Was Jesus a Christian?I doubt it
This article by Rowland Croucher, Director of John Mark Ministries, Melbourne, appeared in the SoF NZ newsletter
Christians come in about 13 varieties. These varieties (or mindsets) can be found in all religions. You mustn't judge any religion simply on its caricatures. My theses:
- Each mind-set makes part of Christianity the whole of it.
- There's nothing wrong with the parts. But like a car, if you've only got parts lying around you're not going anywhere.
- Jesus rejected all these mindsets (but not the essential concerns of each of them).
For convenience I'll use terms from early Christianity, and for the sake of brevity I'll oversimplify each mindset:
- Sadducees are rationalists. If your reason can't comprehend something (miracles, resurrection, angels) you don't have to believe it. Their God is very reasonable; their theology is 'liberal'; they inhabit mainline church seminaries.
- Zealots are passionate about justice. Justice is all about fairness, the relationship of the strong to the weak, the right use of power. Their God sanctions terrorism; their theology is 'liberationist'; today they're priests and others who advocate the violent overthrow of oppressive Latin American regimes.
- Herodians love power. They climb to the top of religious institutions. Their God bestows favours on the 'haves' who are 'born to rule'. They do not realize that love of power is inimical to a devout spirituality.
- Scribes, elders, teachers-of-the-law regard tradition as master, rather than servant. Their religious way of life is ruled by precedent, what has been. 'Come weal, come woe, their status is the quo'. If it's new, it's suspect. Their God is unchanging, not merely in faithfulness, but operationally.
- Essenes are liturgists. 'If only we get our worship right, the Messiah will come.' Their God is 'wholly other'. Their liturgies are exact, their worship-forms utterly predictable.
- Mystics major on experience. They are right-brain, rejecting rationalism, cerebralism, dogmatism. For them prayer (perhaps divorced from labour) is the essence of the spiritual life. They sometimes form monastic orders.
- Gnostics are syncretists. They believe there's truth in every religion. They invite us to make up our own identikit picture of God. They're at home somewhere in the New Age Movement; they develop conspiracy theories from the Dead Sea Scrolls; they love the Gospel of Thomas.
- Sophists or sages place a high premium on knowledge or wisdom (they're not the same). They develop beautiful theories about redaction criticism, whether the four gospels are 'reliable' when they describe what Jesus said and did. They write learned papers, which like those of their predecessors, will be seen in future academic circles to be largely nonsense.
- Sign-seekers love miracles. With Herod (in Jesus Christ Superstar) they'd love Jesus to 'walk across their swimming-pool.' Their God wants everyone to be healthy, wealthy (but not necessarily wise: academia is suspect). Anything can be cured, instantly, given enough faith.
- Materialists measure everything, not just money. The bigger, faster, more brilliant, the better. Bigger churches are better than smaller churches; brilliant preachers than ordinary ones. Success, fame, ambition, optimism, 'imaging' are their watch-words. They attend Amway conventions.
- Do-gooders are given to paternalism. They do works of mercy for their own benefit, not just for the sake of the one done good to/against. Thoreau said of them, 'If you see someone coming towards you with the object of doing you good, run for your life.' These 'people-helpers' don't realize they're in it to solve their own problems: pure altruism is very very rare.
- Antinomians despise holiness - at least for themselves in private. As the term implies, they're 'against law' and misuse grace. 'God loves to forgive, it's his business' - so they give God every opportunity to do just that.
- Finally, Pharisees are preoccupied with two things - law and doctrine. So they become legalists and dogmatists. They talk a lot about 'truth' and 'error'. Their God is unambiguous, reducible to creeds and doctrinal statements. Their 'gospel': repentance precedes acceptance (with Jesus it was the other way around). The acid test: their non-concern for social justice and mercy and true faith (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, cf. Micah 6:8). They're fundamentalists, and proud of it.
All the entities emphasized are OK as part of a religious system, but are deadly if divorced from any/all of the others. Jesus did not align himself with any of the above groups: go and do likewise!