In the infancy of the Church, a notable preacher by the name of Marcion (85 A.D. – 160 A.D.), son of a bishop lived and pastored in Asia Minor. Effectively, Marcion taught that the life and teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the actions and attributes of the God of the Old Testament. While Marcion had stacks of errors, this foundational belief in two different gods inspired Marcion to create a new Bible for his followers that had no Old Testament and a severely hacked-up New Testament that consisted of only one Gospel (an edited version of Luke) and ten select and edited letter of Paul (excluding the Pastoral letters of Paul – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). Though Marcion was excommunicated early on due to the opposition of Tertullian in his famous Against Marcion, his destructive teaching lingered for nearly two centuries.
With the rise of liberalism in the church (feeding on the popularity of higher criticism of the 17th century), the teaching of “Marcionism” made a striking comeback. A hallmark of the “new” liberal thinking was the drive to separate the unsophisticated (hear: non-scientific) and crude teaching of the Old Testament with the exciting and love-oriented teachings of Jesus in the New Testament (where they could reliably be believed to have accurately occurred). Friedrich Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) is considered by most to be the father of religious liberalism and proposed the Old Testament has a place in the Christian heritage only by virtue of its connections with Christianity. He felt it should be no more than an appendix of historical interest. Adolph Harnack (May 7, 1851 – June 10, 1930) taught that Christians should question the doctrines that flourished in the early church and rejected the historicity of the Gospel of John, arguing that it should have been dropped from the canon of authoritative writings altogether.
While that is all well and good, why should we even consider the error of Marcion and his teaching today? Surely there is no one in YOUR church or a pastor that YOU would listen to could possibly be in Marcion’s camp, right? Wrong. We can see the seeds of Marcionism today when pastors of the church or people in the church begin to diminish the Old Testament from the New Testament in being reliable and even helpful for the Christian to study. The clearest expression of latent Marcion influence can often be seen resurrected in the “enterprise” oriented church – a church that seeks to reach seekers via Sunday service. Why? In order to not interfere with a seekers “journey toward God” via the harsh realities of the Holy and demanding God often seen in the Old Testament, there is an accompanying (at first) minimizing of Old Testament teaching and then (eventually) a repudiation of Old Testament teaching because it is hard and difficult for “seekers” to understand and not needed to “know Jesus.” Given enough time, doctrinal statements are not taught when new members enlist in the church and eventually standards of accountability and an expectation of living holy fall by the wayside as not being loving or being more confusing than helpful. The Lord’s Supper becomes rare in the life of the church or relegated to being observed when small groups meet in homes. While these outcomes are not necessarily being fueled by the doctrines that Marcion taught, they are often fueled by a Marcion-like mentality – adjust the teaching about God in order to expose people to God.
While it is true that the New Testament gives us a most extensive revelation of God in Jesus and that we do not live under the covenant made at Sinai; it is also true that the God of the Old Testament is still the same God that we know today. The God of the Old Testament cannot be traded in for sentimentalized idea of God—one which amounts to little more than a Deity who died to meet our felt needs while the issue of our sinfulness and God’s wrath is minimized or even ignored. The tragic result is the incredible paradox of evangelicals who “know Jesus” but who do not know who God is—unwitting Marcionites! Ironically, the error of this kind of approach was pointed out by another liberal, Albert Schweitzer, who demonstrated that such thinking amounts to choosing aspects of God that fit one’s man-made theology.
The antidote for Macion-like tendencies is found… where else but in the Bible! In Hebrews 12:18-24, the author of Hebrews brings together the inauguration of the [“old”] covenant mediated through Moses at Sinai with the [“new”] covenant enacted through Jesus Christ on Mt. Zion (a.k.a. Jerusalem, on the cross). In the process, we have a conjoined picture of the holy and demanding Lord God of the Old Testament being satisfied with the pure and sacrificial Son of God of the New Testament. In combination, we see a glorious picture of the complexities of God on display in balanced perfection. God is both demanding and giving. God is both just and justifier. God is both transcendent and unknowable as well as imminent and able to understand your deepest fears and needs. We know God better and the significance of what Christ did for us precisely because we have both Mt. Sinai AND Mt Zion. Both mountains—Sinai and Zion—reveal the true God. Neither can be separated from the other. Both visions must be held in tension within our minds—consuming fire and consuming love. In the end, it is the truth of the Bible that will save us from the delusion of Marcion that still creeps in the hallways and auditoriums of churches today. To minimize or replace either God in the Old Testament or the God in the New Testament is to mangle the complete image of God that we must see if we are to walk closely with our God. Anything else is idolatry.