I had a prof at the seminary who
used to talk about the false religion of presentism.
You won’t find that word in a dictionary, but it should be
there. The word refers to
those who think that the present time is better than any other time.
Presentists think that folks today are smarter, wiser, and better
informed than all previous generations.
Presentists marvel at how ignorant their fathers’ generation
was. They are enamored with
how enlightened folks have finally become in the latter part of the 20th
Century. Presentists think
that people of ages gone by were mired in pathetic ignorance, while only
in recent years has mankind (they would say humankind) finally
discovered the truth. However,
this “truth” changes with the seasons, flitting from one faddish
notion to another. It promotes freedom, but produces slavery.
It promised to liberate women from enforced marriage and
motherhood. Instead it
enslaved single mothers to poverty and government dependency.
It promised to free homosexuals from legal harassment and
socially sanctioned cruelty. It
ended up fueling the deadly epidemic of AIDS.
It promised to free people from the oppressive structures of
traditional religion and traditional morality.
But it gave no one any freedom at all.
It only tore down the foundations of the ordered liberty that God
had so graciously preserved for us in America.
As the creed of presentism changes from day to day, one tenet of
this religion remains the same: its abiding hostility to the gospel of
This is the only absolute that is taught among the presentists.
The biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of
sinners remains for them the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense.
The only “truth” that our generation will confess is that all
religions are equally true. This
is nothing less than a flat denial of Christ and Christ’s claims.
But if you won’t admit that all religious roads lead to the
same God you are considered to be a religious bigot.
This is the “wisdom” of our present time. In its year-end issue, Newsweek published an article by its
religion editor, an award winning journalist by the name of Kenneth
Woodward, entitled, “How Should We Think About Islam?”
Woodward argues in favor of “religious pluralism” as a civic
virtue. Now lest you think
that “religious pluralism” refers to supporting the constitutional
right to the free exercise of religion, Mr. Woodward explains that it
requires us to view all religions as valid paths to God.
He criticizes Christians who refuse to pray with Jews and
Muslims. He praises
theologians who “are beginning to ask how the Holy Spirit might be at
work within non-Christian religions.”
Woodward is a slave to the false religion my old seminary professor
called presentism. The man
sincerely believes that it is a blessing to be set free from the binding
dogma of yesterday. He
devoutly follows his religion, seeks converts to it, and promotes its
creed. He believes that the
fullness of time will come upon us as we learn to set aside our claims
to finally revealed spiritual truth.
Christians and Jews and Muslims must find (Woodward writes)
“sound theological reasons for valuing other faiths without
compromising the integrity of their own.”
He can say this because he doesn’t understand how it is that
the Christian religion is radically different from every other religion.
To him one religion is as true as another.
The man is blinded by the false religion of presentism.
But the fullness of time did not come to this world in the
twentieth or the twenty-first centuries.
It came in the first century when “God sent forth His Son, born
of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
The history of the human race is centered on that sending.
When Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin
Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried,
descended into hell, rose from the dead on the third day, and ascended
to the right hand of the Father, that was the fulfillment of all human
history. That was the
fullness of time. That was
the central point from which everything must be understood.
The Father sent His Son. His
Son was born of a woman. He
was the Son of the Father from eternity.
He was always the Son of the Father.
There never was a time when he was not the Son of the Father.
But there was a time when that Son became our brother by being
born of a woman. That was
the fullness of time. He
was born of a woman. No man
had anything to do with it. She
was a pure virgin. He was
born of a virgin and was preserved from the curse of sin, for God
couldn’t become a sinner and it was God who was conceived as a Child
in the Virgin’s womb. God
couldn’t participate in sin, but when the eternal Son of God was born
of a woman he willingly joined himself to sinners.
He was born under the law. That
law didn’t apply to him. The
Bible tells us that the law was made for sinners.
It certainly wasn’t made for God who cannot sin.
Yet he was born of a woman and he was born under the law so that
he could take the place of sinners both by doing what the law demanded
of them and by suffering what the law required of them.
In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman,
born under the law, to redeem all those who were under the law.
When you are under the law you are a slave.
You are not free to do as you choose.
You must do what the law demands.
Your life is determined by demands that are made on you against
your will. Oh, you may want
to join your will to the demands of the law, but if wishes were horses
then beggars would ride. Just
because you want to do something doesn’t mean that you can. Just because you must do something doesn’t mean you are
able. When God sent forth
His Son to redeem us, He sent Him to do what we couldn’t do. We needed him to redeem us because we couldn’t redeem
ourselves. We were enslaved
by demands that we couldn’t meet.
Only Jesus could meet those demands.
Only Jesus could do what the law demanded of us.
Only Jesus could suffer what we deserved to suffer.
Only Jesus could make us sons of God instead of slaves. Only Jesus could send the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Only by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit who proceeds from
the Father, and not only from the Father, but from the Father and the
Son, can we call God: Father. Anyone
can say the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
Only those who have the Holy Spirit can call God Father with the
confidence of true children that God is our dear Father who loves us
with a Father’s love.
And that’s why the Christian truth is true and why the fullness of
time is when Jesus Christ was born into this world.
Modern Judaism is a false religion because it denies that Jesus
is the Christ. Likewise
Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and every other religion of this world are
essentially false religions because they deny that Jesus is the Son of
God who has redeemed those who were under the law. As a matter of fact, all of these religions leave you under
the law. They leave you to
your own powers and so they leave you without hope.
A religion that leaves you under the law treats you as a slave.
When you are under the law you are never more than a slave and a
slave has no hope. A slave has no hope because he has no future.
Even a child who is under the law has hope that someday he will
be set free from the rules that bind him. And someday he will.
But the slave who must remain under the law must remain under
tyranny all his life. This is the lot of those who want to know God apart from
Jesus Christ. They are
powerless to find true spiritual freedom.
They live without hope.
Many people who were once baptized into union with Christ and thus
filled with the Holy Spirit live as slaves under bondage and not as
God’s children who are free. And
the reason for this is that they deny their adoption into God’s family
and they fall into the lie of presentism that every religion is as good
as every other religion. It’s
a lie. Only the Christian
faith gives you spiritual freedom because only our holy Christian faith
has a Redeemer who sets us free from the tyranny of the law.
Every other religion requires its adherents to win over God’s
heart by obeying God’s law. Even
the most liberal and open minded versions of what we have called
presentism cannot guarantee its devotees that whatever god they worship
really does accept them, receive them, love them, cherish them, and keep
them from harm forever. Only our Christian faith assures us of this.
Only the Christian can call God: Abba, the bold and endearing
name of the Father who loves you with an undying love.
Of course it is easy enough to try to silence the law’s demands.
All we need to do is to silence the law.
We need only change the demands that God has placed on us so that
we are no longer guilty of going against them.
We can redefine the commandments.
Idolatry, the misuse of God’s name, and the neglect of his holy
word can easily be defined according to a few doable rules.
Likewise, we can treat the second table of the law in a similar
way, honoring our father and mother only when they deserve it and
excusing hatred against our neighbor as long as we can show that he is
worthy of hatred. The 6th Commandment is constantly being redefined
to mean something other than celibacy outside of marriage and fidelity
within marriage of one man to one woman for as long as they both shall
live. Oh, it’s easy to
redefine the commandments.
But they remain God’s commandments and he doesn’t go along with our
redefinitions. He isn’t
impressed with the new insight discovered by the elite trendsetters of
our generation. God knows
there’s nothing new under the sun.
After all, He is the One who inspired Solomon to write this years
and years ago. There is no
new truth. There is no new
discovery of an inner unity of all religions.
There is only the religion of man that leaves us helpless under
the demands of a law that we have failed to obey and the gift of God’s
Son who redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for
us. There is only the
tyranny of the law that condemns us to slavery and the freedom the Holy
Spirit brings as he penetrates our hearts with the one and only gospel.
This gospel sets our hearts free by bringing to us the
forgiveness won by Christ our Redeemer.
This gospel assures us that God is not angry with us, that he is
our dear Father, and that we are heirs with Christ of eternal life.
The disciples of the modern heresy of presentism don’t know what time
it is. They think that the
notion that all religious truth is a matter of your own religious
opinion and your own religious experience is some kind of new and
exciting discovery. They
don’t know that this is as old as the Serpent’s lie in Eden when he
turned the woman’s heart away from the truth of God’s holy word to
rely instead on what her heart felt and what appealed to her eyes.
Our gracious Father in heaven would turn us away from the slavery
of our lying hearts and from the ignorance of our blind eyes.
He would turn us this Christmas back to the fullness of time.
Rather, he would bring the Christ of Christmas here to us.
And he does. Christ comes to us in his words of absolution today.
Christ comes to us with his very body and blood of the Holy
Supper today. In so doing
he gives us the Holy Spirit and he fills us with hope.
We call God Our Father with delight, and we know he delights in
hearing us pray. We are
free children of God, now and forever.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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