Saturday, December 22, 2018

Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr., December 22, 2108

The last prayer of Jesus in John’s Gospel emphasizes the unity of all believers (John 17:20-23).  John’s gospel presents Jesus as the universal Logos, or Word of God--a light that shines in the darkness (John 1:1-14).  The prayer is for faith in the message of God’s word rather than in the messenger.  It’s ironic that John’s Gospel is often cited to support faith in Jesus as a divine being (John 3:16 and 14:6) rather than as a great prophet who exemplified the Logos.

The prayer of Jesus for the unity of all believers is a prayer for religious reconciliation.  Jesus was the good shepherd who sought to bring together the sheep of other religious flocks (John 10:16).  His prayer was not to convert all people to a religion that would later be known as Christianity, but to reconcile all believers in the universal family of God.
Exclusivist Christian beliefs that consider Jesus the only manifestation of Logos and the Trinitarian alter ego of God conflict with Jewish and Islamic beliefs that accept the teachings of Jesus as the word of God but reject his divinity.  The unity of all believers has universal meaning when it is understood that Jesus was a universal Logos rather than a surrogate Christian god.

The story of the last judgment is Matthew’s apocalyptic vision of God’s judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).  It makes salvation dependent on works of mercy for the least of those among us, rather than through faith in Jesus as the Trinitarian alter ego of God.  Those who ignored the least of those were condemned, and their religious beliefs didn’t save them.

When taken together, the unity of all believers and the last judgment debunk the idea that salvation is limited to one religion.  Jesus taught that all who do the will of God are his spiritual kin (Mark 3:35); and God’s will is summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors--including those of other races and religions--as we love ourselves.  

The greatest commandment is a common word of faith, taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Islamic leaders.  Together with the new command in John’s Gospel to love one another (John 13:34), those love commands define the faith and works of the unity of all believers, and promise them a new birth in a spiritual life that will never end.

Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion over others, not even his own.  Jesus knew that God was bigger than any religion. But Christianity and Islam have put God in a box by proselytizing exclusivist beliefs in order to become popular and powerful religious institutions; and they continue to assert that their religion is the one true faith, and condemn all unbelievers.
Christian morality was corrupted by politics under Constantine in the 4th century, and the Reformation doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) made things worse by asserting that moral works are irrelevant to salvation.  The nadir of Christian morality came in 2016 when white evangelical Christians ignored the moral teachings of Jesus and elected Donald Trump president.
The Book of James describes the need to balance faith and works.  James asks: What good is it, my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  ...As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:1, 26).  That is especially true in a democracy, where our political deeds affect all others, especially the least of those among us.

Most white Christians have ignored the teachings of Jesus and promoted distorted doctrines of Christian morality to support radical right politics.  When they elected Donald Trump as president they sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics. In this season of Advent, Christians should seek to bring the light of God’s love into America’s increasingly dark politics.

There is no place for religions that ignore the least of those among us, or that promote religious exclusivity in a world of increasing religious diversity.  But unprincipled religious and political leaders continue to exploit fear and hate through religion to promote their power. This Christmas let us seek the light of the world to dispel the darkness around us.     

Related Commentary:

(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos?
(6/21/15): Christians Meet Muslims Today
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(10/4/15): Faith and Religion: The Same but Different
(10/11/15): Seeking, Being and Doing on Our Journey of Faith
(11/22/15): Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness
(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/19/16): Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/8/17): Politics as a Religion and Religion in Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics     
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(7/7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(10/27/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Migrant Tidal Wave
(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?
(11/17/18): Christianity and Clashing Identities in Politics and Religion
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/8/18): Trump and the Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a Profession of Faith?
(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism


  1. SO well said Rudy. I read a book one time that expressed this so well. "Mister God This is Anna". It was really an obscure little book but profound wisdom. I have always considered myself, not a Christian, but an imperfect follower of Christ's teachings. The world is becoming ready to let go of either or and embrace both and. Which I believe was the essence of what Christ was trying to teach. The we are BOTH human and a cell of the larger body of God, with Christ as our guide and teacher.

  2. Thank you for your articles, your intelligence and thoughtfulness as well as your courage to speak unpopular truths carry much light.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I share your thoughts and appreciate your encouraging words of wisdom.