I just returned to work, after taking two and a half weeks off, to discover that the movie, “Ali,” is now available for rent or purchase. We are celebrating this man as a national hero. I was alive when he went through the trials which made him a hero and I realize that this process wasn’t a pleasant one. He was stripped of his boxing title, tried as a draft evader and jailed as a traitor. We have come a long way from those days. We have realized that the man we once hated, the man we once held up as an example of all that is wrong, was indeed a man who deserved our admiration and respect, for the very same reasons we once hated him.
I believe that it is time for the church to take just as significant a step. It is time for the church to move beyond Christ.
While coming back from an errand today, I passed by some Fundamentalist Christians who were doing their best at evangelism by staging a “protest” with placards asserting that they were “born again” and that “Jesus is God.” There in lies my point of contention. Orthodox Christianity declares that Jesus is indeed God, the second person of the divine trinity. But, is Jesus God, or was Jesus a revelation of God?
A woman, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite theologians, discusses Jesus as a pointer, or more specifically, as the finger pointing to God. If Candace Chellew is right (in her essay Daring to be a Heretical Follower of Jesus), and I believe that she is, then by making Jesus into God, we not only miss the import of his life, we also do a great disservice to him! In addition, we commit the sin of idolatry. If Candace is right, it is time for the church to move beyond Jesus, or Christ.
One of the biggest problems with the orthodox concept of Christ is that expect to find the answer to every question in the life of Jesus. This is unrealistic. Jesus lived and walked this earth in a time and a culture that is so remote, so far removed from what we know now, that for him to be totally relevant would be impossible. If he did indeed have all the answers, then the people who knew him, the people who recorded his life, would not be prepared to ask questions relevant to today or record the answers if they did.
Take, as just one example, the question of homosexuality. I’ve noted before, if Jesus did have anything to say, the gospel writers didn’t consider it relevant enough to record that saying. The end result for us is, Jesus was silent about this issue. To resolve it, we need to move beyond him, to move beyond Christ.
Orthodox Christianity attempts to make that move by appealing to the Old Testament scriptures. You have all heard it often enough: “…for a man to lay with another man as if he were a woman is an abomination…” However, for that to work, it becomes necessary to establish that Jesus accepted the scriptures as having divine authority. Nothing could be further from the truth! Matthew 5 should be sufficient to demonstrate the fallacy in that assumption. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I tell you: Love your enemies.”
In the same essay I have already alluded to, Candace spoke somewhat disparagingly about the “What Would Jesus Do” mentality. However, I find it useful here. If Jesus found a particular scriptural teaching to be opposed to what he considered to be spiritual living, what would he do? From the above example it should be obvious that he would not only reject it, he would also denounce it. Should I do the same thing? If I am not willing to take this step then I have no right to ask the question, “What would Jesus do!” Consequently, in the tradition of Jesus, I find it necessary to first question the Leviticus teaching about homosexuality, and then to reject and finally to denounce it. In the same manner, as my Christian faith comes face to face with other issues which effect me and did not effect first century middle-eastern society, in the tradition of Jesus, I will find it necessary to move beyond Christ.
What we are talking about here is the process of maturity. As an infant, we were totally dependant on our parents. As toddlers, if we were not physically tethered to our parents like we see many toddlers tethered today, we were emotionally tethered. In time, that connection became weaker and weaker, until we reached the stage of maturity, and we now, hopefully, operate in life totally independent of our parents. Does this mean that we no longer have a connection to those same parents? No, it does not. Even if our parents have since died, we will always be effected by those parents, we will always operate from the foundation those parents gave us during our childhood.
Likewise, moving beyond Christ is not abandoning Him. Moving beyond Christ, is continuing to recognize the effect he has had on our lives, the foundation he has given us. Moving beyond Christ is the way we honor him and the importance he has had in our lives. Moving beyond Christ means ceasing to look to him for specific answers, like the primary school child doing homework, and instead looking to him for the principles we use to find those answers for ourselves. It means, instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” we should be asking, “What have I learned from Jesus that will help me in resolving this issue?”
In the sixties a man by the name of Bill Bright published a tract which he called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” In that tract he discussed humankind’s separation from God using, as an analogy, a large chasm, like the Grand Canyon. We were on one side, according to Bill Bright, and God was on the other. We are able to cross over that chasm by a bridge which is Christ. As Christians, since we’ve crossed, what do we do? Up until now, the church has huddled around the end of the bridge as if it were the only reality. But, the vastness of God which is out there, beyond the initial reach of the bridge, is so great that we will never begin to experience it all. Isn’t it time we begin to move beyond the bridge and start to experience just a portion of the totality which is God? That, I believe, is a significant part of Christian maturity. It requires that we move beyond Christ.
Writing as “Uthur, from the Town by the Sea,” the author contributed to Whosoever while attending church in a UCC congregation in the Pacific Northwest Conference.