Sunday, January 05, 2014

A new Jesus?

A while back I was talking with my brother, someone I respect enormously, about religion and so forth. Something he said really got me thinking and I've been ruminating on it ever since. My brother is no fan of religion to say the least. Me, I am a Christian, or rather a follower of Jesus (the label Christian has a few connotations that showcase hypocrisy, wickedness, inspiration and righteousness all at the same time). My brother advocates for a humanist approach to the question of ultimate morality, citing the need for mankind to adhere to the concept of true respect and genuine human rights for all people everywhere, no exceptions. I said something to effect that it's all right there in the Gospels of Jesus Christ. To that he declared that the world needs a new Jesus.

I was at a loss to even respond and we left it at that.

Now that I've had time to consider what he said I declare no, the world doesn't need a new Jesus what the world needs is new Christians. It isn't Jesus who has steered us so wrong. There is nothing in the Gospels that justifies the way many Christians act or some of the things they believe. Christianity is polluted and it began over 1500 years ago and is only now at the very beginning of clearing the air.

There was a time when Christians were indistinguishable from the modern radical Muslims of today. Again, nowhere in Gospels does Jesus ever ask for vengeance or encourage violence in any way. Quite the contrary, what we get from the New Testament is the real "New Deal", a deal free from an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth of the Old Testament.

Jesus said: You have heard it said an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. 

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.

This is what Jesus taught us: violence and vengeance in kind is not the answer to violence and vengeance. If only Christians through the centuries had actually practiced what Jesus taught, what a different world this would be. This is the truth of Jesus, that if we actually lived like Jesus lived and loved like Jesus loved then the world would see mankind living with true respect and genuine human rights for all people everywhere. Jesus is the ultimate humanist!

I have learned at lot in the past two years having left the Catholic Church for a bible-based "teaching" church. This modern mega-church is headed by the most passionate Jesus follower I have ever known. For the first time I understand that the Holy Bible is a family story that culminates with Jesus Christ. Much of it is awful, cringe worthy, but it is a story with a beautiful ending. This story is told in the traditions of first century Jews and was never meant to be taken literally. It is not a reference book where you can pull a passage out of anywhere in the text and declare it truth, it's a novel where the order of things has relevance. You can't just jump over Jesus and cite the violence of the Old Testament as a definitive view of God. Jesus came to offer a new covenant, based on self sacrificial love and forgiveness, not the vengeful law of the Old Testament.

My brother is wise and instinctively right about a lot of things. He is right about religion in general, it is a problem and quite possibly even a cancer for mankind. There are good people practicing "religion" and this not to impune them. To be a follower of Jesus one must practice faith not just declare it. Faith is a verb. One practices it by living like Jesus lived and loving like Jesus loved. There is no litmus test for faith, having the right beliefs or jumping through the right hoops like the Catholics do cannot buy salvation. Living your faith and accepting the grace of God will lead you to good works, not the other way around.

The pastor of this mega-church is an influential American theologian who has written over 18 books, including a best seller popular in the secular world. He has written a book that he often cites on Sundays called "Repenting of Religion". He is Gregory A. Boyd. Another book that was published in 2013 by Bruxy Cavey called "The End of Religion" echos some of what Boyd says in his book.

Christendom, which is the melding of Church and State, was brought forth when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century. He then declared the whole Roman Empire to be Christian.This in essence Romanized the Church. This unholy pairing of Church and State became drunk with power and started on a course of that can only be described of as evil. Jesus stopped being about love and forgiveness, and became a Warrior God - or He was shoved aside altogether.

Through the fall of the Roman Empire and the Protestant reformation the Church/State ruled for centuries by cultivating the fear of God rather than the love of Christ. Every ugly picture of Christianity can be traced to Christendom. It still rules the Church today in many ways, but it is slowly becoming extinct. This is exactly what these two books are about - the end of Christendom and the return of a Jesus-centered faith - and it is a beautiful thing.

The rise of non-denominational mega-churches (churches with thousands and thousands of congregants) all over the world are purposely separating themselves from the churches of Christendom. They focus on teaching and interpreting the Bible rather than dithering on rote traditions. The old line churches look down on these institutions as scripturally deficient and inauthentic. In my eyes the sermons in the mega-churches are actually sermons whereas the sermons in the traditional churches are more often than not pitches for money. These churches may not have the Magisterium of the Church, but they also don't have the baggage. They are fresh and exciting and people love being a part of it. Contrast a mega-church (this can be done just by looking at the parking lot on Sundays) to a Catholic parish or a Lutheran congregation where the young leave the church at 16 never to return. The pews are half-full the old who truly love their church, but they will never renew it. The Jesus-centered mega-churches have people of all ages and backgrounds and the 16 years-olds drive themselves to the service every Sunday - because they want to be there.

They are learning to reject violence and grotesque consumerism. They are learning that every person they meet - friendly or not - has unsurpassable worth and is precious enough for Jesus to have died for on Calvary two thousand years ago. They are learning that everyone is welcome in the Kingdom, sinners and saints, blacks and whites, gays and straights. They are learning to live within their means and to be generous with their extras. They are learning that living like Jesus lived and loving like Jesus loved leads to better world here and now and to the glory of the Kingdom to come.

These are the new Christians.



TJW said...
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TJW said...

I for one tend to disagree with your older brother. I do not see virtue in proclaiming religion as a pox on all humanity. The abuses of organized religion very closely parallel the abuses of our federal government. The larger and more powerfully omnipresent they become the easier it is for their abuses to occur with complete impunity, and with greater frequency. Just because the clergy claims a my way or the highway interpretation of the bible is the truth, does not mean it is the only way to honor and celebrate the teachings of Jesus.

It's my own belief that Jesus Christ would never hold with such narrow minded zealotry. A religion having some sway upon the personal behavior of it's adherents does not absolve them of independent thought, or personal biblical interpretation. I have personally seen a great many supposedly pious people treat the teachings of the bible as a guide for how to behave on Sunday. The rest of the week they are totally comfortable ignoring the messages of Jesus Christ. But then Jesus also has forgiveness in his heart for the hypocrite as well as everybody else.

Churches at a local even regional level do great good within communities. They are far more responsive and accountable to the needs of their congregants nearby. It's when the churches become too remote from their people that widespread abuses can flourish. I can no longer support the church I was raised in. Too much damage has been done, at it's heart lies a structural flaw within the sacrament of confession. Only God himself can find a way to redeem the Catholic church. This church provides us with another example of an entity becoming so enormously powerful it no longer represents or protects its most vulnerable members the Children.

It's a sad that such pure loving message can get so hopelessly convoluted in peoples minds that most cannot accept what it is with grace or gratitude. Instead it is met with suspicion, derision or indifference. Is this the fault of religion? Or of Jesus Christ? Perhaps it's an integral failing of the human psyche? I think the later is far more likely. A new Jesus indeed.

Ugh said...

"I have personally seen a great many supposedly pious people treat the teachings of the bible as a guide for how to behave on Sunday. The rest of the week they are totally comfortable ignoring the messages of Jesus Christ. But then Jesus also has forgiveness in his heart for the hypocrite as well as everybody else."

Well said! My point in essence is that the "Church" (big C) was transformed by the marriage of church and state and not in a good way. There is a new transformation happening with a focus squarely on Jesus. This will be a church that works in the margins of the common culture doing the good charitable things that church has always done but without the judgmental attitudes and cultural blackmail.

TJW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.