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.