Christ Before Christianity

There is a disturbingly common misconception among a lot of folks who are quick to say “praise Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” who think that the Son of God preached for a few years to establish a religion. Too many people who think that what is laid down as church doctrine came from the mouth of Jesus.

Frankly, there are a lot of people hostile to religion who think the same thing, though I’m gratified to find a fair number of atheists and snarky agnostics who can separate their issues with early Christian church leaders from the teachings of the Christ himself.

Jesus did not establish a religion. Jesus preached that people should turn to God and be obedient to Him. That is, obedient to the underlying spirit of His commandments, which revolve around love, and not so much for the nit-picking of the laws and they way they put people in bondage and encouraged folks to double standards.

Jesus preached against anger and hate and intolerance. He often singled out hypocrisy as one of his biggest pet peeves. Ultimately, what Jesus taught was a spiritual awakening and awareness, and not a religion. After all, he already had a religion: Judaism. He was there to fulfill God the Father’s will and not reinvent the wheel. He was actually trying to tweak that wheel so that it spun true and straight, because it was twisted, pitted, kinked, rusted and otherwise pretty messed up by the time he came around.

True, the New Testament is filled with doctrine and rules and guidelines. Those things that formed the “walls” of the early Christian church, to build upon the foundation that was Jesus and his teachings. I totally understand why the apostles and other early church leaders did that. Keeping people on the right track and preventing heresy around Jesus’ message was important. Fragmenting into cults with personal agendas was something that horrified early church leaders, and rightfully so, because that could have undone everything that they were doing to spread Jesus’ teachings and the good news of the resurrection.

That said, even the early church leaders weren’t tying to establish some rigid doctrine in many cases. Perhaps not even most cases. Many of the things in the New Testament were letters to specific churches and regions, to deal with specific issues and problems they faced. Sometimes, we take a lesson that was meant to point out how easy it is to fall away from the path, and turn it into a rule that everyone must follow…OR ELSE!

Jesus believed in rules and in proper behavior. I don’t deny that. And what he taught was important. But some of what he taught was meant to make people think, not simply to compel them to a certain action or set of rules. I mean, does anyone with any sense really think Jesus was advocating that you rip out your eyes if, for example, you just can’t stop ogling the ladies? Come on, now…

Jesus taught with metaphors and symbols through his parables. He sometimes used hyperbole to make a point. He didn’t write down a doctrine and he didn’t create a church, nor did he command a new church to be created. He set his apostles on the path to create a church of ideas and of good lessons and of reverence to God, but Jesus portrayed himself as a servant as much as a teacher, and he didn’t crave to have people bow and scrape before him. He wasn’t trying to set up himself up as an object of worship but as a gatekeeper, guide, brother, teacher and advocate. He is the messiah and the savior, but he didn’t seek to create Christianity.

He strove to create godliness.

A couple Sundays ago, our pastor preached from the gospel of Mark, if I recall right. Or maybe Matthew. I’m too lazy at the moment frankly, to scour things and remind myself which “M” gospel writer it was or which chapter and verse. But it was the story of the apostles who, after having recently failed miserably at healing and casting out of demons, came to discover that someone outside their circle was casting out demons using Jesus’ name.

They were incensed, and went to Jesus to tell him that they had told the man to stop doing that. Jesus chided them for doing so, reminding them that they man was doing good works, and that “those are not against us are for us.”

Does this sound like a man who wants us to follow a specific church, or a specific religious leader? No. Jesus wanted us to serve and love and embrace God.

Yes, this is the man who also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and none shall come to the Father but through me.”

But that doesn’t mean he wanted us to embrace a religion called Christianity. It simply means he knew that God was going to put him at the metaphorical gates of Heaven to determine who was ready and willing to enter.

This is why I reject the idea that only those who claim Jesus’ name officially and directly are saved. Because Jesus was happy to hear about someone who didn’t follow him casting out demons and doing healing in his name. Doing  God’s work.

Yes, I believe that truly embracing the spirit of Jesus’ teachings and recognizing him as one’s savior is an express road to salvation. It’s the short cut, though admittedly a short cut that is riddled with bumps and potholes at times. It’s a better and surer path, but not the only one.

Jesus acknowledged that some out there weren’t his followers, but they were still allies and people to be thanked for doing good. Yes, we will answer to God through Jesus. Yes, we need forgiveness for our sins.

But it isn’t just the Christians getting into heaven, my friends.

And there are a whole mess of Christians who are very much against what Jesus taught, and who will find themselves turned away in the end.

16 thoughts on “Christ Before Christianity

  1. Deacon Blue

    Oh my God…and just in time for today’s post, this gem from the Huffington Post:

    Man, now the neo-con religious wingnuts are going to take out all the parts of the Bible they deem too liberal. Does that mean they’ll be removing or changing most of what Jesus said directly, then? Last time I checked, my messiah had a pretty progressive and liberal agenda, at least socially speaking.

    I find especially troubling that these dangerous wingnuts are decrying how the language has been liberalized and mistranslated in more modern language, but they are more than willing to update things like “cast lots” to “gambling” so that modern readers can understand it better.

    Of course, maybe someone should tell them that casting lots wasn’t always a form of gambling, for starters…and that the apostles did it to pick a replacement for Judas Iscariot…

  2. societyvs

    That link is about the dumbest thing I have read in some time…amazing what some right wing nuts are willing to do to make God sound more like them.

    “But that doesn’t mean he wanted us to embrace a religion called Christianity” (deacon)

    I agree – and as you said he was part of Judaism. Which leads me to my next point – do you understand Judaism teaches on the righteous and wicked pathways? Maybe this is what Jesus was getting at in his teachings – the way one chooses to live their life? It lines up with a lot of parables in Matthew and within the sermon on the mount (ex: the trees parable or the foundations). Maybe John changed it to make the message more specific – but by that time – maybe the war with the Pharisee’s was in full swing and various Christianities has arisen?

    I still have a variety of interpretations for John 14:6 myself – just based on the wording of the passage and from within the confines of that chapter. To me, I still the basic message about following the ideals Jesus taught and living them out towards God and humanity…humanity being of prime importance in that ideology.

    This is why I think heaven is pretty wide open – and a lot of people can get there – they just need to direct their lives down the best path in life…that seeks out the idea of ‘loving their neighbor’.

  3. Deacon Blue

    @ SocietyVs,

    I agree with you that Heaven is more wide open than a lot of Christian churches preach, but I also (and perhaps this is twisted cynicism about human nature) that plenty of people will do good works here on Earth, maybe even with love abounding in their hearts, and still miss out in the end because they will refuse to acknowledge that there is a gap between them and God that needs to be bridged. I find myself convinced that souls will end up before the judgment seat and still say, “What do I have to answer for? What did I do that was so wrong? Why should you even care about my sins?”

    I think about how powerful a thing pride is and how many people refuse to bend their knee, and I think that many souls will turn their back on redemption.

    Or maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. 😉

    So, I think that getting sent to Hell isn’t quite as much a slam-dunk as a lot of fundie Christians think (accept Jesus here on this Earth or you are DOOOOOOOMED forever!) but I also think that God’s forgiveness will be rebuffed by folks who would rather curse Him for not building a reality to their liking.

    @ Big Man,

    Again, glad to see that we aren’t in lockstep. I admit that some of my views are trending more liberal as the years go on, in terms of religious interpretation. But at the same time, I do still believe that accepting and appreciating Jesus’ sacrifice is something all souls will be called upon to do. So in that respect, believing that ultimately everyone must fess up and want forgiveness and redemption, I remain pretty fundamentalist in my beliefs around that. I just quibble about how people will get to that point and where God sets the cut-off point.

  4. Lorena

    Jesus did not establish a religion. Jesus preached that people should turn to God and be obedient to Him.

    Sure, but if there is no God, then Jesus was misled, as are his followers. Also, Jesus doesn’t resemble his father in the least, so I doubt it that they’re “related.”

  5. societyvs

    “I think about how powerful a thing pride is and how many people refuse to bend their knee, and I think that many souls will turn their back on redemption” (Deacon)

    I tend to agree – for those that can hear such things – that we need something greater than us to kind of keep us in humility. However, what about those de-cons that just can’t believe because the proof is quite inadequate or have had such horrible experiences no one should expect them to attend a church nor believe in the God that this happened directly under?

    It’s just not all so cut n dry IMO. I have yet to meet a person that does good things on a regular basis that is quite proud about their behavior (then again, I’m Canadian – kind of the norm up here). I meet good people all the time that are not Christian – but are yet very caring people who hate to have the spotlight shined on them because they did something ‘nice’ for someone.

  6. Inda Pink

    Also, Jesus doesn’t resemble his father in the least, so I doubt it that they’re “related.”


    Huh? Care to elaborate Lorena on what you meant there. Your first statement is logical since if God didn’t exist it all kinda fall apart but I don’t get that second statement at all.

  7. Deacon Blue

    @ Miz Pink,

    I’m going to guess that Lorena means something like, “Jesus was peace and love and non-violence, and God of the Old Testament was a brutal, vengeful hard-ass, and thus they have nothing in common.”

    If that is what Lorena means, it’s a very simplistic view of God based on not grasping the totality of the Old Testament and the way it leads to (and weaves into) the New Testament.

    But it’s often easier for folks to just say “God is love” or “God (if he exists) is an asshole” and forget that a being of that kind of immensity is likely to be a bit more nuanced and complex than even the most complex human.

    @ SocietyVs

    My point about refusing redemption is that even when faced with Jesus at the judgement seat, many will still be full of excuses, and sadly lacking in willingness to take responsibility for their sins. They may beg and plead for mercy because they fear whatever will befall them if they don’t get into Heaven, but they won’t be willing to own up to their damage and their culpability in keeping themselves separated from God.

    I full expect that there are plenty of de-conversion folks who will actually see redemption and salvation. They will be faced with God and Jesus in the end, after going through whatever it is that one goes through between death and judgment (or so I believe), and they will realize they went astray and will feel remorse.

    I mean, I think about my own experience here on Earth. When I think about the ways (many of them) in which I fail to be what I could be (and should be) for God, I am sad. When I truly meditate on it, I feel bad. I don’t fear Hell. I don’t worry that God is mad at me. I actually feel sad that I’ve let someone down who has so much to give me.

    And that, I think, is where redemption begins. Not in fear or blind obedience, but in finding the love and knowing that one hasn’t lived up to one’s responsibility to practice love, spread love, and BE love.

  8. societyvs

    “And that, I think, is where redemption begins. Not in fear or blind obedience, but in finding the love and knowing that one hasn’t lived up to one’s responsibility to practice love, spread love, and BE love” (Deacon)

    I agree – Jesus and John the Baptist’s first words in the gospel of Matthew are ‘repent’ (committ to change your actions). I think once we love and know love this idea opens up to us in much greater ways. I think we feel the remorse and guilt we need to for doing something that hurt another – not out of character for us per se – but defintely out of a part of us we thought we ‘left behind’. But love cause empathy – and empathy what every single Christian should pray for…like James said ‘pray for wisdom’…now wisdom is making me pray for ’empathy’.

  9. societyvs

    “That comment about Jesus not resembling his father was clearly designed to pick a fight” (Big Man)

    It could of been an honest question by Lorena also – she is rather nice person.

    Maybe they don’t resemble one another on some levels. God is God (a Spirit – the unseen – the mystery of life). Whereas Jesus was seen and known and heard and was by all accounts a walking and talking human being (and this is the claims about him). As far as I can remember – God has no form or likeness on this earth…but Jesus does.

  10. Seda

    Jesus was a man – finite, limited, physical.
    God is a spirit. God is love. God is infinite, unlimited, immaterial.
    Ergo, Jesus ain’t God.

    But the real question is: What is sin?

  11. LightWorker

    @Seda: “What is sin”? It’s to fall out of Love. As long as you’re in Love, you’re sinless.

    Deacon, I found most of what you said in your essay (blog entry) to be on the money. Your followup comments weren’t too bad, either, but I’m inclined to see things a bit different.

    But you knew that!

    As the image an likeness of God, man is always one with God. Father and son can’t be separated, and God’s son has to inherit all that the Father is. For the son to be led astray by a Serpent, or evil, or what have you, the fault must first reside in the Father, and we know that to be an impossibility. God is of too purer eyes to behold evil (If I quoted that correctly.).

    And if man is less than God, he can’t be said to be a son, or an image of God. Where else would man obtain his nature (divine or otherwise) if not from His Father? There’s no Mother here from whence to gather other attributes.

    If man sinned, the only conclusion we can logically reach is that man is not the full image and likeness of God, the sinless one. If God is sinless, then man is sinless, and exists without the potential for sinning.

    What’s going on here, then, if man is truly like his Father, his image and likeness? Here’s what I think: The man that God made cannot be changed, altered, nor be less than the Divine image of the Father.

    Where we seem to be something other than that: We made it up. We brought into existence. We set in motion. And that doesn’t make what we made up, brought into existence, or set in motion, to be true.

    Actually, it’s not true. Hence the mission of Jesus (which I’ve alluded to here before): to set things right. How does he set things right when our freewill will allow us to create ourselves in anyway imaginable (even appearing not to be the sons and daughters of God)?

    You present yourself as that which we all are. This Jesus did, and said of himself: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. If you follow me, you won’t continue to die in your sins (outside of Love and the Truth of who you are).

    I know that my emphasis does not equate with the teaching of many in the church. I see man in need of a savior, to be sure, but not one to save him from something real, but something unreal, not from some error he’s made, but from the belief that an error is possible.

    We need to be saved from a misunderstanding. Jesus was that rectifier. His life represented the new understanding we required to leave the old and embrace the new: “If I be lifted up, I’ll draw all men unto me (at least that’s how I remember it)”.

  12. societyvs

    “God’s form or likeness is Jesus. And Jesus is a spirt too. Can’t separate the two like that” (Big Man)

    I appeal you on the basics of scripture themselves. This claim you make cannot be possible.

    (a) God’s ‘form’ or ‘likeness’ is Jesus.

    Deut 4:15-18 “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth”

    It’s basically a re-hashing of Exodus 20:3 – ‘have no other God beside God’. God does not have ‘form’ nor does He make a claim in the OT to what he looks like…He is a Spirit. Isaiah says it best “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?” (Isaiah 40:18)

    Now I now the NT has ideas that make Jesus look like God – and you bring up the ‘likeness’ passage. Strange thing about that passage – why didn’t Paul just call Jesus God instead of the ‘likeness’ of God? Maybe he just saw Jesus as a faithful representation of God as the Christ?

    (b) Jesus is a Spirit.

    I do believe the claim is this man was fully a human being? In some obvious senses this person was not a Spirit – we could see him for starters. He got baptized – ever see a spirit or ghost get baptized? You claim to this man being a spirit is not neccesarily true – by all stretches this man was undoubtedly a human being. Now maybe he had a ‘spirit’ of God – no denial there – an anointing (which is messiah’s meaning) from God…I accept it. But God cannot be a human being – He cannot break His own claims.

  13. societyvs

    “But the real question is: What is sin?” (Seda)

    Mu understanding of ‘sin’ is that it is a transgression (pushing/breaking) of God’s teachings. Now God’s teachings are about one simple thing ‘loving your neighbor, and yourself, via your love for God’. In the end, a sin is anything that you choose to do that ruins your relationship with your neighbor. You neighbor being your children, spouse, actual neighbor, co-workers, etc.

    All the commandments seem to point to the idea of God’s personal care for humanity and our sane civil treatment of one another. All the commandments involve ‘us’ and steps for consideration in community…relationships one with another. Sin is going past and breaking these ideas for our own selfish gain.

    Idolatry – the 2nd commandment of the 10 in normative Christian understanding is a selfish ideal. It’s saying we can ‘make’ God and have Him on our homes. We get the privy understanding of God to the chagrin of others. It also creates division in the community – because in that original community they all were Israelites and followed the same God – but introduce idolatry and all of a sudden we have competing gods. Idolatry is also predicated on a ‘lie’…so we are lying to the people around us when we say we know what ‘God looks like’.

    Sin is always something that helps destroy relationships.


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