Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Who is Jesus? America’s Corruption of the Christian Religion
Believe it or not, accept it or not, America is one of the most idolatrous nations in the history of civilization. There are more versions of God, more versions of Jesus, and more versions of Christianity in this county than any other country in the world, or so it seems. The old song from Sinatra rings especially true in American religious thought: I did it my way. This is precisely where America is when it comes to religion. Now, this would not be so upsetting if it were not for America’s roots in the deep riches Christian intellectual thought. At one time, perhaps she was a different kind of nation. But those days have long since passed. In fact, they passed into the annals of history long ago, more so than most Christians want to admit. America has been playing catch-up with the rest of the secular world, and she has managed to do just that. In fact, from the vantage point of many observers, she is on the verge of taking over the prized lead position.
In Mark 8:27, Jesus asked His disciples an extremely important question related to our topic: τίνα με λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι; “Who are men saying I am?” Of course Jesus already knew the answer to this question. His question was for the benefit of the disciples. Jesus’ question was met with a variety of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, or perhaps one of the prophets. Jesus then asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter, so impudent and uninhibited thundered, “You are the Christ.” It is a very good question and one that every person coming into the world must answer sooner or later. Who is Jesus? The views are multifarious. But for Peter, the answer was obvious!
Some will say that Jesus was a good man. Others say He was a very wise philosopher who gave us some great principles to live by. Moreover, He even demonstrated how we could live out those principles in every-day life. Some say Jesus did not exist as a historical figure and that he is the construction of an over imaginative religious mind. Such a view is without historical merit and discredits those who hold it. Others admit He is the founder of the world’s largest religion. But they say He was nothing more than a fascinating man among fascinating men.
Some say Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, but not God of very God. In other words, He was a very special man, and perhaps the most special of all men, but he was a man nonetheless. His Messianic status should not be defined as deity. This view can even be discovered in supposedly evangelical Churches in the twenty-first century. The Mormons say that Jesus was the offspring of a god. He was the brother of Satan. He rose above all others because of his obedience and as a result, he has been promoted to the status of god. In fact, we too we can reach this status if we work hard enough at doing the right things long enough.
Jesus, after revealing Himself to His disciples informed them of His mission. He told them that He would be delivered over to the Jews and Romans and eventually He would be killed. He also informed them that after three days he would rise again. This was His mission as the Messiah. Evidencing that they had other intentions and plans for Jesus, Peter stood up and rebuked Jesus for this view. Peter had envisioned a literal, immediate King that would ascend to the throne of David and establish the Kingdom of God here and now. Peter and the other disciples had an agenda for the Messiah. They had certain presuppositions about what the Messiah would do once He finally arrived on the scene. Indeed, being murdered by the Jewish and Romans leaders was not part of their vision for what the Messiah would do.
You see, the disciple’s version of the Messiah and God’s version of the Messiah were not exactly the same. In God’s version, the Messiah would establish His spiritual kingdom immediately, providing for the redemption of His elect. Thus Christ said He would build His Church on the Rock! It was this Church that Christ’s blood redeems from all of fallen humanity. This was the mission of the Messiah. This isn’t the only time that man’s beliefs for an ideal state contradicted God’s plans. In fact, it happens to be the case that unregenerate men always create a version of God, Christ, the Church, and God’s plan that is quite different from His.
In America, Jesus is a loving person who wouldn’t judge or condemn anybody. The American Jesus is a very different Jesus from the one presented in Scripture. America’s Jesus is as flexible and nimble as the individual wants him to be. This Jesus is the best pop-psychologist we could ever hope for. He can be an all-loving, non-judging, happy go lucky, care-free, do whatever you makes you feel good about yourself kind of Jesus. The important thing is that in America, Jesus is whatever you want Him to be. He is accepting of the gay lifestyle just as it is. After all, sex is love, and gay sex is gay love. Abortion is understood because Jesus respects a woman’s right over her own body. Jesus loves women. Divorce is perfectly acceptable under any circumstances. Jesus wants us to be happy. He understands we make mistakes when we get married sometimes and He is not going to hit us over the head for just wanting to be happy. The American Jesus is tolerant of everything except intolerance and of course any version of Jesus that contradicts him. The American Jesus is the founder of an American Church where anything goes, everyone is welcomed, and God is whatever or whoever the individual wants him to be. The American Jesus gave us the Bible, and he allows us to update it accordingly in order to keep pace with modern enlightened viewpoints, and science of course.
When Jesus rebuked Peter He said something very interesting to him. Get thee behind me Satan for you do not serve the interests of God, but of man. In other words, Peter’s idea of Jesus’ mission was a man-centered idea that served the interests of man and not God. Peter simply wanted to preserve Jesus’ life. He wanted Jesus to ascend the throne now! He wanted to throw off the Roman yoke. He wanted God’s theocracy to begin immediately. Now, at face value, I cannot find fault with any of these things in and of themselves. The problem is that Peter was giving no consideration to God in his reasoning. Peter’s idea was the product of autonomy. He thought Jesus had come to fulfill his ideas of what the Messiah should be and do. Peter thought Jesus was supposed to create a particular state of affairs. Peter was wrong.
The American culture has done precisely the same thing with its version of Christianity. We, too, have a particular kind of Jesus in mind when we hear that name. We also have a particular state of affairs in mind that we think Jesus should be producing in our lives, our communities, our Churches, our country, and even the world. We impose our cultural freedoms onto God, Christ, and the Christian Church thinking we can create a God, a Jesus, and a Church from our own imagination. We feel quite at home making these adjustments. We can make them everywhere else in our lives, why not the sacred? From this particular state of affairs, many of us force onto Jesus an idea that is simply not real. Rather than accepting the Messiah for who and what He is and submit to His work in the earth and humbly accept His mission and work in our lives and world, we begin with our desired state of affairs and force that state on Jesus. And in so doing, we create a false Jesus. In other words, when turn the Jesus of Scripture into the idolatrous Jesus of a sinful heart. We have created 300 million Jesuses in America. And when we stand them in our mirrors, the image we see staring back at us is all too familiar.
“Jesus is reverenced in the cultic setting and in actions otherwise (and in Jewish groups) reserved for God.” [Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship] From her inception, the Church has recognized that Jesus is God of very God. As God, He is the sovereign Lord over all of creation and has full right to our undying loyalty and devotion. What right do we have to reshape Jesus or repurpose Christianity to be what we want it to be? Such an act is not only preposterous, it is idolatry.