By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 1, 2022
Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, but few of us make covenants with God. In the 18th century John Wesley urged his Methodists to do just that in a Covenant Service at the beginning of each year. We can do the same, whether we are Jews, Christians or Muslims. We all serve the same God, and have all pledged to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Much has changed since the 18th century; but God remains the same, and the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions as we love ourselves, remains a timeless and universal imperative of our faith. It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Islamic scholars.
Jesus was a maverick Jew who taught God’s universal will, and he never promoted any religion, not even his own; and Jesus never suggested that he was divine. John Wesley was a maverick Anglican who was criticized by his Anglican hierarchy for claiming that the world was his parish, and for urging his Methodists to challenge the social and political values of his day.
Thomas Jefferson was an 18th century universalist deist who considered the teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man;” but Jefferson was critical of the church, and the church reciprocated by condemning Jefferson’s heterodox faith. America had a Christian Universalist church in the 18th century, but it merged with Unitarian Universalists in 1961.
Today, increasing religious diversity has made exclusivist religious beliefs dangerously divisive in democracies. God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in politics, the church and in the mosque, and is winning the popularity contest; and popularity is the key to power in democracies.
Jews, Christians and Muslims should make interfaith reconciliation a priority. They share a common word of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and those of other religions as they love themselves. Interfaith reconciliation would put God above any one religion, but most Christians continue to believe that their exclusivist beliefs are the only way to salvation.
Americans can begin to reconcile their polarized religions and politics by renewing a covenant with God in 2022. It could provide a new spiritual birth to a nation divided by tribal loyalties based on loving those of other races and religions as we love ourselves; and it could be sustained by a spiritual commitment to seek reconciliation with our adversaries.
Jesus, Jefferson and Wesley were mavericks who taught universal and altruistic moral imperatives of faith; and John Wesley advocated a renewal covenant with God at the beginning of each year. America’s increasing religious diversity and its polarized religion and politics threaten to unravel the fabric of its democracy. Jewish, Christian and Muslim Americans need to renew their covenant with God to love one another, and begin the process of reconciliation in 2022.
John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service:, The Covenant Renewal Service, or simply called the Covenant Service, was adapted by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, for the purpose of the renewal of the Christian believer's covenant with God. The covenant prayer and service are recognized as one of the most distinctive contributions of Methodism to the liturgy of Protestantism in general, and they are also used from time to time by other Christian denominations. The following is the traditional version of the Covenant Prayer used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936:
I am no longer my own but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Thomas Jefferson was a deist who embraced the moral teachings of Jesus, but he opposed the church as an obstacle to freedom. 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, posted at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html, See https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3gvZV8mXUp-aTJubVlISnpQc1U/view. Modern scholars like those of the Jesus Seminar consider Thomas Jefferson a pioneer in “separating the real teachings of Jesus, the figure of history, from the encrustations of Christian doctrine.” See The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, The Jesus Seminar, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1993, at page 2.
N. T. Wright has cited Biblical support for religious reconciliation that goes back to the Hebrew Bible. “Traditional opponents, and those nursing mutual suspicions, must find reconciliation. In particular, the long-promised coming together of Jews and Gentiles into a single, renewed family is to be a sign of hope to the world. The Bible translators of the sixteenth century were determined that ordinary people should worship, and read scripture, in their own languages. Isaiah’s vision ought to be within the reach of all. But in the excitement of using one’s own language, it was easy to ignore the biblical imperative to unity. . Ethnic differences have thus quietly pulled us all apart, often picking up theological freight along the way. The big debates of the sixteenth and subsequent centuries were in any case about “how to get to heaven,” which was never the Biblical hope.”
The Universalist Church of America has a rich history beginning in the 18th century, up to its 1961 merger with Unitarians that created Unitarian Universalists. Concepts of Christian Universalism remain in other Christian groups, including more liberal progressive Christians. See Wikipedia on Christian universalism at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_universalism. Christian universalism should be distinguished from the universal aspiration of traditional Christianity to convert the world to exclusivist Christian beliefs. “Universalism is the theological doctrine that all souls will eventually find salvation in the grace of God” (Webster), Christianity limits salvation to those who believe in exclusivist Christian doctrines. Universalism and exclusivist religious beliefs are diametrically opposed, but the two views are often confused. See Joran Slane Oppelt’s answer for the question, Is a universal community under one religion possible? at Progressing Spirit at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxvzKkvdMlrnTlWFvjNXftgTwGrL. Christian Universalism is not about religious conformity, but compatibility in a world of increasing religious diversity.
On universalism generally, see Universalism: A theology for the 21st century, by Forrest Church, November 5, 2001, at http://www.uuworld.org/articles/universalism-theology-the-21st-century.
See also, https://christianuniversalist.org/.
On Christian universalism:
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/religion-and-new-beginnings-salvation.html
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/06/religious-exclusivity-does-it-matter.html.
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/10/musings-on-moral-universalism-in.html.
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism
(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment
(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America
(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism
(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century
(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics
(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?
(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of the Church and Democracy in America
(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism
(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy
(10/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Discipleship in a Democracy
(11/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irrelevance of Morality in Politics
(11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity
(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority
(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)
(4/4/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of America’s Values
(12/23/20): Musings on the coming of a light that can dispel the darkness of the world.
(1/2/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Making a Covenant with God for the New Year
(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities
(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America
(6/5/21): Musings on Why Socialism is no Substitute for Altruism in Politics
(10/9/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Relevance of Jesus Today
(11/6/21): Musings on the Need for Political and Religious Reconciliation in America
(12/4/21): Musings on How Universal Heterodox Beliefs Promote Religious Reconciliation