A Biopsy of the Christian Faith

It all started with Jesus. Today, Jesus might be found in Black Lives Matter or some other rebellious, antiauthority group. He was no saint, for sure. When Jesus said, “The first will be last and the last will be first,” that was a literal statement. The authorities of the time, both governmental and religious, were the oppressors. Jesus devoted his life to caring for the plight of the common people and resisted sources of oppression. His pastoral approach and absolute commitment to his cause was remembered by many and in time led to authors writing about him and advocating his principles.

Authors had little factual data to draw on in those days. It was a time before the printing press, dictionaries, and fact-driven accounts of history. Conceptual writing depended largely on metaphor and hyperbole. These limitations about data allowed writers to emphasize the qualities of Jesus that were unique and deemphasize political and cultural content.

The significance of Jesus’s life is not to be taken lightly. It is difficult even in today’s data driven society to articulate the spiritual qualities that are drawn from his life. His core values of absolute empathy, unlimited forgiveness, and selfless dedication remain the bastion of western civility two thousand years later.

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It is difficult today given Hollywood heroes, news heroes, and documented heroes to understand how Jesus became an international icon. Without the media we have today heroes would be hard to find. What elevated Jesus to hero status and the source of spiritual inspiration was the hardship of daily life at the time. Oppression was the political device for managing the masses. If one was a commoner, one’s life wasn’t worth much. Church versus state didn’t exist at the time; there was only state. If one expressed critical views about the Emperor as godhead, one likely would be imprisoned if not worse. Common citizens longed for purpose and value in their lives; they wanted to be saved from their plight.

The term ‘Christ’ is derived from middle Greek ‘Christos.’ The first reference to the word is in Acts 11:26 where its use is noted in Antioch, a city located in Turkey. Early followers of the Christian movement were considered agitators and troublemakers and suffered greatly. To Christians, it seemed reasonable that respecting others rather than oppressing them would provide a way out, a path to a better life. Jesus was the personification of this path. His message and the politics that came with the message spread quickly in the Roman Empire.

A century or two later, the story is told of Emperor Constantine that, at the end of a successful battle, he saw clouds in the shape of a cross and took them to be a sign of divine intervention by the god of the Christians. He issued a decree that Christians were not to be persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. Within a few years, Christianity was practiced openly around the entire Mediterranean region. The popularity was good and bad. The Christian message was good but local theology and doctrine ranged from outright magic and demons to sublime isolation. The effect of parochial preference overshadowed the core message of Christianity. Constantine was confused by all the variations and decided there had to be one theology, one doctrine and one ritual. In 325 AD he summoned Christian leaders from across the Empire to gather in the city of Nicaea and establish the official version of Christianity.

The result of that gathering is what most people today consider to be the Christian religion. The collection of books that comprise the Holy Bible was determined at Nicaea. Key doctrines of faith such as the Trinity, transformation and salvation were established. Principles of ritual were clarified and centered Christianity on the authentic principles of Jesus’s life: empathy, forgiveness and dedication.

 

[Mariner is certain that is the shortest exegesis of Christianity he has ever written.]

 

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A biopsy will be taken that includes parts of theology, faith and ritual:

Theology – A Christian believes in one God. A Christian believes in a loving God. A Christian believes in God as a singularity, meaning all that exists is God; God is not a personal, opinionated or historically interactive God.

Faith – The relationship between a Christian, Jesus and God is one of spiritual coexistence. This is expressed as a triangle called the Trinity. Sharing in the spirituality of the Trinity allows transformation and salvation to occur – a state of being wholly within the Grace of God’s love.

Ritual – Living in accordance with the life and discipline of Jesus; experiencing God’s power through a combined effort of empathy, forgiveness and selflessness; sacrificing the physical nature in behalf of the spiritual nature (laying down one’s life for another is a transformative act).

Mariner wants to clarify an important term before describing the state of the biopsy. The word ‘empathy’ is used frequently when one would expect the word ‘love.’ In mariner’s opinion, the English language is short on words for the various kinds of love that exist. Something isn’t right when we say, “I love God” and also say, “I love the coffee table.” During the time of Jesus, it took three Greek words to say love: eros, meaning physical attraction; philos, meaning brotherly love or friend love; agape, meaning love of God or conversely God’s love of humanity accompanied by a feeling of awe. It seems correct to combine a genuine feeling of empathy with acting in behalf of that empathy, and further to commit one’s self to continuously perform in behalf of empathetic opportunities – in other words, the core behavior of Jesus.

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The biopsy.

Generally, theology is in rough shape. Surprisingly, in recent decades more Christians have grown comfortable with a God that is a singularity while still advocating faith and ritual. But for centuries Christian education began by starting with page 1 of the Old Testament. Few students if any stayed with Sunday School long enough to learn the New Testament – the Christian part. The Old Testament, aside from a theistic relationship full of lamenting about God’s fickle ways, presents an image of God which is very anthropomorphic and very much a God who will interfere with history if what’s going on isn’t to God’s liking. A large majority of Christians with just Old Testament exposure still relate to the Old Testament God to help them with their daily activities or otherwise blame God for acting against them if bad things happen.

In the New Testament, God is a love power, a power that created the universe and all that exists. God drives a hard bargain for believers because believers must expand God’s love in order to benefit from God’s love.

Faith, too, is in poor shape as Christian practitioners cut short the dynamic of living hand in hand with God and thereby be transformed into a life of infinite reward. Faith in anything is hard to come by these days. Cultural stability for all of humanity is not readily available. The human tendency is to batten the hatches and retreat to a less troublesome spot where the stormy seas are kept away. However, this is a good time for Christians to measure their faith. Instead of retreating, step out into the world to improve the situation. This behavior requires a Christian to have faith that God will ‘respond’ with feelings of comfort and wellbeing despite the physical and emotional tribulations of spreading the quieting power of God’s love. Remember that Christianity is a transformative religion; somewhere it says your faith will make you whole.

Ritual is in critical condition. Many parts of ritual have ceased to function. Ritual is where Christians execute the core values of Jesus’s life: empathy, forgiveness and selfless dedication. Too many Christians are pew Christians. In Matthew 28:19-20, Christians are charged to go forth and spread the Word. In churches, this is called evangelism. Further, the Word can’t spread in pews; empathy can’t be served in pews; forgiveness can’t be served in pews. The church service has become the primary act in a religion that calls for finding salvation by giving one’s personal, face-to-face actions to people in need. The church service has a role in restoring theology, faith and ritual but the God relationship is outside.

Finally, selfless dedication to the church building has replaced selfless dedication to God and spreading God’s love. For too many Christians, the buildings and assets are sacrosanct without the accompanying theology, faith and ritual found in Jesus.

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Sociologists would step in at this point to explain the ill condition of Christianity by reflecting on the influence of changing culture, good and bad economic security, and the will of the flesh as core to the survival of the species. Economists would defend the importance of wealth even at the poorest levels of society. Scientists, educators and data experts would say that Jesus’s Israel no longer exists. Even Joseph Campbell would imply that the Jesus myth has faltered.

Mariner holds that these are excuses but not reasons for ill health in the biopsy. Religion is the responsibility of the individual. It is a personal search for a richer experience. Even without the gathering at Nicaea, humans would search for quality values in life. Many stop at wealth; many are incapable; most seek comfort, avoiding spiritual responsibility as an enriching experience.

More than ever before, our times need Jesus walking the streets spreading the love of God. Jesus, however, gave his life on the cross; it’s time for Christians to pick up the cross and take his place.

Ancient Mariner

 

2 thoughts on “A Biopsy of the Christian Faith

  1. I have long been concerned by the “undeification” of God. This can be seen in the use of small letters to refer to him vs. Him, by the use of the familiar pronoun “you” instead of an honorific one “thou.” and by putting us on a level with God like he’s just one of the gang. The same thing happened with the Old Irish gods. Deities that were originally potent actors in the affairs of men became diminished and are now leprachauns. Which originally meant “little body.” Many other languages have special vocabularies to speak to or about a God. The sense of awe that I believe we should have toward God is lessened when we address Him as an equal.

  2. Well spoken, Robert. I have similar grievances about worship services when the litany becomes rote and emotionless. Spirituality in any circumstance requires concentration and self-evaluation. Metaphorically, one cannot reach for the stars if the stars are lying on the living room rug.

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