Where Will the Church Go Next?

What is a myth?

 

A myth is someone’s interpretation of the truth.

 

In Galatians 4:22 Paul writes: “For the scripture says that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave girl, and one by the free woman. But the child of the slave girl was born in the ordinary course of nature, while the child of the free woman was born in the fulfillment of the [God’s] promise.”

 

“This is an allegorical utterance.” [because] … “the women [represent] – two covenants, one coming from Mt. Sinai, that is, Hagar (and Hagar means Mount Sinai in Arabia), and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for [this] Jerusalem is in slavery with her children. But the [heavenly] Jerusalem above is free and, she is our mother.” — “And you, my brothers, like Issac, are children of God’s promise.”

 

I offer that the literal interpretation of this story, being a myth, represents an interpretation of a truth that constitutes one of the most powerful paradigms in history since it is the foundation of the entire Muslim and Judeo-Christian religions. And Paul’s allegorical interpretation (another myth) obliterates God’s justification for the existence of the Muslim religion – a monumental feat. So, which myth deserves to exist? Only the one that serves as a long-term bond to a civilization, which both do. Yet Paul’s myth interpretation of the Muslim faith did not take, while the Muslim myth did.

 

What is a myth? A myth is someone’s interpretation of the truth. It can be real for some, and unreal for others. A myth can be regarded as fact or as fiction, but such conflict does not necessarily interfere with its potency.

 

Every movie that has ever been produced is a myth. Their stories are not, and can never be completely factual. But they can resemble fact so closely they accomplish the intent to convey an understanding of the fact. ”Gone with The Wind” conveys the horror of the Civil War, “Driving Miss Daisy” offers a compassionate understanding of Alzheimers disease. “Schindler’s List” acquaints us with the plight of the Jews in WW II. All these movie characters are fictional, but the ideas and the emotions of the real people are effectively, even factually transmitted.

 

For 2000 years there have been myths about Christianity that have been revealed and others that have remained hidden. The power and compassion of God and of Christ have been conveyed to us mainly through orthodox canon scripture, but many followers are now raising questions about its reality for them. These conflicts between Christian myth and Christian fact have been relatively stable for centuries, offering a Christian religion that has served, and is still serving millions. But in the past two hundred years, the need and demand for scientific fact is taking precedent, and the familiar Christian myth is becoming less believable for an increasing number of people.

 

Many pastors now hide from their congregations what they have studied in seminary, because these pastors fear their churches would be empty if they revealed what they are now finding – namely, the very real possibility that the factual holes being found in orthodox Christian theology render it unbelievable for a large and increasing number of followers.

 

If you share in this as a true assessment, then is there a more believable Christian theology (myth) that can be found to fill this void for today’s disillusioned seekers?

 

Do Jesus’ words in the so often neglected Gnostic gospels like the Gospel of Thomas, offer a direction in which to seek? “That which is hidden will [always] be revealed” (but what is hidden – and where?)

 

For example, modern scholarship is revealing that the original core of Jesus’ Gnostic teachings (which were ignored by Paul and savagely suppressed by Constantine) has historically been hidden in isolated monasteries because conventional churches have not evolved to the point where they can accept and practice these ancient truths.

 

But during these long centuries, mankind has been steadily evolving – to the point where truths that once could only be detected by an informed elite, can now begin to be understood by the masses – we who once could not understand even if told, have now risen in a general understanding of ourselves to the point where we can begin to understand and accept what has always been before our eyes, but not seen.

 

Joseph Campbell has made claim that one reason the Western world is suffering from its lack of spiritual life is because it’s old myths are worn out – that what it needs is a new myth.

 

So, what could be a new myth?

 

I suggest consideration for certain of Jesus’ constantly overlooked words appearing especially in the Gnostic gospels. For example: “ … the Father’s imperial rule is within you, and is outside you”. (The gospel of Thomas, 3:3. From The Five Gospels, 1993, Polebridge Press)

 

“Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.” “For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.” (Thom 5:1)

 

“You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but you don’t see the timber in your own eye.” (Thom 26)

 

“What you are looking forward to has [already] come, but you don’t know it.” (Thom 51:2)

 

In other words, we should not limit our search for meaning by just looking to heaven for God, or to the Bible, or to the church, or to the pastor, or to nature, or anything outside of ourselves, rather we are also to look within. Don’t get fixated on noticing the faults of others, observe our own as well. Don’t wait to experience God in the future, we can experience him right now – by experiencing ourselves.

 

In The Gnostic Gospels (1979), theologian Elaine Pagels writes: “Only now that there are enough people searching for what lies beneath the Christian orthodoxy is it timely to revive the search for what Jesus learned and taught. If this knowledge, I claim, long lain hidden in the Gospels, especially those of Thomas and *Q, is supplemented now by social and scientific knowledge, including philosophies and other world religions it may reveal a Christian theology and worship which will speak in far more meaningful terms than present orthodoxy – to modern seekers.” “… to know oneself at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis.”

 

Therefore, in addition to maintaining a healthy respect for conventional Christianity and those who find their true meaning in seeking God in the Bible, and in the church, in liturgy and in their religious leaders and in all things outside of themselves, we can now resurrect what Jesus said 2000 years ago, namely to search for God within ourselves as well. Due to the advent of psychology, psychiatry, of things secular as well as theological, and a growing rebellion to blindly accept what is constantly being fed to us from outside, it would seem this could be the time to begin this inward search in earnest.

 

So in response to the question of where the church can go next – I offer for serious consideration the blending this original Gnostic myth of the teachings of Jesus (that refers to seeking within) with the traditional orthodox myth (of seeking God outside ourselves).

 

Please note that I do not speak of replacing the traditional Christian myth – rather of adding to it, because the orthodox myth will always be meaningful for millions, but for those who feel they have outgrown it, there is yet another genuine interpretation of the truth that has long existed.

 

To engage this means becoming literate with the most recent theological findings, for example those of the Westar Institute, and those of other major religions, including the inner-seeking Sufis, that of the self-assessing Kaballah, or the more recent Science of Mind – anything that speaks of searching and evolving within – in order to see who we really are (divine) more clearly – to develop what is inside us as talents and intuitions – insights and inheritances, and to join with others in this exploration. This may well require a new Christian liturgy, new music, new lectionary, new Christian education – a whole new approach – yet retaining everything in the past that is supportive to this effort.

 

And in so doing, I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of “actual experiencing” as opposed to just mentally studying these disciplines. Thoroughly reading and discussing the act of cutting one’s own flesh with a razor cannot be compared to the actual act. Studying everything that is known about soap is nothing compared to using it. Reading everything that has ever been written about meditation is nothing like the experience of true meditation. Studying all there is to know about sex is nothing like sharing in this actual loving act.

 

Therefore, our churches may be well advised to leap now into this long-term exploration of phasing in the fostering and nourishing of our own individual and group searches within, in every religious or secular way of doing so. Perhaps then it may attract and again serve the masses of us it is losing.

 

What is a myth? Webster’s Dictionary says: “It is a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people … a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone …”. It is significant that only the last of Webster’s several levels of priority in defining myth states it as: “… a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence.”

 

I prefer defining a myth as a truth that can only be realized by living it.

 

What do you think?

 

Does the following sound believable and verifiable?

 

“If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Fathers) imperial rule is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) imperial rule is within you and it is outside you.” (Thom. 3:1).

 

Robert Rock 2012

REFERENCES

 

 

Paul Allan Laughlin, Aug 2000, Remedial Christianity: What Every Believer Should Know About the Faith, but Probably Doesn’t (with Glenna Jackson)

 

Burton Mack, Sep 2003, The Christian Myth.

 

Elaine Pagels, 1979, The Gnostic Gospels

 

Marcus Borg Mar 1999 The Lost Gospel Q,

 

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, 1993, The Five Gospels

 

Stephen J. Patterson, 1991, The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus

 

John Dominic Crossan, 1991, The Historical Jesus

 

Pir Vilayat Khan, 2000, Awakening.

 

Indries Shah, 1971, The Sufis.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Where Will the Church Go Next?

  1. Robert, I appreciated this resource of yours. I agree that the church must continue evolving to keep up with changing thought about God, the role and messages of Jesus, and all current thinking about the world. In my book, Clear Faith: Clearing Away Stumbling Blocks for a Faith that Makes Sense, I put forth the perspective of seeing the scriptures as completely human–not literally “God’s word(s)”–in order to emphasize that we human beings have written out of our God-experiences, trying to put into words personal spiritual experiences and interpretations. As you extended that perspective appropriately, these stories have become our myths of identity as religious / spiritual people.

    I wonder if the churches of tomorrow might become places for extended learning (as you said) plus places that offer intentional, guided experiences for its people–real experiences that then may be unpacked for their deeper meanings. We could be mentored and nurtured in our searches within, as well as challenged and accompanied in our searches beyond, experiencing the walk with God.

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