By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Church doctrine defines a Christian as one who believes in Jesus Christ as God’s one and only Son, and that such belief is the only means of salvation. Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him as a Trinitarian form of God; and while it’s possible to be both a Christian and a disciple, most Christians don’t consider discipleship as essential to their faith.
To be a disciple, modern Christians must believe the teachings of Jesus are God’s Word and apply them to modern issues quite different from those in 1st century Palestine. Jesus never mentioned democracy, human rights or advances in technology, but his universal teachings on altruism and reconciliation are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
The crucifixion and resurrection did not represent a victory of good over evil, but affirmed the continuing cosmic battle between the opposing spiritual forces of good and evil. The dark legacy of the Church began with the Crusades and Inquisitions; and while Christianity became the world’s largest religion, it has fostered more religious division than reconciliation.
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races, religions and politics, as we love ourselves. It’s a universal moral imperative taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Islamic scholars; but it conflicts with exclusivist religious beliefs.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The teachings of Jesus are the most sublime moral code ever designed by man;” but Jefferson was critical of church doctrines that put worshiping Jesus Christ over following the teachings of Jesus. After a majority of white Christians elected Donald Trump President in 2016, it’s unlikely the church will emphasize what his supporters ignored.
Alexis de Tocqueville observed that a healthy democracy cannot exist without the moral standards of a healthy religion. The legitimacy of Christianity and democracy are interwoven, and it will take the resurrection of the moral teachings of Jesus and truth in advertising in the church and politics to restore religious and political legitimacy in America.
Most Americans still claim to be Christians; but racism and populist nationalism have divided the church and politics. In America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture, popularity is the measure of success. Since the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love were never popular, the church has promoted exclusivist beliefs as a form of cheap grace rather than discipleship.
The American church lacks a moral compass. It has sacrificed its legitimacy by putting its popularity ahead of following the moral standards of Jesus, and promoting the cheap grace of exclusivist beliefs as a substitute for the cost of discipleship. To restore its moral compass America must resurrect the moral imperatives taught by Jesus in its faith and politics.
On The greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/01/jesus-meets-muhammad-is-there-common.html
Thomas Jefferson was a deist who held the teachings of Jesus in high regard while he detested church doctrines. In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.” Jefferson assembled The Jefferson Bible on the moral teachings of Jesus, and many biblical scholars consider Jefferson prescient in separating the actual teachings of Jesus from what the gospel writers had likely put on his lips. Robin Meyers echoed Jefferson’s criticism in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html. See also Musings on the Evolution of Christianity into the American Civil Religion (December 10, 2022) at
In his tour of America in 1834, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that religion is a two-edged sword in democracy: While Christians “readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness,” and “will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law, …religion is entangled in those institutions that democracy assails, and is not infrequently brought to reject the equality it loves and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe.” De Tocqueville noted that secular citizens are skeptical of religion in politics but know “that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” See De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, The Cooperative Publication Society and the Colonial Press, 1900, p 12.
On Christian nationalism’s popularity as a wake-up call in America, see https://time.com/6250769/christian-nationalism-popularity-wake-up-call/?utm
On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Cost of Discipleship and Cheap Grace, see
On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Cost of Discipleship for Pastors, see
On the gross distortions of truth recently expressed by Trump supporters in Columbia, SC, see https://www.wistv.com/2023/01/26/additional-security-road-closures-downtown-columbia-ahead-trump-visit/.
On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism, see
On The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism, see
On E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation, see
On the need for a politics of reconciliation in a polarized democracy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/10/the-need-for-politics-of-reconciliation.html.