By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The teachings of Jesus include both mystical beliefs and moral standards of legitimacy. They are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. It’s a timeless and universal teaching that’s both mystical and moral: We love God by loving all others as we love ourselves.
The greatest commandment was taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and has been accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith. In our world of increasingly diverse religions, it’s a universal and altruistic moral imperative that requires us to seek to be reconciled with those of other races, religions and politics, and with our adversaries.
Jesus was a maverick Jew who announced the coming kingdom of God and taught love over law. Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him. He never suggested that he was divine or promoted any religion, not even his own. It was not Jesus, but the church that has promoted exclusivist Christian beliefs that have caused more division than reconciliation.
Jesus revealed a God bigger than one religion; and God’s will is to reconcile and redeem all people through the transforming power of God’s love. Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; and because Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics, he seems to be winning in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.
The relevance of Jesus today is to reconcile the toxic divisions of exclusivist religions and polarized politics. Prior to the 6th century universalism was prevalent in Christianity, and it was a separate Christian denomination in America until it merged with Unitarian Universalists in 1961. Christian universalism needs to be revived as an alternative to Christian exclusivism.
Following the teachings of Jesus makes a person a disciple, but not a Christian. As a progressive Christian I struggle to be a disciple, but I don’t believe that the only way to salvation is to worship Jesus Christ as God. Like the deist Thomas Jefferson and Martin Thielen, a fellow maverick Methodist pastor, I believe that following Jesus (discipleship) is the way to salvation.
Our mystical beliefs on the nature of God may differ, but those exclusivist beliefs that limit salvation to one religion and condemn other religions should be rejected. At the same time we should conform our moral standards to the universal and altruistic standards of legitimacy in the greatest commandment as a common word of faith and politics.
In a world of increasing religious diversity Jesus is relevant as a prophet whose universal teachings can reconcile those of different religions and enable them to coexist in peace. Americans have learned that it cannot defeat extremist Islamism with military force. To defuse the threat of religious extremism we must cross religious boundaries and promote religious and political reconciliation based on the greatest commandment--and Jesus can help us do that.
Jesus refuted the assertions of Jewish religious leaders that Mosaic Law was God’s standard of righteousness. He disobeyed the law against healing on the Sabbath and also ignored dietary laws to emphasize the primacy of God’s love over law. On Mosaic Law generally, see Mark 2:27, 28; 3:4: also Matthew 12:1-14, Luke 6:1-11, 13:10-17, 14:1-5; and John 5:1-10; on Jewish dietary laws and hygiene, see Mark 7:14-23 and Matthew 15:1-20.
Jesus spoke of a universal family of God as his true kinsmen when he said that “Whoever does God’s will is my brother, and sister and mother.” See Mark 3:35; also Matthew 12:48-50 and Luke 8:21.
The greatest commandment is at Mark 12:28-33, Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-37. Luke’s version is the most complete with the story of the good Samaritan answering the question, “Who is my neighbor? John’s new command to love one another is an abbreviated version of the greatest commandment. See John 13:34, 35; 14:15, 21, 23; also John 15:9-14, 17.
On The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Chrsitian Exclusivism (August 17, 2017), see
Martin Thielen is a United Methodist pastor from a megachurch in Tennessee who shares a universalist Christian theology. See https://doubtersparish.com/2021/10/03/god-is-no-longer-a-working-number/.
For a compendium of the moral teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson (including the above cited scripture) and how they relate to the teachings of Muhammad, see The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy. It’s an interfaith study guide posted in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/, at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3gvZV8mXUp-aTJubVlISnpQc1U/view?resourcekey=0-YLzldz2-GHDhJ_HyoqmS8g.
On Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics (March 17, 2018), see
On Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics (February 6, 2016), see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/02/jesus-meets-muhammad-on-issues-of.html.