As I mentioned yesterday, I've been reading a book which has shaken up all that I thought I had known or understood about my religion - about Christianity.
Again, I will say that I've never felt that I knew it all. In fact, the thing about which I am most insecure is how little knowledge I feel like I have about the Bible. I haven't memorized the Biblical family lineages, I can't readily quote scripture, and I certainly don't have the background knowledge that an ordained clergy does. I will admit, however, that I had gotten into somewhat of a routine. I go to church every Sunday. I pray. I read a daily devotional. I read the Bible. I do my best to do good works in attempt of "living the life of service." I regularly give to the church. I attend a Bible study of sorts. In my mind, I was going through the "right" motions of being a good Christian. I most certainly never felt perfect - I know that perfection isn't possible. I did, however, feel comfortable with the things I was doing. And I feel very guilty for experiencing that feeling of comfort.
A few weeks ago, my "Bible Study" (I will call it that for lack of a better phrase - we don't always just study the Bible, although it is always used as a point of reference) began reading a book by Philip Gulley called If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus. I will tell you that I am a skeptic by nature, so I take everything I read or hear with a grain of salt. As we began to read and discuss this book, however, I felt overwhelmingly that this guy had a point in what he was saying.
The book is broken down into chapters that complete the phrase, "If the Church Were Christian..." They are as follows:
If the Church were Christian,
-Jesus would be a model for living rather than an object of worship
-Affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness
-Reconciliation would be valued over judgment
-Gracious behavior would be more important than right belief
-Inviting questions would be valued more than supplying answers
-Encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity
-Meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions
-Peace would be more important than power
-It would care more about love and less about sex
-This life would be more important than the afterlife
So far, I've only read the first two chapters because that's as far as my group has been assigned. I can not read ahead in books which I discuss with other people. If I do, I get myself lost and mix up what I read in which chapter.
In the first chapter, Gulley questions how Jesus would feel about his divine status. He even suggests that Jesus, as a monotheistic Jew, would have "interpereted such reverence as idolatrous." This makes sense to me. In Mark 10: 17-18, Jesus scolded a man for calling him "Good Teacher." Jesus asked why he called him good and stated that "no one is good but God alone." This leads a reader to infer that Jesus wasn't comfortable with divine status.
Gully later explains that Jesus exemplified the priorities of God - mercy, forgiveness, hospitality, and compassion. Through Jesus' example, he urged others to exceed the things he was doing. Gully claims that instead of accepting that Jesus was a man committed to faithfully living out the priorities of God, we made Jesus God. Gulley suggests that, "The Christian gospel ought not be that Jesus was God and we can find life in his death. Our good news is that we can find life in his example - accepting the excluded, healing the sick, strengthening the weak, loving the despised, and challenging the powerful to use their influence redemptively."
This, for me, has been a lot to take in. It does, however, make a lot of sense. I can't find anything in the Bible that tells me that Jesus wanted to be worshiped for his good doings. It seems to me that Jesus did everything that he did in order to please God. I also have to keep in mind that the divinity of Christ is result of what was voted upon by the Council of Nicea.
In Chapter 2, Gulley talks about the tendency of many modern-day churches to condemning the brokenness of its members rather than affirming their potential. Gulley suggests that, perhaps, people are being turned away from churches because of the message that is being delivered to them week after week. Gully seems to look down upon churches which have developed a "shame-based culture," using "weapons of manipulation, shame, embarrassment, and disgrace" in order to "gain followers, power, influence, and obedience."
I should say that I know several people who attend churches with such messages who get a lot out of that message. I do not attend a church that delivers such messages, so I can't speak positively or negatively about them. It's just a different concept than what I am used to. What I do know is that, when trying to instigate a conversation with a friend who attends a "shame-based" church, I realized that I wasn't able to even discuss the topic because she has fundamentally different ideas of Christianity than I do. Her ideas differ because of what she is told week after week. I'm not saying that my church is right and her church is wrong. Frankly, if any religion was "right," wouldn't it be Judiaism? If Jesus was a Jew, why shouldn't I be? I digress...
Gulley's whole point here is to "no longer view ourselves as wretched sinners, deserving of damnation" and instead "see ourselves and others as God does - beloved, accepted, valued, cherished, of infinite worth and potential." Gulley desires a church that would motivate its congregation to use its God-given talents to go out into the world and do good works. To live a life like the one Jesus modeled to us.
This has certainly been rich food for thought for me. As are the questions my "Bible study" leader gave to us this week. He ensured us that these were not given to us so that we may find answers but rather to stretch our thinking:
1. If we are required to love our enemies, can we safely say God loves God's enemies? If God loves his enemies, will he doom them to endless punishment (hell)? Matthew 5:43-44
2. If God loves only those who love Him, how is he any better than us sinners? Luke 6:32-33
3. If "love works no ill," how can God, who IS love, inflict or allow us to be inflicted eternal doom? Romans 13:10
4. If man does wrong in returning evil for evil, would not God be doing wrong if He were to do the same? (condemning evil-doers to hell). Would not endless doom (hell) be the return of evil for evil?
5. As we are commanded to overcome evil with good, may we safely infer that God will do the same? How does the infliction of eternal doom (hell) overcome evil with good? Romans 12:21
6. If the demands of "divine justice" are opposed to the requirements of "divine mercy," is not God divided against Himself? Mark 3:24
7. Does God desire the salvation of all people? 1 Timothy 2:3-4
8. If God can save all people but will not, is he infinite in goodness? And if God desires to save all people but can not, is he infinie in power?
Like I said yesterday, I'm completely lost here. Penny for your thoughts?