What did Jesus say about observing God’s commandments or the ‘Law of Moses’ as it was understood and practised by his Jewish community? And how does it speak to Christians today about dogma and doctrine?
Jesus answered these questions when he said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them! (Mat. 5:24). When we examine the Gospels in depth and with our heart we will come to understand that Jesus was speaking about fulfilling the Law with the unconditional Love of God. Nothing more and nothing less. Scripture is brimming with examples of Jesus reminding us that we are not to observe the letter of the law but to apply it with love.
Dogmatism is the practice of clinging to any dogma (or cluster of tenets) that is presumed to have authoritative power. People can be dogmatic about belief systems around religion, politics, marriage and the family, gender relations, and other cultural attitudes and traditions. Dogma that has become widespread and institutionalized is more commonly referred to as ideology, which can also be adhered to dogmatically. As such, the practise of dogmatism is pervasive, it occurs in many institutional domains other than religion. J. Johnson, ‘What’s So Wrong With Being Absolutely Right?
Religious dogma and doctrine are sometimes carried to extremes as is witnessed through religious violence in various places in the world today. In some cases, religious fundamentalists are interpreting religious text as God’s call to prepare for the final battle on earth between good and evil. To a lesser degree some literalist and fundamentalist insist that religious teachings take primacy over the individual conscience. It would appear that we have taken God’s message of Love out of our practise of the Law.
How can we return to those words from Jesus about fulfilling the law?One answer is provided by an organization called ‘Christian Peacemaker Teams’ whose primary aim is to partner with nonviolent movements around the world. You can find an excellent summary of John Dear's, S.J., original work 'The Sacrament of Civil Disobedience' condensed online by CPT under the title ‘Jesus and Civil Disobedience/DivineObedience’. Father Dear provides some brilliant examples demonstrated by Jesus as he taught his disciples how to deal with law (dogma and doctrine) with compassion and understanding, as follows:
“John Dear lists ten major episodes as actions of nonviolent disobedience by Jesus, followed by the nonviolent act of resurrection (note that this is only one of many ways of looking at the incarnation.) Jesus' first public declaration in Mark 1:15 – "The Kingdom of God is at hand..." – was subversive, as were his readings from Isaiah (Luke 4:17-19) in the synagogue. To enact a "jubilee year" would have meant the complete upheaval of the class structure. As a truth-teller he was in trouble from the start.
1. Jesus' first action was a public exorcism of a man with an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:23-26). He disrupts the cultic atmosphere. He exorcized the culture's possession of people. The man was amazingly cleansed from the unclean spirit of imperial violence which had been internalized.
2. The healing of the leper (Mark 1:40-42) was civilly disobedient because it went beyond the designated boundaries of society. Lepers were "outsiders." Buy touching him, Jesus became a marginalized outsider too. He broke social and religious laws of behavior. (Gandhi also associated with India's "untouchable" cast.)
3. A third set of illegal actions includes Jesus' mingling with the outsiders: sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the dying, the hungry, widows, women, fishermen, and children. He declared (Mark 3:34) his total union with the poor and oppressed. By eating with the marginalized (Mark 2:15) Jesus publicly embraced all who were excluded by societal laws.
4. Working and healing on the Sabbath constitute a fourth series of civil resistance actions: (Mark 2:23) plucking grain by the disciples (their first public action was illegal!) Mark 3:1-6 healing of the withered hand; Luke 13:10-17, healing of the woman, Luke 14:1-6 healing of man. For Jesus, mercy and human needs preceded regulation and rule.
5. This addresses the economy of militarism , the business of war which allowed the imperialistic forces of Rome ("legion") to control people (Matt. 8:28-34). The man possessed by the unclean spirit represents the poor who were under the oppressive and violent Roman military occupation. Jesus also called for the economic conversion from profits and oppression to justice and disarmament. Then, as now, Jesus' message was scandalous and radical.
6. Jesus challenged the religious leaders by breaking the legalized religious dietary codes used to manipulate and oppress (Mark 7:1-23). Not washing hands before eating could result in condemnation and ostracization. Essentially, Jesus called for a return to the basics of justice and mercy (Luke 11:37-43). He used very strong language ("Woe to you!")
7. Jesus was constantly fraternizing with the enemy: loving one's enemy was dangerous, subversive activity and yet it is the hallmark of Jesus's teaching and life. In his time the enemies were Samaritans, Gerasenes, and Greeks. (John 4:4-43 – the Samaritan woman; Mark 4:35-41– enemy territory). When crucified by enemies, he prayed, "Forgive them!"
8. The street theater of the donkey ride into Jerusalem is considered a satire on the military parades of the empire (Luke 19:29-40). He is demonstrating how a real liberator acts: in humility, nonviolence, and simplicity. The procession is public and political, like Gandhi's salt march to the sea or King's march from Selma to Montgomery.
9. The climax is Jesus' nonviolent direct action at the temple, the public center of the Jewish-Roman system, which kept the people subdued and oppressed. By wrecking the tables, Jesus symbolically throws over the imperial and religious domination (Mark 11: 15-18). He quotes Isaiah and Jeremiah who regularly condemned the Temple-state system and called for justice and peace.
10. Following the Temple action, Jesus continues to stress obedience to God. High on the list is not to pay taxes to Caesar – a revolutionary declaration (Mark 12:13-17 etc.) Dorothy Day commented, "Once we give to God what is God's there is nothing left for Caesar." If the people followed Jesus in voluntary poverty and radical obedience to God, Caesar would be out of power. Recognizing the political nature of Jesus' Divine Obedience, the authorities arrested and killed him (Luke 23:2).
11. God raised Jesus from the dead and the resurrection was the ultimate act of nonviolent civil disobedience! According to God, suffering love and truth-telling (not the empire's law) always lead to resurrection and life. Thomas' "my Lord and my God" was an act of faith and an expression of love for Jesus. Beyond that it was an act of political "blasphemy" because the emperor had been declared God. "The resurrection inspired the disciples to practice nonviolent civil disobedience as a way of life towards the ruling authorities of the day" (p. 67).
Ultimately, truth in Christianity is not a doctrine, not a dogma, not a creed, not a papal bull, not what's said in a sermon, not even the words in the Bible. Rather, truth in Christianity is a person, Christ Jesus. – Bill Tammeus For more, click here.
About John Dear
Rev, John Dear S.J. is a Jesuit Priest, Peace Activist, Organizer, Lecturer, Retreat leader, and author/editor of 28 books on peace and nonviolence, including Living Peace, published by Doubleday. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.