Simple message of Jesus has been complicated and twisted

 

If Jesus were to return, He might not choose to call himself a Christian

‘MY FAITH is in Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t have faith in an institution and nobody wants that. That is not authentic faith.”

I could have cheered out loud when I read this from Fr Shay Cullen, an Irish missionary in the Philippines, who is probably best known for his campaigning work against child trafficking and sex tourism.

Cullen is quoted in Joe Humphreys’s often uplifting and always informative book, God’s Entrepreneurs: How Irish Missionaries Tried to Change the World(New Island, 2010).

My reaction to a discussion on the BBC’s Newsnightprogramme a few weeks ago was the opposite: I nearly screamed with frustration at one of the five Church of England bishops who are defecting to Rome in protest at the ordination of women bishops.

When pressed by Jeremy Paxman and a female priest, Bishop John Broadhurst was reduced to citing “church tradition”. No Christian imperatives or logic involved – there could be none – just reference to the customs of the institution. It seems the last thing senior church members ask themselves is: “How would Jesus react to this?”

The problem with an institution, as alluded to by Cullen and exampled by Bishop Broadhurst, is that invariably its own perceived welfare comes to take precedence over everything else. This is particularly tragic when the institution lays claim to embodying the essence of the greatest person who ever walked this earth, Jesus Christ.

In truth, almost from its outset institutional Christianity was embarked on a journey away from the spirit of Jesus: soon entangled in the minutiae of self- serving theological meanderings, hopelessly enamoured with its sense of self, and hamstrung by blind loyalty to the centre.

Consider how far removed from His teachings even modern “enlightened” Christianity is.

Would the man who had no qualms in chasing the moneylenders and the merchants from the temple, in open defiance of religious authority and tradition, and who spoke so movingly about the need to honour the child, have supported the closing of ranks around abusers and paedophiles to protect the name and standing of an institution?

Would He, who so lovingly tended the sick and comforted the bereaved, have opposed on a ludicrous theological invention the use of condoms in the fight against HIV?

Would He who loved humanity in all its forms, have agreed with the rampant homophobia of Anglican clergy in Africa, and the institutional misogyny that underpins opposition to female clerics? Would He, who was at pains to point out His own imperfections, have allowed to go unchallenged the notion of infallibility in a mortal?

No doubt hair-splitting, theologian types from all branches of Christianity would dismiss this kind of thinking as simplistic.

Yet, in all crucial respects, Jesus was a simple man, delivering an uncomplicated message. What He had to say about how we should live our lives could be summed up in a few phrases: love others and give of yourself to them, especially the less fortunate; be non-violent, honest, forgiving and humble.

Those who came after Christ, purporting to follow in His footsteps, are guilty of complicating and twisting the message.

There are few things more sickening than a supposed loyal follower of Jesus presenting as Christian teaching his own narrow prejudices. (Although the whining, newly humble, self- pitying clergyman playing the I-am-only-a-mere-mortal card when he’s found out comes a close second.)

What is even sadder than the state of Christianity at leadership levels is the confused state of laities that, in large part, long ago lost the ability to differentiate between love of a particular church – any church – and love of Christ.

It is a vital distinction, as pointed out by Fr Cullen. For those with an eye to see, experience shows that the people who truly reflect the essence of Jesus can come from all religious backgrounds (including non-Christian) and none.

Such people are most often to be found selflessly labouring among life’s casualties. Among the very people Jesus would be serving if He were alive today.

If He did return, whether or not He would choose to call himself a Christian, or associate with the institutions that adopted his name, is open to question. Somehow, I very much doubt it.

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