By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 20, 2024
Christianity is a man-made religion that seeks popularity as a measure of its success; but don’t confuse Christianity with promoting the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi whose altruistic and universalist teachings were never popular. He never claimed to be divine and never advocated one religion over others.
Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man”; but Jefferson was critical of church doctrines like Paul’s doctrine of atonement It limited salvation to those who believe that Jesus Christ was God’s blood sacrifice to save believers from sin; but Jesus never taught that.
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and has been accepted by Muslim scholars as a common word of faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
John Wesley was an 18th century Anglican priest who founded Methodism and taught that the theological task of Christians on their journey of faith was to follow the teachings of Jesus, as illuminated by reason and experience. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience are the four elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
Martin Thielen is a fellow retired United Methodist pastor who has asked, Do You Think I am Still a Christian? Thielen is a maverick Methodist who has questioned Christian doctrine and encouraged others to do the same, as long as they remain committed to follow the teachings of Jesus as God’s altruistic and universal truth.
Jesus was a universalist who emphasized reconciliation with our adversaries as a moral imperative of faith that takes precedence over worship (see Mt 5:23-24); and he advocated mercy over sacrifice as a means of repentance (see Mt 9:13). That would make the crucifixion of Jesus an act of human depravity rather than God’s will.
Many Biblical provisions remain to be reconciled with our reason and experience. Jesus never addressed political issues since democracy was irrelevant to his time and place; but modern followers of Jesus need to promote the common good as a moral imperative of faith and the primary objective of political legitimacy in democracy.
In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. So long as popularity is the measure of success in religion and politics, Satan has an advantage as the master of lies by doing a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics. God’s truth can prevail only if people of faith promote the common good as God’s will.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html. See also, Musings on God’s Simple, Universal and Timeless Truth
Thomas Jefferson was a deist and a child of the Enlightenment who considered himself a Christian as an imperfect follower of the teachings of Jesus. See The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Beacon Press, Boston, 1989. Jefferson’s Bible provides the universal teachings of Jesus on morality as taken from the Gospels. While Jefferson had great admiration for the moral teachings of Jesus he had no use for the doctrines of the institutional church. He wrote Henry Fry on June 17, 1804: "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 the 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." Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible, edited by O. I. A. Roche, Clarkson H. Potter, Inc., New York, 1964, at p 378; see also Jefferson’s letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813, at pp 825, 826; Jefferson's commentaries are at pp 325-379. See also, Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at page 10, note 2, at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3gvZV8mXUp-aTJubVlISnpQc1U/view. They are compared with those of Muhammad in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, an interfaith study guide based on Jefferson’s Jesus posted in the Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/. The Introduction (pp 10-15) is an overview of the study guide and refers to Jefferson’s 1804 letter to Henry Fry at end note 2 at p 425. Like many of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was a deist, an agnostic or heterodox Christian. In a world of increasingly pluralistic religions, non-orthodox truth seekers will likely determine the future of religion and the moral standards of political legitimacy that shape the American civil religion. On the views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/07/religion-moral-authority-and.html.
A distinguished group of biblical scholars recognized Thomas Jefferson as a pioneer in The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus in The Five Gospels, by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, at pages 2 and 3. McMillan Publishing Company, NY, 1993. “The book is dedicated to Galileo Galilei, who altered our view of the heavens forever, Thomas Jefferson, who took scissors and paste to the gospels, and David Freiedrich Strauss, who pioneered the quest for the historical Jesus.” See https://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2023/09/musings-on-how-christianity-has.html.
See also, Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Conflicting Concepts of Jesus at
Thomas B. Edsall Posed Some Interesting Questions on the Deification of Donald Trump at https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/17/opinion/trump-god-evangelicals-anointed.html?smid. Edsall has illustrated why there is so much confusion over Christian religious doctrine and the teachings of Jesus as God’s word and will. While a majority of white Christians seem to believe that God has ordained Trump as their messiah to establish America as God's promised land, just as Jews and some Christians believe that Joshua and Cyrus were anointed by God to liberate Jews in the Holy Land; but believing in them does not make them true. The Bible is a flawed history of God’s word and will. The mission of Jesus was to reveal God's universal word and will, but the church subordinated it to exclusivist Christian doctrines. Edsall concluded, “In other words, conservative populism, with all its antidemocratic implications, has taken root in America. What we don’t know is for how long — or how much damage it will do."
Martin Thielen has related the story of an anonymous correspondent who has “deconstructed” his traditional faith and no longer believes in a theistic theology of “the man upstairs.” Nor does he believe in the divinity of Christ, including a virgin birth, the miracle stories, or a physical resurrection. Instead, like many others, including large numbers of religious scholars, he believes that the stories of Jesus evolved over time, leading to myths about his divinity, which was a common occurrence in the ancient world for revered figures (see Bart Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God). And yet, in spite of rejecting a supernatural God and a divine Christ, Theilan, like his anonymous correspondent, remains committed to the human Jesus and attempts to follow his example and teachings.” See Do You Think I Am Still A Christian? at https://progressivechristianity.org/resource/do-you-think-i-am-still-a-christian/.