“What is at stake is by no means whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with the Jews. It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say: here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God, here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian. He was born on January 6th, 1912 in Bordeaux and died on May 19th, 1994 in Pessac, France. He brings a complete anthropological, sociological, theological and historical view of the difference between Jesus and Christianity as a human production and fruit of a religious political construction in his book, “The Subversion of Christianity”.
Brilliantly, Jaques Ellul shows us how syncretism, personal interest, power, money, status, ego, politics and narcissism have been very present in the history of Christianity since Constantine.
What does the Holy Inquisition have to do with Jesus? What do the crusades on behalf of God have to do with Jesus and His teachings? What does the Vatican have to do with God’s Kingdom?
What do Constantine and the Institution have to do with the spirit of the Gospel? What do our current church councils, enormous temples, luxurious events and religious culture have to do with Jesus?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer could not accept or agree with thousands of Protestant Christian German soldiers attending Sunday services at Lutheran churches in Germany while at they same time, they were killing millions of Jewish during the week.
Gandhi saw the same incoherence, paradox and inconsistency when he said to the British Protestant army that he knew their Christ but not their Christianity.
Very often you realize that atheists have had some contact with Christianity and some of its ramifications. I have never met an atheist or agnostic who has not had a previous “Christian” experience.
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of them. I want to come back and talk about him someday. Actually, he is a good example and fits the pattern about Christianity and atheism perfectly well. By the way he was right. God is dead. The God of the Institution of Christianity was already born dead!
Jesus is bigger than Christianity.
Jesus is bigger than any doctrine or conjunct of dogmas.
Jesus is not an Institution. He has nothing to do with politics. He has nothing to do with irrelevant discussions and debates.
He is the one who simply says: “Woman, where are they? Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.”
He does not say to her, “Look for the nearest or closest church. Go and be baptized right now! Go and look for Fabio and Johnna and join them in the Friday meeting group. Go and study the four spiritual laws by Bill Bright.”
Not at all!
He just tells her basically to “go back to life and forgive as you have been forgiven; show grace as you have received grace!”
In other words Jesus is telling her to go and get ready for divine appointments because what matters in life is human encounters with love, compassion and mercy while you walk on this existential ground because mere human encounter may become divine appointments!
She did not know His name. We do not know her name either.
The Gospel is full of stories and encounters like this one. What matters is that Jesus knows them. What matters is that Jesus meets their needs. What matters is that they have broken hearts, sincerity, simplicity and genuinely faith.
I love to see and read about Jesus healing a man born blind while the Pharisees start investigating the healing…
Look what John writes in chapter 9, verse 13 after the healing of the blind man…
They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was the Sabbath. Therefore, the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
What a mess! Ask him. He is of age! Ask his parents.
Fear of the religious caciques (chiefs)! Fear of the doctors of the law!
Rules for what? What is more important – healing, compassion or debates?
Ask Jesus. Who is Jesus? A prophet? God? Imposter? Sinner?
I do not know. Ask him!
Jesus is bigger than the Sabbath!
Jesus is bigger than our borders, cultures and pseudo-religious convictions.
Jesus is bigger than our walls and building and Sunday school mornings and synagogues!
What matters is to know that he was blind and now he sees!
Now he has life. He has never had life.
He has never seen. He was born blind.
Can you put yourself in his shoes?
Let’s celebrate his new journey.
But the religious ones close the door.
They say the institution is more important than people.
Projects and our reputation cannot break any pre-established rule. It is Sabbath!
Of course there are thousands and millions of great people with amazing hearts who attend what we call churches. I am sure!
I grew up in a Presbyterian church and since I was 9 years old I have been in many churches and denominations in several cities and countries around the world. I have met great people and they have influenced my life. I do not have any doubt about it. However, the structure, the form, the way that Christianity was built shows us Jesus is not the same as Christianity.
Jesus is not the founder of Christianity!
At the same time it is also since I was 9 years old that I have seen the Constantinian and Institutional spirit in big and small meetings, big and small events, big and small churches where the Pharisaic sprit takes place and makes the spirit of the Gospel second priority. It seems like our leadership almost takes a role that belongs to God.
Actually, you will realize as you walk and observe Christian and religious culture around the world.. it will depend on the city, nation and continent, but you will see in all of them the Institutional influence and how far we are from the Spirit of Jesus and His main message in the Gospel.
What I have never understood was the pseudo idea that hangs over our churches where we get together and everybody who is inside is “saved” and protected and whoever is outside “is not” saved and uncovered. In addition to that, we establish a strategy that makes our neighbors, friends, family and colleagues come to our sacred and safe place to meet God at a certain time or type of service. Then, whoever came into that “safe harbor” in the past, but for some reason is not attending or coming to church-building-walls, is “lost”. So, immediately we start thinking about how to reach out to everyone again in order to bring them “back to their faith”.
Also, I have never understood why God is limited in a certain geographical part of the planet. It seems to me from the Western Christian church perspective that hey think they have more light than other parts of the globe. I have heard stories about how the West is so blessed and other continents are so lost. The presupposition is the principle that there are more Christians in the West than anywhere else!
I love to think how we are going to be surprised some day!
We think we have more revelation than other parts of the planet.
What we do not realize is that we put God in a little box due to our limitation and narrow theological mentality.
We receive many insights and information in Western society. We grow up learning about Christianity and we celebrate Christmas, Easter and other Christian holidays. It seems to me a logical way to get and have faith. I know, I learn, I hear, I have the information, I believe, it grows and I have the revelation in my heart. However, this does not mean it is the only way to understand God, receive grace and have our eyes opened to understand who He is.
In other words, revelation and faith may come before information.
Sadhu Sundar Singh is a beautiful example of this. (Book recommendation: The Apostle of the Bleeding Feet.)
Look at the Roman centurion in Mathew 8.
After healing the centurion who was not Jewish, but Roman; and so, to “break” the rules and the religious system, Jesus declared that He was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
When Jesus says “anyone” in this context, it means no one has EVER had this faith in Israel.
He shakes the religion system. He turns the table upside down.
He challenges the Pharisees. He means this grace is available to everyone who wants to embrace it by faith.
Actually, when he says that many will come from the East and the West, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…
Where do you think Jesus was?
Obviously not in any puritan Western society.
His point of departure was not Sao Paulo, Rome, Geneva, Wittenberg, London or Lausanne!
It was Jerusalem!
Do not get surprised when you realize East and West of the place where Jesus was has to do with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, etc.
Many will come to the feast and take place at the table and the surprise will be surprising!
For this last topic, Don Richardson is another author who is able to express this dimension through his book Eternity in Their Hearts where he talks about the Melchizedek Factor. However, this subject requires another day, another moment, another time. I will come back to talk about it some day…