By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Are the teachings of Jesus, as distinguished from Christian beliefs, relevant today? Jesus called his disciples to follow him; but the early church knew that the teachings of Jesus would never be popular and subordinated them to exclusivist beliefs in the divinity of Jesus. It was a form of cheap grace that attracted converts, but Jesus never taught that he was divine.
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. Paul’s atonement doctrine made belief in the crucifixion of Jesus as God’s blood sacrifice the only means of salvation. While blood sacrifice was a means of atonement under Mosaic Law, Jesus taught love over law, and mercy over sacrifice. The crucifixion of Jesus was the vengeful act of man, not God.
The crucifixion and resurrection are deeply mysterious events. Paul, a Jewish zealot, convinced 1st century ChristiIans that the crucifixion was God’s blood sacrifice to atone for sin; but there was no Jewish precedent for the resurrection. It could have been God’s affirmation of the teachings of Jesus as God’s eternal Word, rather than making Jesus into a divine Christ.
Jewish and Islamic beliefs consider it blasphemous to equate a man with God, but the church never considered explanations for the resurrection that would have been compatible with those beliefs. Had church doctrines emphasized the teachings of Jesus as God’s Word rather than Jesus being God, it would have changed the trajectory of Christianity and world history.
The altruistic teachings of Jesus have proven to be timeless truths of reconciliation in a tribal world of polarized partisan politics and exclusivist religious beliefs; but the church has continued to subordinate the universal teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs. It’s little wonder that the church is losing popularity; the only wonder is why it has taken so long.
Christianity is the world’s largest religion, but it’s losing ground in a world of increasing religious diversity. Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own. While Judaism and Islam recognize Jesus as a great prophet and accept the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, they both consider belief in the divinity of Jesus blasphemous.
Jesus emphasized God’s will to reconcile people of all religions with God’s love, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. Democracy has made popularity the measure of success in both politics and religion and enabled demagogues like Trump and Putin to use religion to divide and conquer. Reconciliation should be the first priority of religion and politics.
To make Jesus relevant and to promote religious and political reconciliation, the church should make following the teachings of Jesus a priority over worshiping Jesus Christ. Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.” The church rejected Jefferson’s Jesus, but history has validated his teachings as moral imperatives that can reconcile our faith and politics.
On love over law, see
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
On Paul’s atonement doctrine as an explanation of the crucifixion and resurrection, and Jesus saying “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13), see Seeing The Resurrection in a new light, April 5, 2015, at
Martin Thielen has debunked blood atonement as the foundational belief in Christianity. See https://doubtersparish.com/2022/03/29/the-night-i-stopped-believing-in-substitutionary-blood-atonement/.
On a recent poll taken by the Episcopal church on how Jesus is perceived (and often ignored) in America, and how the church might improve the relevance of Jesus in the church and politics, see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/publicaffairs/new-poll-confirms-jesus-remains-important-spiritual-figure-but-pandemic-had-effect-on-religious-activity/.
On The Jefferson Bible, see Kevin Spinale, When Thomas Jefferson rewrote the Bible,
America Magazine, December 04, 2020, at https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2020/12/04/catholic-book-club-thomas-jefferson-bible-239382?utm_source=piano&utm_medium=email&utm. See also, Barnes, Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics, March 17, 2018, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html.
On popularity as a corrupting influence on the church, see Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity, January 1, 2022, at
On Musings on Reconciliation to Resolve the Dilemma of Diversity in Democracy, see
On The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World, April 22, 2017. see
On how exclusivist Chritian beliefs subordinate the moral teachings of Jesuss, and the need for Christian universalism to restore the primacy of the moral teachings of Jesus in Christianity, see the following:
Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?, June 17, 2017, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/06/religious-exclusivity-does-it-matter.html; see also,
Hell No!, July 22, 2017, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/07/hell-no.html; see also.
Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer? August 5, 2017, at
The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism, August 12, 2017 at
Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism, September 29, 2018 at
For Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need For a Civil Religion in America (May 22, 2021) see