posted by Amy on Dec 1
Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, by Robin R. Meyers, takes a close look at the New Testament and traces the development of “Christology,” from Jesus as a “good teacher,” (Mark 10:17) to Jesus as The Christ–God Incarnate. Rev. Meyers is the pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, an “unapologetically Christian, unapologetically liberal” church in the reddest of all red states.
Meyers says a new Reformation is needed to return Christianity to its pre-biblical roots. Before the creeds and councils, before the canon was closed, before the Gospel of John was written, people weren’t talking about the Holy Trinity or the divinity of Christ. Followers of Jesus were out preaching, teaching, healing, getting martyred, and bringing the Good News to vast numbers of people, but their theology was a bit sketchy. They said to repent, and to follow; they didn’t say anyone had to claim intellectual assent to a set of propositions. The earliest New Testament texts, the epistles, say that Jesus rose from the dead but contain no detailed narratives about that, nor do they have a birth narrative. At first there were no “four spiritual laws” or special sinners’ prayers. There were just outcast followers of the Way trying to live out the teachings of Jesus. A disciple is a student, a follower. Discipleship, therefore, is to be as much like Jesus as possible.
Jesus said to follow him, not to worship him. By succumbing to the docetist heresy, which denies the humanity of Jesus, the church has put him out of reach. We can’t be like him, because he’s God and we’re mortal.
The central problem with making Christianity about what you believe instead of what you do is that it requires no change of heart or change of behavior. If I get salvation just by praying a particular prayer (or by being one of the elect, or by whatever route my particular denomination lays out) then I have no reason to curb my appetites, master my ego, or go out of my way at all. “Believers” who aren’t doers are Pharisees. They sneer about “works righteousness” and do nothing at all to make the world look like the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. No wonder so many people find this hypocritical, and useless.
Meyers says, “What is wrong with America today is identical to what is wrong with the church, and the two are feeding off each other in a demonic way. If the gospel cannot compel us to recover the meaning of covenant and the political consequences of being responsible to and for one another, then perhaps Karl Marx was right when he said religion is ‘the opiate of the masses.’ . . . But if we want to survive, if we want peace, and if we still believe in justice, then we must change more than administrations. We must recover a theology of conscience and reject the dominant and heretical theologies of personal ‘victory.’”
Meyers contrasts the Sermon on the Mount with the Nicene Creed. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is all about what people should DO–turn the other cheek, treat others as we wish to be treated, don’t swear, don’t divorce, love your enemies, etc. There’s nothing in it about what to believe. By contrast, the Nicene Creed is about what to believe. There’s nothing in it about what to do.
The Emperor Constantine called together the Council of Nicaea in 325 to settle some doctrinal questions that had come up. The most significant of these was the “Arian Controversy,” an argument over whether Jesus was God. It was the first ecumenical council, and paved the way for others.
In the book, Meyers says that authentic followers of Jesus see him as teacher, not savior. He says Christianity is about compassion, not condemnation. Prosperity is dangerous, not divine. Discipleship is obedience, not control. And religion is relationship, not righteousness.
If the church were to embrace these principles, a lot of people who have been turned off by the intellectual dishonesty, the hypocrisy, and the arrogance of the Christian church might come back. And the church would be creating beloved communities, resisting injustice and oppression, caring for creation, and welcoming everyone. The kingdom of God would, indeed, come upon the earth as it is in heaven.
I loved this book. Meyers is a brilliant writer, a Bible scholar, and a deep thinker. One review of the book on Amazon.com completely disagreed with everything Meyers said, but said it was worth reading just because Meyers writes so well. (By the way, the reviewer didn’t bother to give any scriptural or historical basis for his disagreement. It appeared to be entirely ideological, which is precisely the point Meyers makes in the book. In going from “followers of the Way” to “worshipers of the Christ” the Jesus movement got terribly lost.)
I also loved this book because it validates that my presence in seminary is not necessarily inconsistent with my doubts and questions. Meyers says, “I had arrived at seminary with more than my share of doubts, but I was also pulled along by something I could neither name nor ignore. My graduate studies had done two things simultaneously–added to my doubts and made more palpable the pull of that unnamed and unknowable Something.” Amen, brother. I HEAR you.
Meyers seals the deal for me by closing the book with my favorite scripture passage. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8)