Saturday, March 23, 2024

Musings on How Following Jesus, Not Worshiping Christ, Can Bring Light into a Dark World

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

In all the gospel accounts, Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.  The crowds that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were looking for a messiah who would liberate them from Roman oppression, not be a sacrificial lamb of God.  Soon the disillusioned crowds that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem would be shouting, Crucify him!

Jesus was not a Christian.  He was a maverick and universalist Jew who sought to reform Judaism, and his teachings 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 Muslims as a common word of faith.

Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and prophet who never claimed to be divine or sought to start a new religion.  Muhammad considered Jesus a great prophet, but Muslims, like Jews who were their Semitic kin, rejected a divine Jesus as blasphemous.  No other religion accepts the divinity of Jesus.  Most consider Jesus a great prophet who should be followed, but not worshiped.

Over 2,000 years later, Christianity is the world’s largest religion; but the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil continues unabated.  The early church subordinated the teachings of Jesus to belief in Paul’s doctrines of atonement and justification by faith as the only means of salvation, since the teachings of Jesus on discipleship were never popular.

Christianity is shrinking and won’t be the world’s largest religion much longer.  But a revival of Christian universalism that emphasizes the altruistic teachings of Jesus over Paul’s exclusivist Christian doctrines as the only means of salvation could give the church a future in a world of increasing religious diversity.  Otherwise the traditional church is destined to fade away.

Christian denominations like the United Methodist Church are already in transition based on sexual preferences.  A doctrinal shift to emphasize the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus over exclusivist beliefs would not change the traditional social functions of  the church, but for progressive Christians it could have long term moral implications for their faith.

Religions evolve and are shaped by our individual journeys of faith.  The main change advocated for Christian doctrine is to conform it to the teachings of Jesus, rejecting exclusivist beliefs and making the greatest commandment a reconciling common word of faith.  That could unite us in a universal communion rather than keeping us divided as competing religions.

Easter represents the hope for such a universal spiritual transformation.  If the crucifixion was Satan’s effort to divide and conquer God’s will by killing God’s word, then the resurrection was God’s nullification of Satan’s evil efforts  It offers a message of hope for people of all faiths that the transforming spiritual power of God’s reconciling love can bring light into a dark world.   



(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith

(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy

(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?

(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church

(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

(11/5/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Jesus, the Church and Christian Nationalism

(5/20/23): Musings on God’s Simple, Universal and Timeless Truth

(8/5/23): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on How We Love God

(8/25/23): Musings on Changing Christian Doctrine to Promote the Common  Good

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