. Inner condemnation. Angst. Conviction. And they cannot save themselves.
Here is where the gospel must be preached. No moralizing, story-telling, or positive confessions will help. Only the gospel. Christ died for our sins. He was buried. On the third day He arose in power. He is mighty to save! He is strong to deliver! As Peter preached, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Some seekers for God’s peace are vulnerable to false teaching. They are so concerned that they get it right that a forceful personality or a forceful declaration of what needs to be done can bring them to misperception and even falsehood. When the gospel is confused by requirements to do something like wear some sort of sacred underwear, or do some other physical deed, the truth becomes obscured. When groups claim that to be saved you have to think the right thing about water baptism (was it for “the remission of sins?” If not, it was not legitimate, they say), or join the right church, or do other ceremonial add-ons to the gospel, they are spreading confusion.
Paul the Apostle carefully set out the definition of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4) and the requirements for salvation (Romans 10:9-13). It is as though the Holy Spirit anticipated that false teachers would bring confusion, so He inspired Paul to write simply, briefly, and very clearly. When teachers begin to put all kinds of asterisks beside the plain message of the gospel, beware of them.
There is only one gospel and only one way to be saved. It is not somehow different for the Baptists or the Pentecostals. The Church of Christ does not have a corner on salvation. Presbyterians can only be saved the same way anyone else is saved. Calvinists are not saved differently than Methodists. Anyone who is saved is saved by grace through faith. They are saved when they so believe on the Lord Jesus Christ that they confess Him as their savior who died for them and rose again. They are “buried with Him in baptism” and they rise to walk in newness of life. Old things pass away and, behold, all things become new. They are no longer “dead in trespasses and in sins” but are now made alive by the Spirit.
Jesus warned of false teachers proclaiming a false gospel. The best way to avoid them is to know the truth. Read the scriptures for yourself. Know what the Word of God says about salvation. Don’t let yourself be confused by those who major on minor issues. Keep the main thing the main thing.
And trust Jesus.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).