What is the Point of Christianity?

I’ve been making the point lately about how Jesus interpreted the law, how he said it was summed up in love, versus how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law insisted the law be interpreted, strictly – as if explicitly following it could bring a man to a place before God. John came and preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. His baptism and ministry arose as a counterpoise to what the Pharisees and teachers of the law brought to Israel. If you take a closer look, maybe meditate, upon what it means to repent in order to get back with God rather than offer sacrifices the point may come closer. The point being about how God sees man.

If God sees man as nothing but a sinner, and therefore all He can see is man’s sin, then sacrifice is the only thing that can propitiate, make up for, the lack. It takes sacrifice to fill in the gap between where man is and where he needs to be. However, if God sees man as his child then it isn’t sacrifice he wants to see, but mercy. You see, if man is God’s child then what God wants to see from man is what only a child can give to it’s parent, a desire to be just like them. Clearly, as we see in the examples of Jesus’ run ins with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, being like God is not being mean and impossibly demanding. More to the point, Jesus even said to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

Why then does the entire structure of Christianity demand that we see ourselves exactly the same way that the Pharisees insisted and not the way that John and Jesus offered? Partly it must be due to the way that God approached man up to that point in history, through the Jews. Jesus made a great point of insisting he came in the same way. That he was ministering to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. He made this point in fact to a woman from outside Israel whose daughter was possessed by a demon, right before he healed her. The woman said to him, “But even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the children’s table”. In response to this Jesus said the word and the girl was free. What does this mean? Does it mean you have to be really clever to get anything from God? No! It means that true love is impartial. It doesn’t favor the rich over the poor, but neither does it favor the poor simply because they are down.

Could it be that the impartiality of love is what the Church is so hung up on? Could it be that a misunderstanding of this lies at the heart of the doctrines of exclusivity that Christianity is filled with? God gave the law to the Jews, thus giving them the only light in a dark world – the light of a construct explaining that if you have love you will be like this. That wasn’t good enough, the Christians said, so then God gave man his son, only accessible through the Church, of course.

Did you know that the early church members didn’t call themselves Christians? At first they called what they were doing “The Way”. It wasn’t until Paul came along and laid into grace that the term Christian arose. That doesn’t mean Paul was wrong. He was certainly different, though. Paul emphasized the forgiveness of God. He brought up the law as an example of what a loving character would be like. He stressed that the law couldn’t save anybody, which it certainly can’t – not according to anybody’s message. The law was not given for that purpose. It was always about pointing out what a loving character would be like, therefore stressing that if you don’t have love you would be dead – if you transgressed you would certainly die. There is life only in love. Gee, it’s easy to see when I say it like that.

So what about the exclusivity of the Church? Isn’t it akin to the role the favoring of the Jews filled prior to Pentecost?  Yeah, Pentecost because that was really the beginning of the Church. That was what Christ really came to do. He had to die to do it, “Lest a seed die and fall upon the Earth it can produce nothing.” The Jews had the law, which anyone could know really, if they desired. By being with the Jews it was contained in a message within a certain community within which it could always be found. That, of course, did not stop anyone from following it by reason even if they had never read a word of it. It just meant that their chances of doing so were very slight. It was not a bullying act on the part of God to create Israel, nor the imposition of an only way of salvation. It was a shining of a light into darkness. And it did not mean that for this light the Jews were necessarily any better at understanding love than anybody else simply because they had the favor of God upon them in their carrying of the law. They turned out to be really good at reading and reciting, but not so good at taking the message in.

In that same way Christianity is not necessarily any better at demonstrating love simply because it was within the body of the Church that Jesus came and baptized with the Spirit. Yes, the Spirit. The real teacher of the law, the teacher of the way. The one by whom he did every miracle he did while he was ministering. The one by whom every word he said came. Forget the marvelous gifts of healing and tongues and power and instead concentrate on what the Spirit is really here for, to teach us how to love. A love that even those outside the Church, just like the woman whose daughter was demon possessed, can have, but for whom it is much more difficult because they have only reason to help them discover it. Man has always had reason, and God has always approached man through it, but a greater one is here as well, through whom and by whom teaching comes in which reason is made alive, for the viewpoint has been changed and the importance of the self has been altered. The word ceases to merely be a word but becomes the word of God. “This is my beloved son, listen to Him.”

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