Continuing from the Part 1.
I’ve already said “it would be hard to over-state this,” or words to that effect, several times in these discourses. Now I’m going to say it again, because its importance in this case is truly immense. In fact, what I’m about to write is such a powerful concept that it might, merely by being mentioned often enough, change the beliefs of billions of people. And so, please consider this statement carefully:
Christianity has not been the religion of Jesus. It has been a religion about Jesus.
Time and money permitting, I might put that on billboards. I think it calls for it.
Consider the things Christians require as beliefs for church membership. Many of them are things that Jesus never said at all. For example, a belief in “the trinity” is required for membership in Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational and Assembly of God churches, among many, many others. Indeed, nearly every church requires a belief in the trinity.
Jesus, on the other hand, never used the word. Nor did he ever use the concept. (If you’re at all unsure about that, please look it up.) In this you can see the depth of the issue: More or less every Christian institution requires people to believe something that Jesus never endorsed at all. And yet, no one seems to bat an eye over it. The truth, you see, is that Christianity is primarily a religion about Jesus. (How it became this way will be something we address in another discourse.)
And then there is the likewise-mandatory belief in the virgin birth. And again, Jesus never mentioned it, or even hinted at it. In fact, he specifically undercut the idea that his mother was a terribly special person. Again, this belief is about Jesus, not of Jesus.
Likewise the concept of original sin; most churches major on it, but Jesus never said such a thing.
The conclusion here is inescapable: Jesus didn’t consider the doctrines of the trinity, virgin birth and original sin to be of any importance. If he believed them at all, he didn’t think they were important enough to teach. And yet, the Christian churches are devoted to these things, down to their cores.
This distinction between what Jesus believed and what Christianity believes is so immense that many people, if confronted with it, will feel driven to eliminate the concept, no matter how much many excuses and how much “blanking out” may be required.
Others, however, will reluctantly accept reality. And because of them, Christianity will change, and the greater portion of the world with it.
This concept is only threatening, of course, if our allegiances are divided between Jesus and religious organizations. If we prefer Jesus, the creeds have to be pulled apart. If we prefer the churches, we must discount Jesus, as indeed has been done, consciously or otherwise.
Christianity has contained some thoughts from Jesus, of course, but they’ve been continuously surrounded by beliefs about Jesus that guided men and women away from the way Jesus lived. (Which we might also call the religion he practiced.) That has been a problem, and one that will have to be dealt with if Christianity is to endure.
I am confident that Jesus would care far less about what we think about his divinity than doing the things he taught and practiced. In fact, we have a beautiful statement of that concept in two of our gospels. Here is Luke’s version:
Why do you call me Lord, but don’t do the things I say?
However we turn that statement, it clearly places doing as more important to Jesus than what we believe about him and say about him. As we might say, talk is cheap, doing is precious.
And while writing these discourses I stumbled upon another distinction: I found myself feeling a need to write “believe him” rather than “believe in him.” I quickly realized it was the same issue. Do we believe (and thus do) the things Jesus said? Or do we merely believe in Jesus… that he is “the son of God,” “born of a virgin,” or whatever? This difference is the same as “do we do what he said, or merely call him Lord?” And according to Jesus, everything turns upon this difference.
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