By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 14, 2023
Jerusalem has been a crucible of religious conflict between the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam for over 2,000 years. Peaceful coexistence among those contentious religions requires reconciliation based on the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.
The greatest commandment was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith. The Gospel of John presents Jesus as the mystical Logos, or the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1-14), while Christian doctrine makes belief in Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God in theTrinity a requirement for salvation.
Jesus was a Jewish prophet who taught his disciples to follow him, not to worship him; but Christian doctrines limit salvation to those who worship Jesus Christ as God made flesh, and Islam asserts that the Qur’an is God made Book. Such exclusivist doctrines that equate a person or a holy book to God are a form of blasphemy, and obstacles to religious reconciliation.
God is love (1 John 4:16), and God’s love is the essence of the Logos and is not limited to any religion. In Judaism and Islam, the Logos is the transforming spiritual power of God’s love as taught by Jesus and other great prophets. Belief in Jesus as the Logos rather than as God per se is not blasphemous, since the Logos can be distinguished from God.
For Christians, John 3:16 and 14:6 should be considered narratives of the evangelist John that relate to the Logos rather than to Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God. The new command in John’s Gospel to love one another (John 13:34-35) affirms the greatest commandment and ties God to the Logos and to Jesus in the other three Gospels.
To reconcile the Abrahamic religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims should all follow the universal teachings of Jesus as the Logus, and church doctrines that deny salvation to Jews and Muslims based on their religion should be ignored. Christians should seek to be reconciled with all Jews and Muslims who seek to do the will of God. (Mark 3:33-35)
The church has long advocated belief in Jesus Christ as God’s one and only Son, rather than following the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love as the Word of God, or Logos. That’s because sacrificial love has never been popular; and popularity rather than discipleship is now the measure of success for the church--even if (or because) it’s an easy or cheap form of grace.
Advocating exclusivist religious beliefs as the only means of salvation is divisive, while affirming a common word of faith is a means of religious reconciliation. God’s will is that all people should be reconciled as children of God, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. Unfortunately, Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics, and seems to be winning the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.
On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/12/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
On The greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html.
Jesus was a universalist Jew who early in his ministry likened all who did God’s will to members of his spiritual family. When Jesus was told by a crowd that his family was seeking him early in his ministry, “he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister.” (Mark 3:33-35)
O Young and Fearless Prophet of Ancient Galilee is a hymn by S. Ralph Harlow (1931, UMH#444). It describes Jesus as a prophetic Logos, and how we can apply the greatest commandment to follow Jesus in our troubled times; but it’s rarely sung today in United Methodist Churches:
1. O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee, thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd, to stand with humble courage
for truth with hearts uncowed.
2. We marvel at the purpose that held thee to thy course while ever on the hilltop before thee loomed the cross; thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone,
while we betray so quickly and leave thee there alone.
3. O help us stand unswerving against war's bloody way, where hate and lust and falsehood
hold back Christ's holy sway; forbid false love of country that blinds us to his call,
who lifts above the nations the unity of all.
4. Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth, while others starve and hunger
and plead for work and health; where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread,
who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.
5. O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here, amid our pride and glory
to see thy face appear; once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,
again to lead us forward along God's holy way.
An omitted stanza addresses racial equality long before the Civil Rights Movement of the second half of the twentieth century: Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind. That knows not race or color as boundaries of mind; That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul, And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole. See https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-o-young-and-fearless-prophet.
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