Biblical examples abound, especially in the New Testament, of circumstance after circumstance where a challenge of some kind was presented to religious power. There are so many examples that it seems odd that Christian faith is about anything else. Jesus was always, confronting religious dogma and power. I honestly cannot think of one example where someone came to Jesus and was told to follow him in order to be exclusively right, morally perfect and most absurdly to take power over nonbelievers because of that rightness. Can you? If you can, please comment and enlighten me.
Consider these verses in the gospel of John. Clearly, as a Jewish man, Jesus was very offended to find his place of worship and giving of sacrifice filled with buyers and sellers. It also seems that the whole idea of the Jewish leaders loving money was a really big deal to Jesus.
How about these in the gospel of Matthew?
Can it be any clearer? According to biblical authors, Jesus spoke truth to power. I could find several more places where we see Jesus doing things this. There is one about a woman from a place that was “south of the tracks” and unacceptable to his own tribe whom he actually found worth his time and attention. The faithful among his own people wouldn’t have been caught dead with her.
There is an amazing story where Jesus tells about one of the Pharisee’s heroes (Elijah) who actually couldn’t find anyone among his own tribe interested in receiving what God wanted to do so he left and when to find someone in Syria. He found an old woman starving and miraculously provided food for her without ever mentioning a thing about his own religion. If the physical Jesus looked at the modern forms of those who follow him, I wonder what he would do. I wonder what he would say.
After nearly 30 years of devout faith* lived within organized evangelical churches, I can honestly say that many of those I knew in them, started out simply as people seeking something more. Many times, especially among converts, we were broken and fucking up our own lives so badly that we felt it necessary to convert to Jesus or die our own slow death. As newly born again Christians, we couldn’t understand the complacency of so many of the lifelong “Christians”. Complacency about church attendance, personal devotional time, and sharing the gospel seemed somewhat low priority to many. In the late 70’s Jesus movement, we newbies were sure that real Christianity was serious and devout or nothing at all.
As I look back, I also see that many of us were under the illusion that by our new conversion, we, like Jesus, were speaking truth to powerful religious people. We left our mainline churches in droves and committed our lives to full time Christian service of some kind. We sincerely tried to take the words of Jesus as literally as possible and live accordingly. We gave away our possessions, our time and our money simply because Jesus said to. In community we saw ourselves as a unit: The Body of Christ on earth, led by male authority. This was our Christian faith. This is the faith of many today and thankfully in a free country people can practice as they see fit. It seems obvious that if the entire world this committed, it would seem that all of our problems would be solved, our diseases healed and our existential quests for meaning satisfied. It would seem.
I admire anyone who lives out what they believe with integrity. What I find utterly distressing and beyond my intellectual capacity to understand is that in the 41 years since I embraced this theology, the evangelical church seems to have altered it’s focus to living more by political power than it does living by faith. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for participation in politics by people of faith. What I cannot figure out is how we can live in a religiously free country and expect the entire country to embrace one particular faith.
Jesus didn’t lead his followers to embrace Roman politics.
Jesus didn’t want to legislate morality to the point of controlling others because he knew that the best way to control oneself was through hard core self analysis and interaction with God. He knew that coming to grips with one’s own shortfalls was the only way one could really find ongoing redemption. Ironically this holds true for both believers and nonbelievers. No one makes positive changes in their personal life without intention and hard work. Saying a prayer, joining a church, tithing 10% means literally nothing if one is unwilling to do that. When faith is married to control and power, it is no longer faith but something very, very different. When religion is married to control and power it is even more terrifying and dangerous.
Jesus was said to be the “light that enlightens everyone” at the very least, the first commitment to living a Christian faith would seem to be a devotion to that enlightenment over and above all else. If that time spent in devoted introspection and resulting personal change occurs, I believe that faith is real. If it is at all about being exclusively right and having authority over others…it simply is not.
*I no longer identify myself as an Evangelical Christian. I still think of myself as a spiritually driven woman but I have more questions than answers. Mental illness in a family member, thought provoking questions I can’t answer from another added to my own very long lasting questions exposed holes in the neatly packaged 4 Spiritual Laws version of the gospel I once took literally. The words of Jesus, as you can tell by this post, continue to be in soul and influence my life every day.