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Christianity Reformed

 

Christianity as practiced for centuries and still dominate today is based on a literal reading of the synoptic gospel [Mark, Matthew and Luke].  Many scholars of theology have been saying that the gospels are not historical documents but rather faith stories—attempts to describe what the writers were led to believe about Jesus—and thus contain exaggerations to express deep emotions and interpretations unique to their understanding of their life with Jesus.   What follows is my personal journey formed by information learned from readings and studies.

 The original disciples of Jesus and members of the Jesus movement, including the writers of the synoptic gospels written some decades after Jesus’ death, were very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures—our Old Testament—and its theology of sin and sacrifices to atone for sin.  The cruel death of the good man, Jesus, for whom they left everything to follow and yet deserted him in his time of greatest need, leaving them crushed by the terribleness of abandoning Jesus after he was arrested and hung on a cross to die in horrible pain and public ridicule.

As they turned to the Hebrew Scriptures for comfort, they were drawn to the prophecy about a coming Messiah who would be a powerful king to rescue them from their enemies and restore the people of Israel to greatness.  In their desperation for relief from the agony of their feelings of guilt, they envisioned the messiah as a ‘spiritual’ deliverer and connected that with the concept of animal sacrifice to atone for sin and therefore experienced Jesus’ mission as a sacrificial death that atoned for all human sin for all time.  This concept gave them great comfort, became the rationale for a vision of Jesus’ life and mission expressed in the synoptic gospels, and began what we have known as Christianity. 

The writers of the synoptic gospels used various prophecies, some of which are very unusual interpretations, in order to fulfill their messianic qualifications and the necessities for a perfect sacrifice: descendant of David, born in Bethlehem, miraculous conception to be free from sin, miracles to prove divinity, resurrection from the dead to prove victory, ascension into heaven to complete his mission.  This led to the comforting theology of sin and forgiveness which turned Christianity into a more personal experience, providing comfort but largely ignoring Jesus’ stated mission “to bring change to the way we live our lives on earth.”  Jewish scholars rejected the prophetic interpretations of the writers of the synoptic gospels as illegitimate although they did honor Jesus as a prophet and reformer.

I now move to what will be controversial to some of my readers.  Remember, you don’t have to agree with me but this is what I have come to believe and I appreciate your continued reading, and I hope you will think about and reflect on my view.  Remember, Faith is a journey to new experiences.  I value the synoptic gospels.  They are our window into Jesus’ life and ministry.  If we put aside the virgin birth, miracles and atonement language which the writers used to express what they experienced in Jesus, we can get a rather good idea of what Jesus’ life and ministry were like. 

What we discover is that Jesus’ activities do not seem to focus on making himself the perfect human to replace the perfect animal and become a sacrifice for sin.  Jesus in his teachings and by his actions indicates a very different mission.  Jesus was out to reform society—to change the way humans treat one another during their earthly journey.  He was comfortable reaching out to people whom society rejected—those outcast from society, rule breakers, the sick, and victims of systematic injustice.  He criticized those in authority for their lack of justice and compassion.  He was what we today would call a ‘social reformer’.  As such, he was opposed by religious and political authorities and by those who benefited from the structured system they enforced.  [[Social reform remains a threat to many privileged people today, including many who call themselves Christian or religious.]

What needs to change?  I look to the church which is my heritage.  My experience is in a liturgical church, but I think my suggestions apply more widely.  I begin with church doctrine.  The doctrines of Christianity are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible as God’s Word, and are expressed in 4th-century images and language.  I find it impossible to define God, yet our doctrines define Jesus as truly human and truly divine, yet one person.  And then go on to describe God as three distinct persons but yet one essence.  I cannot ‘believe’ that!  And yet, my worship service expects me to say that I do.  If sin is serious but forgiven if you believe in Jesus’ sacrifice, then it is no longer necessary to be a ‘social reformer’ as Jesus apparently taught, but you will have eternity in heaven when you die. [The bible actually says very little about life after death, but it certainly plays an important part in the church’s theology.

The church needs to reform its theology and focus on life in this world, the only life anyone on earth has experienced.  We need to take seriously Jesus’ call to change the way we live our earthly lives: being personally empowered by the divine spirit to love the ones society ignores, and thus model a society that cares for the earth and is bent to favor the poor and neglected, not just those who have the power and wealth.  This is not a sugar-coated Christianity.  It is a surrender to the divine presence which surrounds and empowers us to love one another.  It is not an easy road, but it will lead to a life well lived and at peace with oneself and the world.

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