Can I Be A Christian If I Don’t Believe....
On May 31st, 2008, Kelly and I were blessed to have nine of our friends join us for our weekly get-together where we enjoy a time of discussion, fellowship and or course a meal where we all bring something to contribute. It is always amazing to see how great this meal turns out every week despite the fact that no one knows what anyone else is bringing and no matter how many show up.
The discussions on the 31st continued off and on from about 3:30 in the afternoon to about 9 PM. They were very interesting and challenging but I want to focus specifically on a short “statement” made to our group by one of the ladies and a question posed to me in particular but also to the group by this lady’s husband. Getting ready for bed that night, I found the statement and the question were the last things that I thought about. When I woke up the next morning, they popped into my head almost immediately.
At that time, everyone in our little group had came out of evangelical, fundamental Christianity. Most of us had then spent some time within the Messianic movement, but over the past couple of years, most had stepped out of that world as well. Trying to find a religious label to identify us might be impossible. So forgetting the label, we just want to A) know God and B) experience an authentic transformative spirituality.
To help clarify the comments and questions I am going to focus on, unlike most within our group, the couple with the comments and question remain active within the Messianic movement and they also attend a Torah study at a Jewish synagogue in our hometown.
As we were getting started this lady took the time to express what was on her heart. It doesn’t do justice to her words to give you the short “Coles notes” version, nor does the printed word convey the tenderness of her heart but she simply stated that with all the changes we have been discussing and experiencing, she doesn’t want to walk away from the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor does she want to walk away from Yeshua (Jesus) etc. She is concerned that the changes may lead us away from the faith found in the Bible, as she understands it. It may be helpful for those reading this to know that we have had a few people leave our group because of the changes that we have implemented lately. As well, at one time we sent out articles and teachings to a few hundred people all over the world by way of e-mail. Though not the only reason, the changes are the major factor that resulted in our e-mail list diminishing by about 80%. Hopefully over time this will reverse and start to grow again.
Most, if not all of the responsibility for these changes, falls upon my shoulders since I am the one “teaching” these “new” concepts (which aren’t really new at all). However, I believe that I am simply putting into words and clarifying what several people in our group were already sensing in their hearts/sp
In your move from evangelical, fundamental Christianity to the Messianic Movement and now to the place where you find yourself today, what are the core essentials that you have carried over from the first two to where you are now? It would be good to know because we may not agree!
After some discussions in our living room, we decided to take the discussion outside and enjoy the beautiful day. As we heading out into our backyard, the husband of this lady asked the following question of me... “In your move from evangelical fundamental Christianity to the Messianic movement and now to the place where you find yourself today, what are the “Core Essentials” that you have carried over from the first two to where you are now? It would be good to know because we may not agree.”
What a terrific question!
To answer it, you have to really think, something many of us try to avoid at all costs most of the time. For starters, we have to define the term, “core essentials.” Once defined, then we have to determine what we believe are the core essentials of fundamental Christianity and then do the same thing for the Messianic movement. Then we have to determine what our current “core essentials” are and determine if they are new or carried over.
Of course, all of this begins with a major problem and that is that each of us may not agree as to what constitutes “core essentials.” Using an example that I have used previously, though most of fundamental Christianity would not include baptism as a “core essential,” there are parts of fundamental Christianity that would see it as an absolute essential. For those who believe that one can not be “saved” without being baptized, baptism would certainly be a core essential and yet some groups don’t baptize at all while others would see it as something important but NOT essential.
Defining Core Essentials
According to the dictionary, core is defined as “the heart or inner part of a thing.” Essential is defined as “necessary to the constitution or existence of a thing.” So we are looking for things that are at the very heart of and without which a) fundamental Christianity b) the Messianic movement and c) where we find ourselves, in essence, would dissolve.
I decided to seek some assistance in defining core essentials for fundamental Christianity and the Messianic movement. So I turned to groups within fundamental Christianity and the Messianic world that could help me define what those core essentials would be. Rather arbitrarily, from fundamental Christianity, I chose to use the doctrinal statements of Dallas Theological Seminary, (DTS from now on) one of the most famous fundamental Christian seminaries in the world as well as the Assemblies of God doctrinal statement (AOG from now on), another very fundamental group. In the Messianic world I have used the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations doctrinal statement (UMJC from now on). These are all accessible on the internet. I think it would be fair to assume that if you include something in your doctrinal statement you see it as very important. That said, important does not necessarily mean essential so I will have to insert my own view as to what may or may not be essential though as you will see, DTS does that for me.
The UMJC doctrinal statement contains 9 points. The AOG statement contains 16 points. The DTS statement contains 21 points or articles as they refer to them. However, at the top of the DTS statement they state there are 7 essentials out of the 21 that their students must agree with.
“Doug’s Digression” - This is where I get off topic for a moment. We often call it a rabbit trail. I have spent the last few minutes carefully reading those doctrinal statements. The result -- I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or get angry though I think the last one would win out if I let it. I almost feel at a loss for words though those who know me know that wouldn’t last very long. Did you know the following for example, and I quote from the DTS doctrinal statement, Article III Angels, Fallen and Unfallen?
“We believe that Satan is the originator of sin, and that, under the permission of God, he, through subtlety, led our first parents into transgression, thereby accomplishing their moral fall and subjecting them and their posterity to his own power;”
Perhaps I am utterly naive, but I didn’t have the foggiest clue that God GAVE PERMISSION to Satan to take down all of humanity and if it is true, what a can of worms that opens up. It is “amazing” to think that most of humanity is going to burn in hell (lake of fire) forever and this catastrophic situation exists because God gave permission to “Satan” to go and deceive Adam and Eve. This is not meant to be sarcastic etc. or to make light of this DTS belief, but did Satan ask God for permission to be the originator of sin in the first place and if he didn’t, why would he bother to ask permission from God to take down all of humanity? And why would he think that God would grant him permission? I have been taught (which is a big part of the problem for all of us) that Satan was in total rebellion against God, going against God all the time so why would he bother to seek out permission and why on earth (or in heaven) would God grant him that permission? If I give grant you permission to go and do something, how can I turn around and punish you for doing it? As bizarre as this would be, apparently DTS believes that Satan rebelled when he first sinned but secured God’s permission when it came to “destroying” humanity.
Can you imagine any parent giving permission to their worst enemy to go ahead and wreck havoc and destruction upon their children? And if that isn’t bad enough, the parent then decides that He is going to punish his/her children forever because of what they “became” unless of course those children do exactly what “Daddy” says to do and believe exactly what “Daddy” says to believe... even though many of those children are never going to be told in their lifetimes what it is exactly that “Daddy” wants them to do or what he wants them to believe? How “logical” is that?
Further, why would any child trust “Daddy” if “Daddy” gave permission to the most evil entity in the universe to a) destroy them morally, b) cause them to end up under the power of said enemy, c) to end up totally separated from any relationship with “Daddy,” d) to become mortal and die physically and e) to be punished forever by “Daddy” despite the fact that He gave his permission for all of this to happen?
And if that isn’t enough, lets throw into the mix that this “wonderful Father” is going to tell all of His children how much He loves them and they are supposed to believe it, despite the facts listed above. And we scratch our heads and wonder why much of the world has no interest in the God of fundamental Christianity and often sees it as totally illogical.
I know, I know... God fixed it all by the death of Jesus. Really?
If you call the following scenario “fixed,” perhaps you can say that He did. If you consider a small remnant of His children end up “saved” and ignore the fact that most of humanity is doomed to all that we just described, then He “fixed” the problem. Of course, you must also be willing to admit that when God gave “Satan” permission to do this, God knew, being omniscient, that the end result would be that most of humanity would end up separated from Him, in a place God created called hell or the lake of fire where He would punish all of those wicked people forever for being sinners and despite this horrendous and catastrophic end result, God was apparently okay with it since He gave his permission for it all to occur, knowing the “end” even before the beginning. That story, that premise is simply ludicrous.
And we could also add more to the “equation.” Adam and Eve apparently had a choice, though in God’s mind there was no choice since He already knew what they would do. No one else has ever had a choice to be a “sinner.” It was a “gift” inherited by each of us and according to the DTS doctrinal statement, this “gift” was made possible through the permission of God. And we expect people to believe that people are going to see a “loving” God in this “horrific fairy tale.”
Okay... enough of this “digression.” I realize that my words have been harsh but this ridiculous view of God needs to go away and the sooner the better. I believe that what I have said is an accurate presentation according to standard and common fundamental Christian theology. I also believe that this concept of God in which he not only will punish most of humanity forever but apparently gave his permission resulting in this catastrophe is not only completely wrong but this belief would actually violate the second commandment when it is properly understood - “do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” That commandment isn’t about “swearing” as much as it is about presenting a “God” to people that denigrates the true character of God. At a later time I will have much more to say about this as well as some other parts of these doctrinal statements.
Back To The Subject - “Core Essentials”
When we look at the three doctrinal statements, there are some things common to all of them. Perhaps these would be the core essentials so let’s look at some of them. One would think that the first thing in a doctrinal statement would be “We believe in God.” Rarely does that seem to be the case. The first item in all three doctrinal statements is a belief in the Bible as the inspired, infallible Word of God. I understand why the first statement is a belief in the Bible because it is within the Bible that fundamental Christianity and the messianic world are going to define “God.” Obviously, the Bible being the “Word of God” requires a belief in a “God” so belief in God is included in the first statement. The actual belief in “one God, eternally existent in three persons, i.e. the Trinity” is the second component of all three doctrinal statements.
The Bible & The Trinity
One would think that we have identified two absolute essentials within all of fundamental Christianity and the Messianic movement, the Bible and the Trinity - but have we? Truth be told, addressing the “Trinity” first, there are many within fundamental Christianity and the Messianic movement who reject the Trinitarian view of God completely. For example, one might need to believe that to be part of the Assemblies of God, which is a Pentecostal denomination but there are other “Pentecostal fundamental Christians” who reject the Trinitarian doctrine outright. Despite the UMJC endorsing the Trinitarian view of God, a huge number of “Messianic believers” reject the Trinity concept and in fact, many of them see the belief in a Trinitarian God as an extremely pagan belief. So this doctrine certainly is not “essential” within fundamental Christianity or the messianic movement based upon our definition of core essentials.
As to the “inspired inerrancy and infallibility” of the Bible as the Word of God, again it isn’t as cut and dried as it might appear initially. Often doctrinal statements will note that it is the “original writings” that are inspired, inerrant and infallible. Of course that does create a slight problem in that none of those originals exist. At best we have copies of copies that have travelled through the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin languages before ending up in English, or any of the other current languages of the world.
It has been my experience that most of fundamental Christianity for all intents and purposes ignores this “problem” and treats their English versions very much as if they are inspired, inerrant and infallible. Of course, we do have some people who believe that there is an English translation that is truly inspired, inerrant and infallible, i.e. the King James Only people.
What happens if we stay within Christendom but step out of the fundamental world? Well suddenly we find many people who claim to be Christians but do not believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant or infallible. Some suggest that the Bible contains the “words of God” but is not entirely the “Word of God.” Some would see the Bible as a document written by man expressing the writers’ views of God at the time of the writing. Despite their non-inerrant, non-infallible view of the Bible, they still see themselves very much as Christians.
What about the “Messianic movement?” Well again we will find that there are those in the Messianic world who would disagree with the view endorsed by all three doctrinal statements we are using. As much as many fundamental Christians would disagree, there are those in the “Messianic movement” who would see the Old Testament as inspired, inerrant and infallible but not the New Testament or at least portions of it. For example, a couple of years ago, all “hell” broke loose within segments of the Messianic movement when a prominent leader within the movement made the statement that the writer of the book of Hebrews was a liar, didn’t know what he was writing about and the book should be removed from the Bible. Needless to say, it created quite a stir.
A Core Essential
There is A God
The question is, are these core essentials to me?
There is a core essential in this for me. It is that there is a GOD. Who exactly that God is or what that God “consists of,” I am not certain. Judaism has a term for this “ultimate God.” It is “Ayn Sof” meaning indescribable and unknowable. I have no problem admitting that this “being” through whom a universe came into existence is beyond my comprehension. However, the existence of this God/Goddess is something that has been and still is a core essential for me. However....
“But what about a 3 person Trinity God?”
I am not sure that I have ever believed in the “Trinity” as portrayed within fundamental Christianity. As a result, I have never viewed it as all that important, and certainly not essential. If push comes to shove and you force me to express an opinion, then no, I don’t believe in the “God in 3 persons Trinity.” For example, when it comes to the Holy Spirit or Ruach HaKodesh in Hebrew, I believe that it is the presence, the power and the energy of God but not a distinct person separate from a Father and/or a Son. If you ask me if the Holy Spirit is God, my answer is yes. You cannot separate the Presence, Power or Energy of God from God. And I don’t see an “eternal Son,” since we are told that the “Word” and not the “Son” became flesh. I have no problem with an eternal “Word” though I don’t see the “Word” as a separate person in a Trinitarian Godhead. The Word of God cannot be separate from God.
As I said above, I am convinced more and more that God is absolutely indescribable and to even attempt to describe Him/Her/It is doomed to failure from the very beginning but humanity has this “need” to define God and so we do so using human qualities thereby creating an anthropomorphic God. We really have no choice. Any attempt to define or describe God is limited to the constraints of human language but the result is that we often end up with a “God” created far more in the image of man, than man created in the image of God.
The Bible - Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible
Personally, this is a much more difficult issue than the Trinity issue. I have taught the Bible for some 25 years and for much of that time, I saw it as all three. However, over time and especially during my time in the Messianic movement, I came to the conclusion that our English versions are far from inerrant or infallible, and that includes the KJV.
Not all that long ago, I read two books by Marcus Borg entitled “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” and “The Heart of Christianity.” What is ironic is that I would have probably tossed both books in the garbage a few years ago or wold have been willing to burn them. I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with “so-called Christian and biblical scholar,” Marcus Borg. My fundamentalism wouldn’t have allowed it.
Well, someday perhaps I will get to apologize to Marcus Borg in person. I would consider it an honour to meet him. Not that my opinion matters one iota, but Marcus Borg is definitely a Christian and not only a Christian but he is high on my list of Christians I would like to meet. However, “my oh my” does he have a view of the Bible that differs from the DTS, AOG and UMJC doctrinal statements. Quoting from page 45 in “The Heart of Christianity,” Borg states:
“The Bible is the product of two historical communities, ancient Israel and the early Christian movement.”
“As such, it is a human product, not a divine product. This claim in no way denies the reality of God. Rather, it sees the Bible as a response of these two ancient communities to God.”
“As their response to God, the Bible tells us how they saw things. Above all, it tells us how they saw their life with God. It contains their stories about God’s involvement in their lives, their laws and ethical teachings, their prayers and praises, their wisdom about how to live, and their hopes and dreams. It is not God’s witness to God (not a divine product), but their witness to God.”
“As a human product, the Bible is not “absolute truth” or “God’s revealed truth,” but relative and culturally conditioned. To many, “relative” and “culturally conditioned” mean something inferior, even negative. But “relative” means “related”: the Bible is related to their time and place. So also, “culturally conditioned” means that the Bible uses language and concepts of the cultures in which it took shape. To use a non biblical example, the Nicene Creed uses the language of the fourth-century Hellenistic philosophy to express convictions that mattered most to the Christians who framed it. It is not a set of absolute truths, but tells us how they saw things. So also the Bible tells us how our spiritual ancestors saw things - not how God sees things.”
Today, I find myself agreeing much more with Marcus Borg’s views than the doctrinal statements of the DTS, AOG or UMJC. Some people within Christianity or the Messianic movement would vehemently disagree and perhaps see this as reason enough to label me, and maybe Marcus Borg, as a non-Christian, false prophet, heretic etc. Or as someone said to me recently by way of an e-mail, “I have no problem seeing you as a spiritual moron.” I understand that statement very well. I certainly don’t take offence. In fact, I find it rather humorous especially when I am honest with myself and realize that there was a day not all that long ago when I could have said the same thing about people that I now appreciate greatly.
More Core Essentials
On all three doctrinal statements we see that the deity of Jesus, his virgin birth, atoning death, bodily resurrection and ascension are all listed. Let me deal with the first two now and come back to the others later on.
The Deity of Jesus and The Virgin Birth
Every Christian believes Jesus is God. Without question, that is a core essential, isn’t it? Well, it might be a core essential if we ignore the fact that many Christians and Messianic believers don’t believe that Jesus was God. Fundamental groups may define this as an essential, but who gives any one group such as fundamentalism the right to define who is a Christian and what is essential? Actually the “right” to define who is a Christian is a “prize” that man will fight, argue and kill to grasp hold of. It is sought by those who see themselves as leaders upon whom God has conferred the authority and power to rule and reign over the rest of humanity, or at least all the Christians who apparently cannot discern for themselves if they are a Christian nor what it means to be a Christian.
Please understand that the following description of this historic event is a poor attempt to simplify a complex topic. Many people aren’t aware that the issue of Jesus’ deity versus his humanity was hotly contested during the first 300 years of Christianity. In fact, it was such a hot issue that a council was convened to deal with it. Bishops from throughout the Christian world were brought together to debate and settle this issue. Clearly, there would be no need for a council unless you had Christians lining up on both sides of the issue. No one would care what non-Christians believed. The “winners,” who were ultimately declared so by the vote of Constantine, the Roman Emperor, were those who believed Jesus to be God. (Again a simplistic statement to a much more complex issue.) The “losers,” if they didn’t “convert” faced excommunication and possibly worse. I find it amazing that Christianity could survive and some would say flourish for 300 years, all the while entertaining such diverse views of Jesus, only to come to the place where the hierarchy decided that such diverse views couldn’t be tolerated and the views (and those holding to them) needed to be obliterated. Unfortunately this is an all too common event in the history of Christianity. Those in “charge” determine what is “orthodox” and then proceed to remove any and all dissenters, using whatever force is necessary.
Indeed, history repeats. There are those within the Christian and the Messianic worlds today who do not believe that Jesus is God and often they are removed by the powers that be and thereby prevented from fellowshipping with those who believe that He is God. Of course, you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump - obviously they have got to ”eliminated” because their heretical views will leaven all those they associate with.
When it comes to the virgin birth, it is exactly the same as the divinity issue. Most fundamental Christians and many Messianics believe in the virgin birth but there are a substantial number of Christian and Messianic believers that do not. Whether they are “true Christians” depends, I guess, upon who you ask though the wrong view regarding this “essential” can definitely get you tossed out as well.
So - Are these core essentials to me?
Short answer - NO! When it comes to being a Christian, neither one is “essential.” I simply cannot see how the belief or non-belief in the deity of Jesus or the belief or non-belief in the virgin birth would prevent anyone from following the teachings of Jesus/Yeshua which is how I would define a Christian. Whether I see Jesus as a 100% human being or I see him as God, how does either position prevent me from recognizing the teachings of Jesus to be universal truths and then following them?
I realize that people are going to turn to certain verses to “prove” their position but here is where an extremely important “truth” emerges for me. I wish these were my words but they are not. They are profound.
“We have traded in the spirituality of Jesus for
a religion about Jesus.”
Think about it. Does the issue of whether he is fully God, fully man or somehow both or the issue of his virgin birth focus on the spirituality of Jesus or do they focus on a religion about Jesus? Jesus consistently directed our attention away from himself. He was always pointing people to God, not himself, though I would argue vehemently that He was constantly encouraging us to follow the spirituality that He was living out, an authentic spirituality that produced a living, vibrant, dynamic relationship with God. He wanted everyone to experience the life He was living.
As sacrilegious as this sounds, if the “virgin birth” was an essential, why is it only mentioned briefly by Matthew and Luke? Why is it totally ignored when it comes to the writings of Mark, John, Peter, James and Paul? Can you show me a single verse within the “words in red” in the Bible where Jesus, himself, points anyone to his virgin birth in any of his teachings or makes it an issue?
And if we go back to that council, which by the way, was the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., I don’t recall reading anywhere that the problem with those who believed that Jesus wasn’t God, had anything to do with their unrighteous, immoral behaviour. I don’t recall anyone saying that they weren’t following Jesus’ teachings. In fact, in some cases, I believe that you could argue that some of those who didn’t believe he was God had a better understanding of Jesus’ teachings and were doing a better job of following those teachings than those who believed he was God. And that is still true today!
To me, this is a sign that “the change” was already occurring in the early three hundreds. Christianity was already transitioning away from an authentic faith that followed the teachings of Jesus and led to experiencing the spirituality of Jesus. Instead, it was becoming a religion about him and your participation in this new Christianity wouldn’t be based on following and experiencing the teachings of Jesus, but instead, it would be based on what you believed about him as determined by the religious hierarchy.
Another Core Essential
Though worded differently, all three of the doctrinal statements we are using include a belief in the resurrection of believers, i.e. the saved, to a life of bliss, glory etc. All three also believe in all of the unsaved being resurrected, judged and condemned.
The UMJC describes it as “a resurrection of damnation.”
Quoting the AOG statement: “There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
The DTS statement reads: “the spirits and souls of the unbelieving remain after death conscious of condemnation and in misery until the final judgment of the great white throne at the close of the millennium, when soul and body reunited shall be cast into the lake of fire, not to be annihilated, but to be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power”
I have sitting on my bookshelf a manuscript that I am writing on the issue of an eternal hell. Though this may sound bizarre, whether you see the Bible as a divinely inspired, inerrant, infallible book or you see it as the product of man, I don’t believe the Bible teaches anywhere that God is going to punish “lost” humanity in some place called hell or the lake of fire forever so that should make it very obvious that I sure don’t see this as an essential belief. And yes, I am very aware of the 50+ verses in the KJV that mention hell and I am aware of the verses in which Jesus mentions Gehenna or to be more accurate, the Valley of Hinnom. For some reason the translators decided to insert the word hell into the text instead of Valley of Hinnon even though the Valley of Hinnom is used consistently in the Old Testament. I am also aware of the lake of fire in the book of Revelation and I am very aware of the words forever, everlasting and eternal and yet, it is my intention to fill our web site with articles showing the fallacy of this belief based upon the Bible itself.
This core essential is no different than all of the other “essentials” we have looked at. Again there are many Christians, including many who would see themselves as fundamentalists, as well as many Messianics who do not believe in God punishing most of creation forever. I have 106 “Christian” web sites bookmarked that reject this doctrine. This doctrine has been refuted by many Christians throughout all of Christianity’s history. Many believe that most of the first and second century Christians did not believe in eternal punishment. There are volumes and volumes written exposing the errors in the belief that God is going to punish people for ever.
The Ultimate Core Essential
Though our analysis so far doesn’t seem to have produced any truly essential doctrines that everyone must believe in, we will now look at the ultimate core essential when it comes to fundamental Christianity and the Messianic movement. The words are not the same but all three of our doctrinal statements include the following essential.
The Death of Jesus/Yeshua - An Atoning Sacrifice
Simplifying things -- Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice which, when acknowledged, confessed or accepted enables God to a) forgive people of their sins and b) through the Spirit of God, the spirit of this now forgiven person is regenerated producing the experience that is often identified using the term “born again.” The person is “saved,” no longer headed to hell but instead will spend eternity with God.
So far we have seen that minus the inspired, inerrant, infallible view of the Bible, minus the Trinity, minus the divinity of Jesus, minus the virgin birth of Jesus and minus eternal punishment, there are groups within the fundamental Christian and Messianic movements functioning quite well. It would seem however, to be impossible for the atoning, sacrificial death of Jesus to be anything but unanimously agreed upon as an essential. And yet, it isn’t.
Actually what I should say is that it is probably the one unanimous or nearly unanimous essential that all of fundamental Christianity and the Messianic world agree to but it is not unanimous among those who may identify themselves as Christians but reside outside of those worlds. There are many “Christians” who do not believe that God needed a “human sacrifice” in order to save and forgive humanity. That doesn’t mean that they don’t see Jesus as the Saviour but they would define “being saved” much differently. For many, Jesus died for us, not as a sacrifice for our sins, but because he was an enormous threat to those in power, both politically and religiously. In showing us the pathway to God which includes experiencing eternal life or true salvation, i.e. becoming a whole complete human being, prospering in body, soul and spirit and manifesting the image of God, Jesus became a target of the political and religious system of the world. They realized that if He were allowed to continue and if he succeeded, it would be the end of their control and power and so they did what they had to do to try and prevent Jesus from succeeding. Jesus definitely died to “save us” but in a very different way than fundamental Christianity believes.
I once met an ultra-orthodox Rabbi who stated that though he wasn’t really sure what “reformed Judaism” was, he was sure that it definitely wasn’t “true Judaism.” Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if fundamental Christianity and the messianic movement adopted the same attitude towards those “Christians” who don’t see Jesus’ death from the same perspective as they do. They might say as well “I don’t know what it is that they believe but it certainly isn’t “true Christianity.” Despite that possibility, I believe that you can very much disagree with the fundamental view of Jesus’ death and still be very much a Christian.
So far, I have basically pointed out core essentials that I don’t believe actually are that essential. From a purely “Christian” point of view, I guess the only core essential I would say is to follow the teachings of Jesus, whatever you may think they are.
So what is absolutely essential to me? It would certainly seem that I haven’t carried much, if anything over from fundamental Christianity and the messianic movement. I guess I see one thing and one thing only as essential. I will share it and then a couple of other things that are important personally but wouldn’t be as essential as this first one. Ironically, a good friend, Kirk, who was part of our discussion shared his new personal statement of faith.
It is "God IS... and so AM I." I really like it but I am going to alter it slightly and turn it into my primary essential. My version reads:
What is really the only essential for me is the existence of God, the ultimate source of all of creation including me. He/She/It is the supreme being, the creator, divine consciousness, universal awareness, infinite energy, unending life etc. Use whatever “name” you prefer. I exist because God exists. In fact, because God is the source of all of humanity, because all of humanity is in essence a part of God, there is no chance of any of humanity being separated from God at any time since to do so would require God to be separated from parts of Himself which is an impossibility. It is the awareness of this oneness with God and each other that will change humanity and the world. I believe in this God to the degree that I believe He/She/It will bring humanity to the place where everyone is an expression of the image of God. To quote the Bible, God is not willing that any should perish and I believe in a God whose “will” cannot ultimately be thwarted in any way.
In essence I could go so far as to say that the only thing that I would ever have to “worry” about is if God could cease to exist. No God - no me. No God - no you. No God - no universe. His existence however eliminates the possible “worry.” The fact that "God Is" and has created all of this amazing universe convinces me that in the "end" all things will work out to the good for every single being He has created. That is my primary and perhaps only true essential.
My second non-essential essential would be that for me personally, Jesus lived out what it means to truly know and experience God in his entire being. He experienced “eternal life” (which is far more than living forever) and if anyone a) studies his teachings and b) understands them and c) follows them and d) experiences them within themselves, then they can experience the same knowledge of God and experience the same life that Jesus lived, at least in quality of life. He invites everyone to be his disciple and as such, live as He did and experience God as He did and does. He is inviting all of humanity into oneness with God and each other. He is inviting humanity to experience his spirituality and all that it entails as opposed to being a part of a religion that is more preoccupied with facts about Jesus.
I don't see it as absolutely essential that people acknowledge Jesus as Saviour in their lifetime though I believe completely that those who live out his teachings will experience true salvation meaning wholeness, oneness etc. so He is indeed our Saviour, just not in the way that it is often presented. I don't see it essential that people see Him as divine, believe in His virgin birth etc. and no, I don't think God needed Him to die to "forgive us." As sacrilegious as that sounds, I don't think Jesus taught such a thing. He certainly never once suggested such an answer when he was asked what people had to do to inherit eternal life. If people follow the teachings of some other spiritual teacher or simply their own inner guidance and those teachings mirror the teachings of Jesus, then I believe that they will experience the life and presence of God do the degree that those teachings match the teachings of Jesus. As much as I believe Jesus to be the ultimate teacher and expression of God, I also believe that we can find universal truths in a lot of other places besides the Bible and I don't mind looking for them in non-Christian circles. Nature, for example is a great place to start. Buddhism has some wonderful teachings and more and more I am appreciating the teachings found within the native Indians of North America, the Mayans, Toltecs, Jewish kabbalism and yes all those new-agers that I condemned not all that long ago. Truth be told, I don’t see much difference in all of them when we get down to the core of what they teach.
What is ultimately essential for me is to know and experience God and to come to know who I truly am. Meister Eckhart, a Christian mystic said the following:
“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox's or bear's, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”
So you can see that when it comes to essentials, I am travelling very light.
God is... and so... I am--- that’s it. Or to put it another way...
“I am an experience God is having... and so are you.”
Personally, if the following words are true about me, then I will be making a great deal of progress. They are the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas.
“When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”
Blessings, shalom, namaste