As the audience for the Jesus message became more predominantly Gentile, the presentation was further adapted so the affected people would understand and accept the message more readily. The stories began to be more often considered in a literal fashion, since the religion was growing away from the Jewish tradition. There also seemed to be a desire to elevate Christianity above other religions.
There was some justification for the changes in presentation that developed. Jesus was unbelievable in the way he lived. In the way he loved. I know what Jesus has meant in my life and in the lives of some very close friends. Jesus and the effects of Jesus are very, very difficult to explain. Regular language is inadequate. I have found the most powerful way to express what Jesus means is by living as Jesus lived as nearly as I can live.
It is easy to see why the early Christians borrowed from the explanations of God that were found in the Old Testament and even other religions and traditions. In their zeal to promote Christianity, the early Christians had to create stories that could deliver the power and meaning that Jesus delivered in their lives.
We have faced a problem for many years, perhaps nearly two hundred years, in that the explanation of Jesus and God has not maintained the ability to continue to have meaning to those who hear the message. The message has lost its effectiveness as more people have been able to discern that the church is falling short. A result is that over 83% of the United States population does not regularly attend church.
In case you missed it or have forgotten it since the earlier posts, the church (and most Christians) have fallen short because around 1,700 and 1,900 years ago, they adopted the idea that their purpose was to save the world by saving sinners. A message was lost. That is the message that the will of Jesus and God is that we are to love the world. The message continues to be mentioned and is practiced to a limited extent, but Jesus, in Matthew 22:36-40, emphasized it as being the main message to guide all that we do. Jesus emphasized love in Matthew 22, while the church emphasizes heaven, and more importantly, the church emphasizes the church.
For centuries, the church has used an approach that I call selling fire insurance. Christians and their organizations have preached that if you do not proclaim the same believes as they proclaim, you will go to hell and burn or suffer in some other horrible way. They have claimed that without God, you will go to hell, but, when you investigate history or most of today’s churches, you find that in practice, they mean that without the church, you will go to hell. For hundreds of years, you could be tortured and killed for disagreeing with the church in any way. Today, some Christians still wish it was legal to harm those who disagree with them.
I propose a solution. Backtrack to the point where Jesus was last seen regularly in the church. That point is the fork in the road where it was forgotten that Jesus was a Jew. Since there were many more Gentiles in the world, the message was more difficult to communicate so it was adapted.
You may say, “We have never forgotten that Jesus was a Jew!” I say that we must consider this closely and carefully. Just saying something never makes it true. First, I believe you must consider what it meant to be a devout Jew 2,000 years ago without having Jesus himself in mind. How did Jewish society operate? How did Jews worship? What do the parables and other stories mean? What is the origin of the stories? What were the purposes of the stories? How did the Jews understand the prophets, not how do we consider prophets today? There is a tendency for us to consider everything in our own terms, in terms of our experience and our living today. It is not much like being a Jew 2,000 years ago.
The fact that we consider everything in our own terms causes the message of Jesus as delivered by the church today to be more difficult to handle for two reasons. First, many people who consider themselves typical Christians or believers of some sort tend to take much of the Bible as fact. At least, they consider enough of it as fact that they lose the meaning with which it was written. It was not written to be a history or science book. It is not a rule book. It is not the literal word of God. The Bible is a love story that was written about the developing understanding of God. It is about relationship between God and his creation. It is an attempt by its writers to explain to others how God relates to us, how we relate to self, how we relate to each other, and how we relate to all of the rest of creation. The Bible tells us how the writers understood God and God’s relationship with us. It was the understanding at the time it was written.
In case you have the thought “The Bible is always relevant and alive so we can read it in today’s context.”, I respond that such an approach will not work and has not worked. Look around you. Watch the news tonight. We can do much better by taking the road less traveled. We can return to the point where we walked away from Jesus. Can you let go of your self-interest and the long term teachings so you can understand the meanings of the Bible as it was originally written and intended for us?
Many folks will excuse their behavior and the world’s situation by claiming that the book of Revelation and other passages tell us that the end of the world is imminent. Nearly 2,000 years after the last verses of the Bible were written, it is becoming more and more difficult to take such stories at face value. Regardless of when the end is to come, Jesus called us to God’s love and the importance and power of sharing that love all along, no matter what else happens. Ignoring the core of the teachings of Jesus because you are concerned about the end of the world does nothing for anybody. Sometimes, I think it is a convenient excuse that allows a person to retain prejudices and personal interests that are counter to the message of Jesus.
So, if the Bible is not 100% factual, why bother with using it? Is it just a book of fairy tales? Is it nothing more than fiction? Is it Jewish mythology?
The Bible is not a book of fairy tales. It is not meaningless fiction written for entertainment. It is not just campfire stories created by camel jockeys and shepherds two to three thousand years ago. If you understand the meaning of the word “myth”, you will recognize them as Jewish mythology. The problem comes from a seeming tradition that considers anything called a myth to be considered as fake or untrue. Quite to the contrary, many myths contain a great amount of truth. A myth is a way of telling a truth when the facts may not be known, or, in the case of Jesus, when language to describe the facts simply cannot convey the meaning that is to be conveyed in the story. Frequently, myths have been created because the message is so incredibly important and even difficult to believe. With a myth, one must look beyond the words to capture the meaning. So, even though the Bible is nowhere near 100% factual, it does contain a great amount of truth.
When we look at the Bible as a whole, we can understand the meanings of the individual stories. When you can accept that there can be truth without facts, then the power of Jesus can be brought into life. The truth about Jesus, to me, is even more powerful than the stories as they are typically told by our religious institutions. It is said that the truth will set you free. Just think what the truth will do as it brings Jesus into your life.
Listen to the sermons you hear and the words you read to evaluate whether or not you are getting the message of Jesus. Are you learning to use the message of Jesus? Does the message you receive include a love for others, or is it self-centered?
Walking with Jesus can involve walking against the flow of the traffic.