Let me tell you about Chris Evans. Chris Evans is a Hollywood actor who recently appeared in The Avengers. He was also in Snow White and the Huntsman which came out this past summer as well. He previously starred in Thor and will reprise his role as the son of Odin next year in the followup, Thor: The Dark World.
Now, anybody who follows contemporary cinema will tell you that while I started off OK, it quickly became apparent that I had the wrong guy. Despite my initial claim, I was not telling you about Chris Evans at all; I was telling you about Chris Hemsworth. Chris Evans is indeed a Hollywood actor who recently appeared in The Avengers, but he played Captain America rather than Thor, and while you might remember him from such films as Fantastic Four and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he was not in the others I listed. In other words, I had some of the Chris Evans facts right, some of the facts wrong, but was ultimately talking about a different person altogether.
Let’s now shift our focus from Chris to Christ. Jesus Christ was the Son of God, who came to this earth 2000 years ago and died for mankind. He was the spirit brother of Lucifer, and through his perfect work became a god. He taught us that by living rightly, we too shall be gods just like him and reign over our own planets in the next life. Once again, despite the similarity in names and a few accurate facts, the abundance of specific falsehoods made it very clear that I was not talking about Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity. An analysis of the facts instead reveals that I was talking about the imaginary character that sprung fully formed from Joseph Smith’s forehead in the 1800’s–the one he tried to identify as the real Jesus Christ. People who only know Joseph Smith’s imaginary Jesus Christ are not Christians–they have the wrong guy.
We don’t like saying that a particular group of people aren’t Christians. We feel like we’re cutting them off from salvation (though we aren’t) and condemning them to Hell (though we aren’t). Because of these feelings, our minds are quick to rationalize our own comfort. “God isn’t going to send someone to Hell just because he didn’t study theology at the right school.” “This baby doesn’t understand the Trinity, but Jesus said to let the children come to him anyway.” “We’re saved by grace through faith, not by works like having right doctrine.” Before too long, every time we encounter an unbeliever or heretic, we find ourselves observing that they have a few things right about God and then asking the unanswerable question of whether a small list of technicalities really puts them outside the fold.
This has particularly come to a head due to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Many Evangelical voters were faced with two contradictory Pharisaical rules: 1) You must vote for the Republican presidential candidate or else the Democrats might win and 2) You must only vote for a Christian. The solution was to begin claiming that Mormons like Mr. Romney do actually believe in Jesus–they just have some of the facts wrong. They claim that as long as Mr. Romney believes in Jesus as his lord and savior, that’s good enough to call him a Christian. He may not have all the facts right, but how can we really know that any of us have all the facts right? He has some of the facts, and who are we to say that what he believes isn’t enough?
The problem with this line of thought is that it really isn’t a matter of having the right facts or an adequate percentage of right facts; it’s a matter of having the right Guy. After all, baptized infants certainly can’t describe the Trinity, but they do have the right Guy, for Christ promised to personally deliver faith, life, and salvation to them by means of Baptism. Adult converts may or may not have zoned out a bit during their catechesis, but the right Guy nevertheless comes to them in Word and Sacrament. The bug rub is that discerning whether we have the right Guy is a matter of having the right facts. If you had no knowledge of popular films and actors, you would have had no idea that I had started off this post by talking about Chris Hemsworth rather than Chris Evans until I told you. A cinephile could walk you through it if you were curious, but the stubbornly ignorant would remain so. Likewise, someone with sound doctrine could explain how Jesus claimed to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, has promised to be present in specific places (word & sacrament), and warned his followers about false teachers proclaiming false Christs. The stubbornly ignorant, however, will still remain so.
This is why Christianity has historically drawn the line so firmly at the Trinity. Everyone knows certain things about God by nature, but actually knowing God involves knowing three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you believe someone else is God or reject one of these three, you have the wrong guy. It doesn’t matter if you happen to know that God created the universe, or visited Abraham, or named His Son Jesus. A handful of facts won’t save you from the One you reject. At the same time, however, having the right facts is our best defense against having the wrong guy. Christ told his followers to make disciples by baptizing people and teaching them everything that He Himself taught. Outside of this Church He instituted in which we are given Christ and taught about Him, having the right guy is a fluke at best.