THE ANOMALY OF CHRISTIANITY
The spiritual reality of Christianity does not fit, and is antithetical to, the world system.
BY: JAMES A. FOWLER
What is an anomaly? The English word “anomaly” is etymologically derived from two Greek words: a(n) meaning “no” or “not,” and homos meaning “same.” An anomaly has to do with something that is “not the same,” uneven, irregular, that does not fit with something else. The intent of this article is to show that Christianity is “not the same” as, and therefore “does not fit” with the world-system.
Christianity is of a different order. It is out of the ordinary. It is other-worldly. It is supernatural. Christianity is unique, novel, distinct and unparalleled. Christianity is the functional dynamic of the living God via His Son, the Living Lord Jesus. Thus Christianity has a totally different modus operandi than the world-system.
Historical and scriptural perspective will be instructive at this point: In the beginning (Genesis) the perfect God created a perfect order. God created man in such a manner as to require to presence of Himself in the man for man to be man as God intended man to be. Thus creating man with the presence of Divine Spirit within (Genesis 2:7), God intended to function in and through man, visibly expressing His image (Genesis 1:26,27) in man’s behavior. Man was given freedom of choice in order to be receptive to this perfect divine character-flow, and the choice was represented by the trees in the garden (Genesis 2:9). The representative man, Adam, made the choice to reject the grace-flow of God’s activity. He sinned. The introduction of sin into this perfect order affected and infected the created order of the world. The false god, Satan, the “god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4) became the energizing spirit of the world-system of evil (Ephesians 2:2,3; I John 5:19). This world-system cannot be reformed or rehabilitated. It is in perpetual enmity with God. It must eventually be done away with, burned up.
In the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), God expressed Himself in grace to send forth His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). God acted to remedy the situation of mankind’s fall as His Son voluntarily and vicariously took the death consequences of man’s sin. The intent of this remedial action of “giving his life as a ransom for all” (Matthew 20:28; I Timothy 2:6) was to restore God’s intent of divine functioning in man. In triumphing over Satan at the cross (Hebrews 2:14; I John 3:8), God exercised His grace so as not to totally annihilate Satan, the world-system, sin and evil. In so doing He would have annihilated man as choosing creature. Rather, God allowed the interim period of what we call “Christian history” wherein man has the choice to exercise faith, the “receptivity of His activity,” and thereby to experience hope, the confident expectation of God’s perfect functionality in man, individually and in social collectivity.
What kind of hope does the Christian have, if we then assert as we are doing, that Christianity cannot and will not function perfectly in this world, as was God’s original intent? Is Christian hope merely a futuristic expectation? Surely there is a present sense of Christian hope whereby we confidently expect the divine Life of God in Jesus Christ to function in our behavior despite the anomalous contradiction of His life and the world in which we live.
Bear with me as I assert again what may seem contradictory. Christianity does not and will never function perfectly in this world. Christians cannot expect an unhindered perfectly functional expression of Christianity in the here and now.
The dynamic of Christianity, the Life of Jesus Christ, is inconsistent with, and totally opposite to, the ways of the world. Christian functionality is one hundred and eighty degrees contrary to the natural order, the status quo, the normative pattern, the accepted logic, the general rule, the common expectation of man. Christianity “does not fit” with the world-system. It demands a whole new order, a new creation, a new humanity, a new kingdom, a new spirit, a new dynamic, a “new heaven and a new earth.”
But what does natural man do? He tries to impose God’s order upon the natural order in religion. He attempts to impose so-called Christian or spiritual “principles” upon the world by legalistic imperatives and activistic legislation.
The divine dynamic of Christianity cannot be forced upon or forced into the world-system. It will not fit! It is not just paradoxical to the world; it is a totally different reality. Christianity is an anomaly. It is “not the same.”
Christianity cannot be integrated. It is incapable of amalgamation or eclecticism with the selfish, sinfulness of the world. Christianity and the world-system are mutually antithetical and completely incompatible. One cannot join light and darkness, God and Satan, Christ and Belial (II Corinthians 6:14,15). Any attempt to do so will inevitably witness the withdrawal of the Spirit of God, and despite the religious facade that remains there will be but the inscription of “Ichabod” – “the glory of the Lord has departed.“ (I Samuel 4:21)
God is absolute. His character is that of absolute purity. He acts only in accord with His perfect character. Such is grace, God’s activity in absolute accord with His character. As the Divine absolute, He will not, He cannot, “blend” with the natural, sinful ways of man. It is all or nothing with God! There can be no comprise, no condoning of sinfulness contrary to His character. Who God is and what God does is incongruous with the ways of sinful men. There can be no accord. God and sinful man cannot agree together. “The ways of God are always right? (Hosea 14:9). “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.“ (Proverbs 14:12)
Does this still sound contradictory? Perhaps a clarification is in order.
The spiritual dynamic of God’s divine activity is quite capable, and was originally intended, to function within the physical, earthly creature, man, and within the interpersonal social relationships of mankind. The anomaly is not the spiritual, divine dynamic working within the physical and earthly form of humanity. That functionality is completely compatible and was God’s creational intent. The anomaly is that the spiritual, divine dynamic is incapable of functioning within a selfish, sinful, fallen world of mankind. The “spirit of the world” is incompatible with the “Spirit of God” and the character of God. They are not the same; they do not fit! Here it is that we have anomaly, the spiritual antithesis, the spiritual “either – or” of God and Satan who are incapable of eclecticism or integration. The Holy Spirit cannot be joined with unholy spirit.
Fallen, sinful man cannot understand such spiritual things (I Corinthians 2:14). The natural man cannot recollect or reconstruct how he was designed to function. But in that this is the task of “religion,” he sets himself up as religious negotiator, i.e. as “god”, to figure it all out, in order to make God “fit” and to make Christianity “work” within the world, which it never will. Natural, self-oriented man does not know what to do if he cannot figure it out, define it, organize it, control it (as “god” over it). So he sets out to define the indefinable, to explain the inexplicable; and thus to “incorporate” such into another denomination complete with orthodox creedal formulation.
Man’s carefully delineated orthodoxy is always challenged by God’s heterodox ways, which will not conform to man’s plans. “The ways of God are past finding out.“ (Romans 10:33) Unfathomable! Christianity does not make sense. It is unreasonable. It is contrary to human logic. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth (different realms), so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.“ (Isaiah 55:8, 9)
Man will never get God and His ways figured out. But we persist in trying to put God into a box no bigger than our cranial cavity. We persist in trying to systematize God’s ways into categorical boxes of procedural behavior. Christianity is an anomaly. It cannot be systematized, because it is not an object or a “system.”
Whereas the Eastern mind-set of world-system attempts to gather everything together in “unification,” the Western mind-set of world-system attempts to gather God and the world together in “systematization.” We try to systematize thought and thus create doctrine and systematic theology. We try to systematize behavior and thus create ethics and morality. We try to systematize interpersonal relationships and thus create organizational models and institutions. Christianity cannot be systematized! Christianity is the living dynamic of the Life of Jesus Christ and such infinite spiritual reality cannot be systematized by the finite mind of man.
The finite thinking of fallen mankind will never figure out how to make Christianity work within the sinful world-system. Christianity will remain an anomaly, like a square peg in a round hole!
This does not deter man from his persistent religious attempts to figure out God, and to “get a handle” on Christianity, rather than recognize it for the anomaly it is. What we observe everywhere within the misnomer of “Christian religion” is the abundance of “how-to…” formulas informing us “how to” make Christianity “fit” within the world-system. As the square peg is forced into the round hole the corners are peeled off to make it fit. But you no longer have Christianity; merely human attempts at proceduralized religion trying to force Christianity to fit into a sinful, human world-system.
Three particular areas of such religious proceduralization are (1) Doctrinal definition (2) Behavioral standards (3) Institutional polity and policy. Christianity is not a belief-system. Christianity is not an ethical system. Christianity is not an institutional system. But the world-system will always try to systematize Christianity into such man-made systems. Fundamentalists create precision of doctrine. Moralists and legalists create ethical behavior guidelines. Management specialists create functional institutions which they call “churches.” But Christianity is an anomaly that will not fit into such categories. Christianity is “not the same”; it is of an entirely different order.
Whenever man tries to take Christianity and “screw it down tight” in human understanding in order to “get a handle on it,” you can be sure he is no longer dealing with Christianity. Christianity is alive with the Spirit of Christ living and functioning in receptive individuals, and cannot be contained in man-made parameters, thus to be manipulated by man.
We may attempt to “describe” the manifestation of the character of God in man, as Paul does in the “love chapter” of I Corinthians 13 or by the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22,23, but precise “definition” is to create an entity that is less than Christianity. To explain it is to lose the essence of Christianity; to define it is to lose the dynamic of Christianity; to systematize it is to lose the Spirit of Christianity. Christianity is not an “it” to be objectively defined and systematized by man. Christianity is alive with the Life of Jesus Christ and must be free to be directed by the grace of God.
To try to encapsulate Christianity within doctrinal, behavioral or institutional definition, thinking that such will preserve and ensure its survival is ludicrous. Precise doctrinal definition may fine-tune fundamentalism, but it does not facilitate Christianity. Precise behavioral guidelines make for moralistic legalism, but such is not Christianity. Precise institutional models define organizational authority structures, but they do not facilitate the function of the Church of Jesus Christ.
If I may be afforded the privilege of personal testimony, I know whereof I speak. I have seen and experienced the fallacy of doctrinal definition having studied “dogmatic theology” and the “philosophy of religion.” I ended up “chasing my tail” in academic intricacies and semantic confusion, jumping through the scholastic hoops of mental, cerebral gymnastics, and was never introduced to the dynamic of Christ’s life.
It was also my privilege to “chomp at the bit” within those fundamentalistic and legalistic churches which define Christianity by behavioral “dos” and don’ts” and codes of conduct. Another diversion found me on another camouflaged treadmill seeking the perfectionistic behavioral expectation of so-called “deeper life” or the “victorious Christian Life.” It was just another techniquism of behavioral “how-tos.”
When it comes to institutional definition and ecclesiastical formation, I was a participant in “Christian religion” for longer than I want to admit. The arguments over polity and church order are most assuredly a disgrace, and ecclesiastical politics are the most despicable of all.
It is impossible to transfer human concepts of organization, institution, government and business to the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is not another institutional social entity that can be charted and regulated like any other human organization. Christianity, in its collective form of expression within the Church, is an anomaly within the world-system of social institutions. The Church is an organism, not an organization. The Church is a Body, not a business. The Church functions by giftedness, not by government. The Church of Jesus Christ is not set up with a functional flow-chart of authority from those who hold “position” in higher “offices,” down through the “membership” of the organization. The Church of Jesus Christ is an anomaly. It is totally different. It functions only on the basis of particular spiritual giftedness whereby Christ expresses His ministry through each individual as He wills. The Church will always remain an anomaly in this world, except of course as men try to force it into organizational models of business and government, and it becomes the institution of “Christian religion” instead of the Church. The Church is the ecclesia, those “called out” by God to be and do all that God wants to be and do in them. Because Christianity and its collective expression in the Church is an anomaly here on earth, the visible expression of the Church in the world is, at best, but a foretaste, a glimmer, a glimpse of God’s perfect functioning within His People. Thus it is that we anticipate and expect a “new heaven and a new earth.“ (Revelation 21:1)
What then are the practical implications of knowing that Christianity is an anomaly in this present world? If all we can expect is an imperfect expression because the Life of Jesus Christ does not “fit” within a sinful world full of sinful people, then we must beware of overstating the case of a complete restoration of functional humanity in the here and now of the present world. We must maintain a balanced Biblical perspective of all that is already available in the indwelling Life of Jesus Christ, yet is an anomaly in its expression within this present world, balanced with all that is yet to be realized of the perfect unhindered function of Christ’s Life in the “new heaven and the new earth.” This is not to say that the content of Life is any different now or then, for the content of “eternal life” is but the continuum of the divine life of God in Jesus Christ. But the context of that Christ-Life expression is an anomaly in this present world, and will only find its unhindered context of a perfect order in the realm that is yet to be realized for we who are still alive on earth.
On the one hand, we can affirm that in the Person and work of Jesus Christ we have the restoration of functional humanity. Everything necessary for the reinvestiture of God in man was accomplished by Jesus Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring. When Jesus exclaimed from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He was well aware that God had accomplished the restoration of mankind from the fall into sin. Paul can thus declare that the Christian is “complete in Christ.” (Colossians 3:10) Nothing else is required in terms of spiritual content to restore man to the created order for mankind. God dwells in man by His Son, Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, we can note that contextually this spiritual content of the Life of Jesus Christ can only now be expressed in the anomalous context of this present, sinful world. The fulfillment of the work of Christ in restoring the context is yet to be realized as “creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19), and we await “the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23) in the context of the “new heaven and the new earth.“ (Revelation 21:1) Only then will we experience the perfectly unhindered functionality of the continuum of the content of Christ’s Life in the context of a perfect new order wherein Christ is the sole basis of all existence and function.
Is the dynamic, spiritual Life of the Risen Lord Jesus capable of expression in the present world within Christian individuals and within the collective Church? Most certainly! Otherwise why would anyone become a Christian except for the purpose of escapism? But the character expression of Christ’s life will always be imperfect as long as we are here on earth. Christians still have the patterned fleshly propensity of selfishness and sinfulness. Living, as we do, within Satan’s sinful world-system, we are subject to temptation from the Evil One; and we all succumb. “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves…” (I John 1:8) We are “in the world” (John 17:11), contextually; but we are not “of the world” (John 17:14), in terms of spiritual content, for we have the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9) rather than the “spirit of the world.” (I Corinthians 2:12) Therein is the anomaly, the Spirit of Christ living as controlling Lord within the Christian and that within the context of a world-system in which the “god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4) controls.
Why do Christians not live perfect Christian lives evidencing the character of Christ? Why is there no evidence of a perfect Church functioning in perfect love and unity? Because of the anomaly of Christianity we express the perfect Life of Jesus Christ only imperfectly within the context of this present world.
Are we willing to continue to live within the tension of the perfect content and the imperfect context? We must! There is a Biblical balance in the dialectic of the already and the not yet. As Christians we have “Christ in us the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), the confident expectation of glorifying God right now by allowing the content of the character of Christ to be lived out in the midst of the imperfect circumstances. We also have the “hope for what we do not see” (Romans 8:25), wherein we confidently expect to participate in the continuum of Christ’s life in the context of a perfect heavenly order.
Understanding the anomaly of Christianity will serve to avoid some common theological extremes concerning sanctification and the Christian life. It will temper the teaching of “triumphalism” and the “carrot” of living an absolutely victorious Christian life here on earth, along with numerous forms of “perfectionism” such as those of the classical holiness movement, the mystical divinization movement, and numerous forms of ethical behaviorism and pietism. On the other hand, the popular “futurism” which has tainted Christian teaching must recognize that we are not simply “on hold” for a future expectation. “Triumphalism” overemphasizes the spiritual content to the neglect of the world context. “Futurism” overemphasizes the expected heavenly context to the neglect of the presently realized spiritual content of Christ’s Life. The recognition of the anomaly of Christianity should keep Christians focused upon the person and Life of Jesus Christ, the sufficiency of the function of His Life presently even when “the going gets tough” (cf. I Peter), and the continuum of the function of His Life in the perfect context of the heavenly realm.
A more balanced eschatalogical perspective will also be maintained when we understand the anomaly of Christianity. We must not attempt to negate or overcome the anomaly with skewed eschatalogical expectations.
Post-millennialism in its contemporary forms of “reconstructionism” or “dominion theology” employs an eschatalogical triumphalism wherein God’s theocratic kingdom is supposed to be reconstructed here on earth, and more specifically in the United States, and the context of the world is alleged to get better and better so as to usher in the return of Jesus Christ to earth. Thus the anomaly is gradually removed in the developing “heaven on earth,” which is but an humanistically executed utopian optimism.
Pre-millennialism, and the more radical Dispensationalism, are forms of eschatalogical futurism which may sometimes agree with an anomaly in the present ecclesiastical parenthesis, but more often deny the full spiritual content of Christ’s Life for Christians and thus dilute the anomaly. They expect a future millennial period in which the anomaly of the content of Christ’s life within this physical world is completely denied.
Both of these eschatalogical systems fail to adequately account for the anomaly of Christianity in the present world, and therefore fail to keep the Biblical balance of the already realized spiritual content alongside of the not yet realized spiritual context. A Biblically based eschatology must recognize that from the occasion of Christ’s “finished work” we, Christians, are participants in the “last days.” Within those “last days” Jesus reigns as King within His spiritual kingdom. Jesus clearly indicated, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) The spiritual nature of His kingdom disallows the establishing of a kingdom here on earth, which post-millennialism and pre-millennialism both posit, the former by present governmental reconstruction and the latter by a projected future millennial dispensation. Understanding the spiritual nature of the kingdom and the reign of Jesus by the Spirit, allows for an anomalous expression within the present world and the expectation of the continuum of His reign in the consummation of the completed and perfect administration of God in the “new heaven and new earth.“ (Rev. 21:1)
It is not easy for most Christians to grasp this concept of the anomaly of Christianity, and the apparent dialectic between the present availability of the perfect life of Jesus Christ and the inability to allow for the perfect expression of the same in the present imperfect world. So much of our frustration results from this inability to reconcile the perfect within the imperfect. Thus we have a difficult time accepting that no collective of Christian people will devise and define perfect Christian doctrine or systematic theology, no Christian individual will exhibit completely perfect Christian behavior, no collective of Christian people will evidence a perfect expression of loving and unified Christian fellowship or Christian ministry. Despite the perfection of the One who lives in us, and the complete sufficiency of His life in all situations, He is still an anomaly in the contextualization of this sinful world-system. He was an anomaly during his incarnated redemptive mission here on earth, and the unacceptability of that anomaly caused the authorities to demand His crucifixion. The continued anomaly of Christianity is no more acceptable today.
Despite man’s attempts to avoid, explain away or gloss over the anomaly of Christianity, it remains just that. Though it may appear like a square peg in a round hole, we maintain the spiritual perspective that advocates that Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the spiritual need of mankind, whereby God once again functions in man, Deity within humanity, the Perfect within the imperfect, the spiritual within the physical.
©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.
ANOMALY OF CHRISTIANITY, THE [James A. Fowler] 1