Saturday, December 30, 2023

Musings on the Need for a New Covenant with God

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Most of America’s mainstream churches avoid mixing politics with religion, citing a mistaken view of the Constitution.  A notable exception are white nationalist churches aligned with the Republican Party.  Today mainstream churches have shrunk in number and influence by avoiding contentious issues that shape the moral standards of political legitimacy.

With popularity the measure of success in the church and politics, church leaders avoid divisive splits over political issues.  The United Methodist Church (UMC) is no longer united.  While its congregations have long been racially divided; in the last few years disaffiliation based primarily on sexual preferences has further divided and weakened the UMC.

In most churches the silence has been deafening on political issues like immigration and the wars in Ukraine and Israel.  The church lost its moral compass over the issue of slavery in the Civil War, and again in 2016 when most white Christians elected Donald Trump.  His narcissistic morality is the antithesis of the altruistic morality taught by Jesus, yet he remains popular with most white Christians.  That underscores the need for a new covenant with God. 

Jews, Christians and Muslims have historically used covenants with God to define the obligations of their faith to their politics.  For the ancient Hebrews it was based on obedience to Mosaic Law, and Muslims require submission to Shari’a law.  Jesus was a maverick Jew who brought a new and universal covenant with God that asserted the primacy of love over law.

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and confirmed by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith; but exclusivist church doctrines have prevented it from being a universal covenant with God. 

Jesus sought to reform his Jewish religion, and never asserted that he was divine. It was Paul’s doctrine of atonement that subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God as the only means of salvation.  The focus on exclusivist beliefs allowed Christians to elect Donald Trump as their political messiah in 2016.

John Wesley was a maverick 18th century Anglican priest who sought to reform his stiff-necked Anglican Church with the reconciling power of God’s love and mercy.  He organized his Methodists to follow the teachings of Jesus with acts of selfless service in orphanages and hospitals.  It has been said that Wesley’s Methodist movement averted a civil war in England.

Wesley advocated renewing a covenant with God at the beginning of each year.  Christianity became the world’s largest religion and Methodism its largest Protestant denomination in America by sacrificing the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist Christian beliefs as the only means of salvation.  It is a form of cheap grace that has cost the church its credibility and legitimacy.  A new covenant with God can begin to remedy that deficiency.        



On the mistaken view that the Constitution mandates the separation of church and state, see


On disaffiliation within the UMC, see With a Deadline Looming, the United Methodist Church 

Breaks Up at

On a growing trend from traditional churches to more progressive anti-dogma spiritual collectives, see

On The Greatest Commandment as A Common Word of Faith, see

On Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, see

On Who Is My Neighbor?, see


Excerpts from A Covenant Service at St. John UMC in Columbia, S.C. (Jan.1, 2006):


Call to Worship:

Pastor: We, like all people of faith who have gone before us, are called into a special relationship with God that transforms our relationship with God and with all of our neighbors.

People: Father God, we are here in repentance, to ask your forgiveness, and to commit ourselves to be disciples of Jesus in the New Year that awaits us.

Hymn: Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult                                                                    UMH  #398

First Reading of Scripture: Exodus 34:8-10, 27, 28

The Call to a Covenant of Discipleship in the Wesleyan Tradition:

God sent us Jesus as His Word.

We now commit ourselves to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.

God has many services to be done.

Some are more easy and honorable,

others are more difficult and disgraceful.

Some are suited to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.

In some we may please God and ourselves,

but then there are other works where we cannot please God 

except by denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Jesus.

It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Let us pray together:

Father God, we are here to answer the call of Jesus to follow him as Your Word.

We will submit to his command; 

We will no longer be our own, but yours as followers of Jesus.

By following Jesus we will struggle to do your will, not our own.

We will allow the teachings of Jesus to give us our place and work from this day forward.

Hymn: O Young and Fearless Prophet of Ancient Galilee                               UMH 444

Your Covenant with God:

The Bible reports several covenants with God, beginning with God rewarding Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son to God with a promise to bless Abraham and all of his descendants. (Gen 22:15-18)  Then we have the more elaborate covenant with Moses, with God giving Moses a detailed set of religious rules and rituals to obey, promising blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. (Ex 34:8-28)

Later the prophet Jeremiah announced the coming of a new covenant that would replace the old Mosaic rules and rituals.  It would be a covenant of love written in peoples’ hearts.  This prophecy of Jeremiah was cited in the Book of Hebrews as Biblical authority for early Christians to reject the old covenant of Moses for the new covenant with Jesus as God's Word. (He 8:7-13)

Jesus taught that the rule of God’s love superseded the rule of law.  Paul echoed Jesus when he wrote to the Romans and Galatians that the entire law was summed up in one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Rm 13:9,10; Ga 5:14)  In saying this, Paul was reaffirming the primacy of the greatest commandment: We love God by loving others, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. (Luke 10, 25-37

The  first day of the New Year will be the first day of the rest of our lives.  It’s a good time to make resolutions for the future, and first among them should be our resolution to serve God.

How do we serve God?  Jesus made that very clear in the greatest commandment and the new command: We show our love for God by loving all of His creations.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Worship is meaningless if not combined with loving service to others, especially the least, the last and the lost—even our enemies.

In the Biblical tradition, commitments of the faithful were made in covenants.  Therefore, as the people of God, it is only right and proper that we make a commitment and covenant with God here at the beginning of a New Year.

This covenant is unlike any other agreement you will ever enter into.  It cannot be enforced against either party.  You are free to disobey it, but there will be consequences if you do—they are the wages of sin and death.  On the other hand if you obey it, there are great benefits to be received.  That is because when it comes to God’s gift of love, you can expect to receive the measure that you give to others--and even more--just as Jesus promised you.


Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

Lord, make me what you will.

I put myself fully into your hands:

Put me to suffering,

let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart

give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

O Mighty God, You have now become my covenant friend.

And I, through your infinite mercy and grace, have become your covenant servant.

So be it.  And now let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven and in my heart.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Musings on the Advent of Jesus as the Light of the World and the Universal Logos

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., December 23, 2023

Jews and Muslims consider their prophets and Jesus as sages of God’s wisdom, or God’s word (the Logos).  Christian doctrine requires belief in Jesus Christ as God, but that’s blasphemy for Jews and Muslims.  Jesus never claimed to be divine, and John’s Gospel presents Jesus as the Logos.  Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.

It’s ironic that John’s Gospel is most often cited by Christians who affirm belief in Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God, a belief that's essential to their salvation (e.g. John 3:16 and 14:6).  If Logos or God’s word is substituted for Jesus in John’s Gospel, it requires following the teachings of Jesus as God’s word, and that’s not blasphemy for Jews or Muslims.

John’s Gospel provides a unique Advent or Christmas story, with Jesus depicted as the light of the world and the Logos.  Like Mark’s Gospel, John’s Gospel does not include a virgin birth.  John 1:1-5 says: “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God…and was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, but the  darkness has not understood it.” 

John’s Gospel goes on to say, “The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.  The world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet all who received him became children of God--children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:9-13)


In The Apostle’s Creed Christians affirm belief in exclusive church doctrine with Jesus Christ as God’s only Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.  A Modern Affirmation is an alternative creed that affirms belief in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, power and love, whose mercy is over all his works, and is ever directed to his children’s good, as set forth in the service of love, to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth.  

The Book of James relates faith and belief to deeds of love: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds [of love] is dead.” (James 2:26)  The big question for us is whether our faith is based on our belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian God, or as a Jewish sage who came as the Logos teaching the universal and altruistic Word of God.

The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves is a summary of the universal teachings of Jesus as Logos, or the Word of God.  It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the new command of John’s Gospel to love one another complements that moral imperative of faith. (John 13:34-35)

The teachings of Jesus are the light of the world, and we need to let that light shine in our lives and our politics.  If we don’t, the darkness of the world will overcome us.  Polls indicate that Donald Trump and his minions are waiting in the wings to further darken our democracy.  Since most Americans claim to be Christians and assert belief in Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God, it seems incredible that so few follow his teachings as the Word of God.         



Introduction to the Gospel of John  

The Gospel of John is conceptually different from the three Synoptic gospels. Tradition has it written by the apostle John, son of Zebedee, but it is dated at the end of the first century, beyond the lifetime of the apostle John. The Gospel is not so much an historical account of the life of Jesus as it is a close encounter with the Holy Spirit or Logos (the word of God).

John's gospel presents Jesus as the Logos made flesh (Jn1:1-18). Logos meant more than our understanding of a word; it referred to the very power of God.  The unique I am statements of Jesus in which he refers to himself as the way, the truth, and the life, the light of the world, living water, and the bread of life, all describe the divine power of Logos or Holy Spirit, rather than the historical Jesus. John’s Jesus is also unique in telling his disciples that after he leaves them God will send them the Holy Spirit as the Logos to teach them all things and remind them of everything he had taught them (Jn 14:26). In John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit rather than the risen Christ sustains believers in God’s word and redemptive power.

John’s Gospel, like that of Thomas, has a Gnostic flavor with its dichotomies of spirit and flesh and light and darkness. As in Mark’s Gospel, there is no mention of a virgin birth in John’s Gospel; but like the other gospels it has the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus in the River Jordan. The Synoptic Gospels emphasized the coming kingdom of heaven as an apocalyptic event (Parousia) within the lifetime of the apostles. But there is no little apocalypse in John’s Gospel; the emphasis is on how love, the Holy Spirit, and the gift of peace can lead to faith and eternal life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus taught that eternal life begins when one is born again of the spirit, and his one command for his disciples was to love one another (Jn 13:34). After 2,000 years without the end times, this interpretation of the coming kingdom of God seems more relevant than preparing for an apocalyptic second coming. Even though the Gospel of John is more mystical than moral, the new command to love one another is at the heart of John’s gospel, and like the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor found in Mark, Matthew and Luke, the new command is a summary of the teachings and example of Jesus.

See The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law, the Heart of Legitimacy, page 301 at 

On the Logos, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Jesus as the Logos in John’s Gospel (2/18/23), see; see also, Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irony of the Logos in John’s Gospel (2/25/23),


The Apostles’ Creed affirms belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, while A Modern Affirmation emphasizes the service of love as God’s Word and will taught by Jesus:

The Apostles’ Creed affirms belief in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

A Modern Affirmation affirms belief in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, power and love, whose mercy is over all his works, and whose will is ever directed to his children’s good. We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of man, the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace, the ground of our hope, and the promise of our deliverance from sin and death. We believe in the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives, whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need. We believe that this faith should manifest itself in the service of love as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord, to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth. Amen.

The greatest commandment was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.  See The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith,

In American politics, Donald Trump can be said to be the  heart of  darkness.  He has said, “We pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Donald Trump said this past November, in a campaign speech that was ostensibly honoring Veterans Day. “The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left … The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”   In the past few months, the former president has described himself as a “very proud election denier.” He has repeatedly threatened and intimidated judges, witnesses, prosecutors, and even the family of prosecutors involved in the cases against him, going so far as to say that his legal opponents will be consigned to mental asylums if he’s reelected. He has suggested that the man he picked for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deserves to be executed on grounds of treason. He’s called for investigating NBC and possibly yanking the network off the air, also on grounds of treason—one of his most direct attacks on the First Amendment. And he’s vowed to arrest and indict President Joe Biden and other political opponents for no apparent reason other than that they oppose him. The fact that Trump’s ideas have become more authoritarian is not yet fully appreciated. One reason is people have heard Trump say outlandish things for so long that they can’t identify what’s new, or they’ve become numb.  The first time Trump says something, people react with shock and compare him to Hitler. The second time, people say Trump is at it again. By the third time, it becomes background noise.  This is just the sort of “normalization” that Trump’s critics warned against from the start, but it’s also a natural human response to repeated exposure. The result is that Trump has been able to acclimate the nation to authoritarianism by introducing it early and often. When a second-term President Trump directs the Justice Department to lock up Democratic politicians or generals or reporters or activists on flimsy or no grounds at all, people will wring their hands, but they’ll also shrug and wonder why he didn’t do it sooner.  See


Dr. Rick Herrick has opined that “Jesus and God are one in the Gospel of John.  Most Christians believe in an exclusivist salvation based on belief in Jesus Christ as God.  Who can blame them?  It’s a deal most Christians can’t pass up since correct belief is all that’s required.  “The first problem with this approach is that it’s an invention of the first century church with no ties to the Jesus of history; yet for 2,000 years the vast majority of Christians have based their faith on a belief that has no historical validity.”  An even bigger problem is that it’s an ideology with no connection to the heart.”  It’s all about me, me, me and feeds the ego rather than helping to transform it to make it more open to the needs of others. Jesus is worshiped as a God, but not followed.  This has made the church more a part of the world’s problems than a solution to them.” See

Rev. Brendan Robertson has answered the question, What does it mean to be a believer? He said “There are no creeds in Scripture or in the early church that were exemplified by people changing the way that they lived to be more service-oriented, loving, and resistant to the oppressive ways of the Empire that Christianity was birthed within. This is why Jesus never called his followers “believers” but “disciples.  

A believer merely has faith in someone, a disciple actually seeks to emulate and follow someone.”  See Progressive Spirit, November 9, 2023. It’s ironic that John’s Gospel is most often cited by Christians to affirm belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God as a belief essential to their salvation (e.g. John 3:16 and 14:6).  If Logos or God’s word is substituted for Jesus in John’s Gospel, it requires following the teachings of Jesus as God’s word, and that’s not blasphemy for Jews or Muslims.