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I am going to spend several posts discussing some of the insightful words from a book entitled Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus  by Robin R. Meyers. This book gave me some pretty profound re-enforcement of my belief that the words of Jesus have been losing focus in the church. Here are the words for today.

Strangely, we have come to a moment in human history when the message of the Sermon on the Mount could indeed save us, but it can no longer be heard above the din of dueling doctrines. Consider this: there is not a single word in that sermon about what to believe, only words about what to do. It is a behavioral manifesto, not a propositional one. Yet three centuries later, when the Nicene Creed became the official oath of Christendom, there was not a single word in it about what to do, only words about what to believe!

It is not secret to those who have visited here before that I am no admirer of King Constantine and the damage he did to the Christian church. It seems “the road not taken” is constantly in my thoughts and the words above are no exception.  I wonder what would be the state of Christianity if Constantine had not hijacked it to try to shore up his crumbling empire. I wonder if we would be more focused on the behavioral manifesto of the Sermon on the Mount instead of the propositional one he had written fifteen centuries ago?

Until I read this book the stark contrasts between Jesus’ word at the Mount and the Nicene Creed were not as apparent as they are now.  The emergent church movement, of which Robin Meyers is a member, has a goal to try to rescue the words of Jesus from the church. As I mentioned in a previous post many churches today have tried to domesticate Jesus to one degree or another. They want to make being a Christian as easy as possible and Jesus’ words often get in the way of that goal. They just seem to ignore the words they don’t particularly like.

Many versions of Christianity today say that any of the words of the Bible are just as important as any others.  They say that the stories, myths, parables and such are just as important as Jesus’ messages to us on how to live a Godly life. They say the words of Jesus just aren’t any more important than the words of for instance Paul. Until we can recapture the importance of the words of Jesus above all others in the Bible Jesus will never take front and center in many lives.

One of the common complaints about today’s churches are that they are no longer relative to today’s world. People say that are very interested in the words of Jesus but the church is a total turn-off.   We need to take back Jesus from those who try to domesticate him and let his radical words give us back the true meaning of being followers of Jesus Christ.

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In 1997 Richard Carlson wrote a very popular book entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff. In that book he listed one hundred things to make our lives more peaceful. Some of those topics that I took to heart included:

  • Let Others Be “Right” Most of the Time
  • Learn to Live in the Present Moment
  • Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn’t Fair

Most of the things we worry about the most have little real impact on our lives.  They are just clutter that gets in the way of having a happier life.  As I have come to “not sweat the small stuff” I also come to realize that most of what I was told I must believe as a Christian is also small stuff!

I know this sounds like a rather shocking statement to hear that many of the things of the present day church are just small stuff. But, the more I studied the more I found that to simply be the case. It seems that Christianity has become a recitation of creeds about Jesus rather than taking to heart the actual messages he gave us.  There have been literally hundreds, if not thousands, of creeds put out by various leaders and councils of Christian churches and all believers were then expected to automatically pledge allegiance to each of them. In studying them they almost all include things to believe instead of things to do.

The creed that is recited weekly in most liturgical churches today is the Nicene Creed (click on this link to see the words).  If you take the time to actually look at the content of this creed you will see that they are all about what to believe instead of what to do. The messages of Jesus were actually the reverse of that. He spent much of his ministry teaching us how to live together and how to please God.  Almost nothing from the text above actually came from Jesus.

When I started studying the practices of the Quaker faith is when this realization came to me. Quakers are very creed averse and I came to find for a very good reason. They believe in acting out faith instead of proclaiming beliefs.  When we realize that what we do matter more than what we believe it changes everything. It was an epiphany for me personally to finally realize that fact.

The Christianity of belief in creeds is small stuff compared to actually acting on the words Jesus spoke. Where did we lose this critical understanding? When did Christianity become a “sit back and wait” instead of “acting out our faith” religion? It certainly wasn’t that way in the early church.

Lets get our attention off the small stuff and back to the true messages of Jesus. One of the emergent movement’s focuses is to get back to the true meaning of the Bible as a whole and the gospels in particular. That true meaning is enveloped in the words of Jesus.   They must take front and center over absolutely everything else.

Beliefs vs. Practices….

October 3, 2012 — 3 Comments

With this post I am going to introduce you to a book that has had a pretty profound affect on my faith. It is by Robin Meyers entitled Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. Here are a couple of quotes from the book that will provide fodder for this post:

Strangely, we have come to a moment in human history when the message of the Sermon on the Mount could indeed save us, but it can no longer be heard above the din of dueling doctrines. Consider this: there is not a single word in that sermon about what to believe, only words about what to do. It is a behavioral manifesto, not a propositional one. Yet three centuries later, when the Nicene Creed became the official oath of Christendom, there was not a single word in it about what to do, only words about what to believe! …..

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Christianity as a belief system requires nothing but acquiescence. Christianity as a way of life, as a path to follow, requires a second birth, the conquest of ego, and new eyes with which to see the world. It is no wonder that we have preferred to be saved. 

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Today, worshipers of Christ agree to believe things about him in order to receive benefits promised by the institution, not by Jesus.  

It seems that much of the Christian world today is split between two Christian world views.  One is Christianity as a belief system as taught to us by the Nicene Creed and the other is Christianity as a way of life as taught to us by Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.  These two Christian world views have been battling each other since the fourth century when the emperor Constantine made Christianity a mandated State religion of the Roman empire.

Unfortunately many today want to classify this struggle for Christ’s church in empire terms by deeming it conservative vs. progressive (some use the tainted word liberal). The only thing this accomplishes is to link following Jesus to today’s empires and in my mind that is a very detrimental thing.

There are those who think that Christianity is a “something for nothing” proposition. That is all you have to do is to take an altar call and publicly profess Jesus as your savior. After that profession nothing else is required except to say you believe in a long list of man-made beliefs  about God. These believers treat Christianity as a fire insurance to insure that they will go to heaven. When Martin Luther found that single verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he solidified this way of looking at Christianity for many in our current age.

Fortunately there are also those who think that Christianity is about doing what Jesus says. They treat the Sermon on the Mount as a foundation of how they live in this world. They take Christianity to be an active way of life, many say a life changer, not a passive do nothing but believe system. I am proudly a member of this later group.

Some say Constantine when he kidnapped Christianity to try to save his dwindling empire he brought it out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Robin Meyers book shows us examples why that is just not the case.  He instead started it down a path that would pull many away from the words of its founder Jesus Christ.

I am going to start this post with an alarming story of Constantine’s involvement in the Council of Nicaea. It is from a book by Harvey Cox entitle The Future of Faith.   If this doesn’t cast out any doubt of man’s involvement in the change from faith to rigid belief nothing will:

Constantine, not Jesus, was the dominant figure at Nicaea, and it is hardly surprising that almost all the bishops, to the emperor’s satisfaction, arrived at a nearly unanimous decision in his favor. Only Arius himself and three other stubbornly independent bishops withheld their approval. Constantine promptly exiled Arius to the remote province of Illyricum. Then, in a statement that suggests he had forgotten his previous view both that this was all a matter of small significance and that all the parties should show forbearance to one another, he decreed: If any treatise composed by Arius be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames…and if anyone shall be caught concealing a book by Arius, and does not instantly bring it out and burn it, the penalty shall be death; the criminal shall suffer punishment immediately after conviction.3 But the emperor’s draconian measures did not succeed. The historic Council of Nicaea, as an effort to unify the church and the empire by imposing a creed, proved a dismal failure. Within months arguments flared up again. One of the bishops who had attended the Nicaea council and had not supported the final decision, Hilary of Poitiers (d. ca. 367), found himself banished to Asia. No doubt his experience tinctured his opinion of councils and creeds, but a letter he wrote from his place of exile at the time pinpoints how little the Council of Nicaea had accomplished and what a debacle it had been. Hilary says: It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous that there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines because we make creeds arbitrarily and explain their inclinations…arbitrarily…every year, nay every moon we make a new creed and describe invisible mysteries. We repent what we have done. We defend those who repent. We anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other’s ruin.

Arius definitely caught the ire of Constantine and his brutality. Not only did he banish this noble bishop who dared to disagree with him on church matters he made even having anything written by Arius a penalty of death!! Sadly these types of stories are somewhat frequent in the years following Constantine’s mandating Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

We will be studying some more about this period in future posts but for now it is important that you realize that Christianity’s history is messy indeed. I am not saying that there are no good parts to what became the Church of Jesus Christ but only that we must be aware that much of the simple teachings of Jesus were later polluted by men seeking to consolidate personal power in earthly focused empires. Power corrupts, even inside the Christian church!

This is a cross post from one of my other blogs at RJ’s Corner. I thought it appropriate for RLL also.

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

The quote above seems pretty radical!  It must be from one of those new age thinkers!  Guess again. It was from the Author of War and Peace Leo Tolstoy in 1894. Although he says it much more bluntly than I ever would I can’t say I disagree with most of it.

The Nicene Creed which was authored under the Roman ruler Constantine is mostly what we are supposed to believe about Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is what Jesus himself told us how we are supposed act if we are his followers. Tolstoy saw that the church even during his time put much more energy in maintaining man-made beliefs about Jesus rather than just following Him. Not a lot has changed in that regard. I think almost all clergy are well-meaning men who have simply bought into a tilted system based on beliefs about Jesus instead of lessons from Jesus.

Tony Jones a hundred years later also speaks of this in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier

 In the twenty-first century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church. Dead? you say. Isn’t that overstating the case a bit? Indeed, churches still abound. So do pay phones. You can still find pay phones around, in airports and train stations and shopping malls-there are plenty of working pay phones. But look around your local airport and you’ll likely see the sad remnants where pay phones used to hang-the strange row of rectangles on the wall and the empty slot where a phone book used to sit. There are under a million pay phones in the United States today. In 1997, there were over two million. Of course, the death of the pay phone doesn’t mean that we don’t make phone calls anymore. In fact, we make far more calls than ever before, but we make them differently. Now we make phone calls from home or on the mobile device clasped to our belt or through our computers. Phone calls aren’t obsolete, but the pay phone is-or at least it’s quickly becoming so. 

Churches are like pay-phones? That is a very interesting analogy. God is not dead. It is only the man-made institution built in his name that is on life support. I have hopes that this new emergent movement will prove to be a worthy substitute for fast dwindling church structures of today. We have to return to doing what Jesus says….