Friday, 18 February 2011

Jesus did not found the Church

Jesus did not found the Catholic Church! In many ways this is an old story. But I think it has to be told again, and again. Jesus did not found the Catholic Church or any other religion! Jesus simply offered 'the way' to live in perfect peace and harmony. Had Jesus intended to form a new religion he would have had to denounce his Jewish faith, the synagogue, Temple and perhaps his own mother. Jesus was born to Jewish parents, was raised as a Jew and circumcised in the tradition of his Jewish faith. Jesus attended and took part with other Jewish believers in the life of the synagogue and Temple. He therefore typically observed and celebrated all regular Jewish festivals. He frequently engaged in dialogue with the Jewish populace including its hierarchy such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes etc. His Jewish disciples called him Rabbi – not Father (Mat 23:9), Your Holiness, or Pastor. Jesus’ message was truly universal and inclusive of all humankind – something that often provoked anger from his own Jewish religious leaders. When Jesus spoke to the crowds, he frequently employed the use of parables, to make a religious point. Teaching in parables was characteristic of the historical Jesus, especially in his proclamation of the kingdom of God. This literary style was already well known and used throughout the Jewish world especially the Jewish scriptures or Old Testament.

Jesus never insisted that anyone should adopt his Jewish background. He never implied to the Roman soldier, the Samaritan woman at the well, or anyone else that they must follow the Jewish tradition. Jesus never wrote anything down, and never proclaimed any particular doctrine or dogma – other than call us to love God, one another (especially our enemies), and most importantly to love ourselves.

Jesus would never have suggested the formation of a hierarchical institution as necessary to follow him or establish a power base from which to evangelize the world after his death. There are no suggestions from Jesus anywhere that there should be a hierarchy or persons appointed beyond the Holy Spirit, or occasions where certain religious truths should be made infallible. Instead Jesus promised his followers that what ever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven*. Even after his death when the number of his apostles is reduced to eleven by the death of Judas, a successor is appointed by drawing lots (Acts 1.15-26). Jesus did however entrust his group of uneducated, doubting and often confused disciples to spread his Kingdom message beyond the boundaries of Israel. This message still applies equally to every daring follower of 'the way' regardless of their background.
< The suggestion that Jesus founded a institutional church is based primarily on one singular passage from Matthew 16:18-19 which reads: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

There are several very important questions that any discerning bible reading should now consider. For example:

Matthew is a gospel originally written in Greek for a community which consisted of both Jews and Gentiles. It is estimated, by most scholars today, to have been written sometime A.D. 80-90 and thus well after the death of Jesus.

The word ‘church’ translates from the original Greek ekklesia meaning assembly or community which is completely compatible with Matthew’s audience and Jesus’ intent to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth. A kingdom based on compassion, understanding, equality, etc., as illustrated through his many parables which many of his frequently disciples did not understand. Jesus came to teach us a way to live communally in peace and harmony, to bring healing and forgiveness.

As for Peter’s qualifications as leader among the apostles there is little doubt. However, to interpret Jesus’ comments about Peter being the ‘foundation’ on which he was to build an institutional church, separate from his Jewish tradition cannot be given any serious consideration. There is nothing in Jewish religious history or tradition that is dependent on a hierarchical institution. Had Jesus intended such, it would have been included or promoted throughout his teachings. It simply is not so. While this understanding may arouse some strong negative feelings among many Christian churches and especially the Catholic Church, we can hopefully all agree on the principle that Jesus' primary message was to Love God, your neighbour and yourself with all our strength, heart and soul. These are the real keys to the Kingdom as promised by Jesus.

At various times in history we forgot to observe Jesus’ simple message to love one another. As a result we allowed the gates of hell to be opened again and again. Millions upon millions have suffered much pain and suffering by ignoring the key to peace and compassion. At the same time we frequently opted to blindly follow others when we needed to take responsibility for the oppression of our fellow human beings.

Jesus died as a Jew. He was nailed to a cross below a sign posted by the Roman soldiers identifying him as ‘King of the Jews’ - a title which he would have clearly denied in favour of his call for Oneness with ALL humankind. The burial preparations were conducted following strict Jewish customs, including the washing of his body, and final entombment.

Metaphorically speaking, I would like readers to see Christ’s resurrection as an awakening of and identification with God who moves beyond time and space, religious identification or membership. We have been given the KEYS to freely to embrace ALL humankind, regardless of their religious beliefs, as One. We are all equally but uniquely endowed with God's divine indwelling to be living examples of his Kingdom on earth. As such we are Holy Temples or churches (communities) of God. Anything less will keep us forever tied to the earth and our egos.

* The doctrine of Apostolic Succession historically allowed the Church to claim exclusive authority to determine and claim (here on earth) what is wrong and what is right. Heaven sets the standard and earth follows heavens’ lead. Because God empowers his people with his divine indwelling it also means that he empowers everyone with the ability, by means of prayer and the Holy Spirit, to discern right from wrong. Through this inclusive model we will come to experience the direct relationship with our Creator.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in the word church. But I do believe in Congregation. I believe this article only focuses on trying to come to some individual understanding of Jesus without including the direction of his apostles when they spoke to the congregations. They were all instructed to shed even further light on the truth after he died. For instance Hebrews 10:25 speaks of not neglecting the gathering of yourselves together.(congregations) Although Jesus did not say this, his apostles did. And they were following his instructions. Also the requirement for elders in a congregation to pray over certain sins on behalf of someone. These are all congregation requirements. Jesus did not found the church but he did found the Christian Congregation.