Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Let not man put asunder

Somehow it seems a brand of specious nonsense to say that you believe in Jesus but not in the Church. Of course, I should say, ‘but not in His Church’ because the Church has no validity or reason to exist if not for Him, if He weren’t its Founder. Yet you say, not His Church because He didn’t found it, others did. You find this in so many writers, this idea that there is a huge disconnect between Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian Church, as if the two were completely unrelated, except for the use of the names ‘Christ’ and ‘Christian.’ We find an excuse for every assertion to the contrary. Notice I changed the target pronoun from ‘you’ to ‘we’? Well, I write as a Christian, and I too fall into the same category as many of my fellow ‘believers,’ except that we act as if Christ and the Church were unrelated without admitting it.

How is this possible? Of course we believe in Jesus and in His Church. We say so every Sunday when reciting the Nicene creed, ‘and in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,’ some of us making the sign of the Cross while saying this part. Surely, this proves that we believe in the Church, but what, then, does this say about our belief in Jesus? And do we really believe that Jesus started the Church, or do we think as most moderns do, that Jesus did His thing, and the Church was only invented later by a whole different group of people? How else, then, do we explain why the teachings of Christ and much of what goes on in the Church, both beliefs and practices, seem so different? I must be careful here, to say ‘seem’ and not ‘are’ because I am only a layman, and what do I know? Precisely nothing, just what it looks like.

Back to the basic unbeliever’s notion that Jesus, if He existed, has nearly nothing to do with the institutional Church. Some of these basic unbelievers even call themselves ‘Christians’ because they say they’re getting behind the institution and finding the ‘real Jesus’ as if there were an ‘unreal Jesus.’ That’s one set of unbelievers. Another set, slightly more honest, ‘believe’ in Jesus but say that the Church is an invention by Saul of Tarsus, a conniving manipulator and subtle egotist who, having missed meeting the ‘real Jesus’ made up a religion that he could control, stealing the whole show and selling salvation through Jesus as a product. I said ‘slightly more honest,’ because at least they reject religious Christianity as a business, whereas the first group make a living off their interpretation of the Message of Christ.

But what we actually find if we are serious enough to study the biblical record is that Jesus existed, that He taught a supernatural ethic that exceeded the Law of Moses, that He bent the laws of nature to effect miraculous cures, multiply rations, and even bring dead people back to life. Some of us want to stop Him there and follow Him up to that point. Christ Himself didn’t stop there. Though He didn’t promote Himself as ‘messiah’ He consistently moved along a path predicted by the prophets of Israel as that of the Suffering Messiah, while His followers persistently moved along a slightly different path, that predicted of the King Messiah. The two paths converged in a literally death defying event now called ‘the passion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ’ which ended one phase and initiated another.

What do I mean by ‘phase’? Well, if you read the Bible you will notice, as have those who disconnect Jesus and the Church so readily, that what ‘the Good News’ means as preached by Jesus, and what it means as preached by Paul (and supported by the other apostles who actually did know Jesus ‘in the flesh’) seems different, even disconnected. Salvation in the mouth of Jesus has something to do with being ‘born from above,’ with believing that He is ‘the resurrection and the life,’ and that it represents an idea of living forever more than anything else. Sin is not even mentioned at all. But when we get to salvation in the mouth of Paul (previously mentioned as Saul of Tarsus), it has everything to do with our obedience to the commandments, rejection of sin, and integration ‘into Christ’ through His resurrection.

It is exactly the resurrection that has, it seems, transformed ‘Jesus’ into ‘Christ,’ and that’s exactly what Paul (not Jesus) says when he writes that Jesus was proclaimed Christ through His resurrection from the dead. Yes, if anything, the resurrection of Jesus is to blame for changing the Good News. In fact, it has replaced the ‘original’ message preached by Christ with ‘another’ message preached by Paul. First there was no Church, now there is. So, how can we say that Jesus and the Church are connected? It’s obvious, isn’t it, say they who believe in Jesus but not in the Church, that there is no ‘real’ connexion between them. Jesus said and did one thing, the Church another. To connect the two is begging the question. The historical Jesus, if He existed, cannot have intended to start a new religion, or found the Church.

There are only two points I can think of, but I am sure there are many more, to prove wrong those who say that Jesus did not found the Church. Actually, they are not proofs, only questions to be answered. If Jesus did not found the Church, to what was He telling His apostles to draw men to, when He made them ‘fishers of men’? And if He did not found the Church, why did He, after His resurrection but before His ascension, tell His apostles to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’? I purposely leave out ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ because so many, even within the Church, say that this part of the Divine Commission was added later, and that He didn’t really say these things. What are we left with? It all boils down to who we really think Jesus was, and is, not what He did.

Why did I call it ‘specious nonsense’ to believe in Jesus and not in the Church? Well, it’s because I am not preaching to the choir or trying to start a semantic squall, but trying to reconnoiter my own inner battlefield and engage the enemy within by reckless taunts. It’s just as easy to love the Tree so much that you miss the forest, as to love the Forest so much that you miss the tree. The connexion between Christ and the Church is so integral that it almost cannot be identified. Somewhere around the neck is the Head attached to the Body. We have little trouble believing that, especially when it’s our own. A head without a body, and a body without a head—horrible mess! Let’s not go there!—but nevertheless we’re not always happy about heads and the bodies that go with them, our own in particular.

Finally, what I am thinking about here is division, how there can be things that can be divided mentally but not in reality—physically, socially, historically. If Jesus were to come back today and ‘go to church’ where you live, would He be able to recognize anything? The Church, for its part, goes back in time and place to where Jesus lived, listens daily to His teaching, witnesses His miracles, suffers inwardly His rebukes and is shamed by His love, but claims Him as her Bridegroom for better and for worse, and forever. The fact is, we cannot ask some questions, even though we have the words, because reality is always ‘real’ but our thoughts are not. We cannot propose, ‘If Jesus were to come back today,’ because the truth is, He has never left and, ‘what therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’

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