Hey let’s get practical! A few applicable thoughts on Docetism

18 10 2012

So last Tuesday night I had the pleasure of teaching Christology at the Ridley Institute.  I have been asked through e-mail and conversation to point towards where Christological heresies exist in the church today.  Never one to shy away from calling someone a heretic (it does have a nice ring to it) I’ve decided to wade into this discussion.  Be warned!  It may not be a discussion you want to have!

Docetism is derived from the Greek word dokein (sorry, I don’t have Greek characters) which means “to seem.”  Docetists believe that God only seemed to come in the flesh, be born, suffer and die on the cross.  There are a variety of reasons that the Docetists would posit such a thing, such as a desire to protect the immutability of God (why should I define it and make it easy for you?).  However, the Docetists faced clear difficulties from the church assembled at Nicaea but more significantly from scripture, which says clearly that the humanity of Jesus was no mere illusion.  God really did take on flesh and dwell among us (John 1.14).  So without further ado….

I see Docetism in YOU (and me)!  Repent!

It was Richard Sibbes who said that the best sort of men are severe to themselves and gracious towards others.  So with this discussion, lets begin with ourselves rather than pointing the finger at others.  Often when I come home to my family, my heart and my mind stay at the office.  I may be physically present, but the most important parts of me, namely my heart and my mind remain somewhere else.  Thus my presence with my family is only an illusion.  It is by the way, an illusion not nearly so masterful as to deceive my wife who will eventually say, “Hey!  Are you paying attention?  What did I just say?”  Oops, the jig is up!

When the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, he did not leave his most important bits in heaven but he really came, was really and fully present, and was completely committed to living life amongst us with all of its joys and all of its sorrows.  This is no mere illusion, but a profound mystery.  God in flesh is present unto death, even death on a cross.  When he comes to dwell, it’s all or nothing.

So to be fair, when you and I fail to be present with our friends or family we’re not heretics.  But we are living inconsistently with what we profess.  Namely, if God took on flesh and dwelt amongst us, how can we who have benefited so greatly from his presence be absent to the very people God has given us to love?  Food for thought.

Multi-Site = Docetism

This is probably more what you were after but I bet you won’t like the application.  When I say multisite, I don’t mean all multisite but specifically those multisite churches that video feed in the pastor from 10 miles or 100 miles away.  As a friend of my is fond of saying, the problem with multisite churches is that “God so loved the world that he sent a….video.”  Oops!  But that’s not how the scriptures speak of God.  For God so loved the world that he sent a person, his Son who was a real man, who had real relationships, real friends and real enemies.  When a preacher video feeds himself in to an off site location, he is not really and truly present but only appears to be.  He cannot respond to his congregation.  He won’t have to answer questions in the receiving line by confused or angry congregants.  He will not lay real hands on real shoulders to offer a word of compassion or consolation or even a prayer because he’s not really there.  He is a phantasm, a ghost, that you most likely will never touch or speak to.  Again, this does not make such people are heretics, but it does mean that they are operating out of Docetic principles.  There are of course other arguments for video feeding in preachers, none of which are particularly good.  I suppose there’s no guessing where I stand!  I like old time religion, where real men preached a real Gospel to a real congregation.  But alas, I think that’s going the way of the Dodo!

Qur’an = Docetism

Now we must be careful in that this is not classic Docetism.  The Qur’an does not believe that God only appeared to take on flesh in Jesus because the Qur’an does not put forth a picture of a divine Christ.  Where the Qur’an does take on some docetic flavor however is in the crucifixion, where it only appears as if Christ was crucified when in fact Muslims believe that “Allah took him up unto himself.”  I’ve excerpted the relevant section from the Sura below:

And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise.

Concluding thoughts:

Now that we’ve seen some real world examples of Docetism, I hope you’ll do the responsible thing and look first to self before you wag the finger at anyone else which brings me back to my first point.  The Word really became flesh and really dwelt among us.  The Word did not appear to dwell with us, he really did and this was to our benefit.  Living this out consistently dictates that Christians value relationships and presence and intentionally repent of leaving their hearts and minds behind at the office, or at the game, or wherever it’s most likely to wander.  When someone is with you, be with them, heart and mind with focused intentionality.  Christ after all, having done nothing less, did of course do so much more.