“Some Quaker FAQs” — Part #4
— For New & Curious Friends
(Part 1 of this series is here.
Part 3 of this series is here.)
Q. One more thing about Jesus: Is there any other way to think about him and his life besides the “Bloody-Atoning-Sacrifice-to-satisfy-the-wrath-of-God” notion we looked at last time?
Good question, and the short answer is, yes there is.
That’s a good thing, too, because even for many “non-believers,” Jesus is a figure that’s hard to get rid of. Many of his stories, or parables, make a lot of sense.
And if you look close at the stories about him you can see him repeatedly acting compassionately outside restrictive social norms that put down women and social/religious outcasts, in ways that are not exactly modern, but still provocative and subversive of many forms of oppression.
And then there’s the whole drama of his death; even without a miraculous resurrection, the way he faced his fate, an innocent man unjustly condemned, and the continuing impact he had on his followers (and the world) afterward. Well, many find there’s a lot to it.
So one other way some important theologians have thought about him is, not a sacrifice, but a kind of model for humans to ponder, of how a non-wrathful God might want others to live, or at least learn about life.
One way I put it is that, life is often “christomorphic”: innocent people are persecuted or killed, but often their suffering defies their oppressors and produces some good effects. (Not always, of course; much of life still has a tragic character.)
Q. Does that connect with the talk about a “Personal Relationship With Jesus”? What is that? Do I Need One?
Here’s what the New Covenant Temple creed says all this is supposed to mean to you and me:
We believe that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ gives us everything we need to live through his rich and wonderful promises. Jesus invites us to share in the nature of God that produces a genuine love for everyone.
2 Peter 1:3-8
(More about the New Covenant Temple here.)
What is a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”??
We’ll get to that in a minute. First, what’s this about Jesus “Christ”? You might think “Christ” was Jesus’ last name, like Jesus Smith or Jesus Jones.
Nope. “Christ” is a title: it’s short for “Jesus, the Christ,” like “Jesus, the President,” or “Jesus, the World Champion.” And in the Bible, “the Christ” is a short way of describing the one who was chosen by God and given the power to save everybody.
Try saying that title three times fast: “Jesus-the-one-who-was-chosen-by-God-and-given-the-power-to-save-everybody.” Yeah; plain old “Jesus Christ” will do for me.
Now, back to that “personal relationship.”
This gets a little tricky. When I think of a “personal relationship,” I usually have in mind a connection or involvement with an actual person: My relationship with my father, say; or my relationship with my best friend.
Relationships can be good, bad, or mixed. With a girlfriend who dumped me. The teacher I hated (or liked) most in school. Or a friend I’ve had lots of fun with, but is occasionally annoying. Relationships can also be in the past as well as the present. There’s my BFF David, who died in 1995. Many of my teachers, favorite and otherwise, have died; so has my father.
But what about Jesus? He lived two thousand years ago. Nobody in New Covenant Temple ever met him. Nobody there ever met anybody who met him. They’re read about him, talked about him, heard about him, sung about him, prayed to him.
But many of us have read or heard about Harry Potter, seen him in movies. How does any of this add up to a “personal relationship”?
Here’s the thing: the members at New Covenant believe Jesus is not dead. Yes, he died on that cross, for our sins, but then he was brought back to life and is still alive, only as a “spiritual” person. And if you believe all that happened as they describe it, and open yourself to it, they also believe Jesus will make himself known to you; you will feel his presence.
To use a crude analogy, Jesus can be like something you eat, which goes inside and becomes part of you. (Actually, this idea is not as crude as it sounds; in many churches, members eat special pieces of bread which are supposed to somehow contain Jesus’ body.) Or maybe Jesus is like a medicine you take, which cures you of a disease.
So they believe that Jesus can become real to you, even part of you, and so you can have a “personal relationship” with him almost like you would with a friend or relative who is alive. Except the relationship with Jesus is special, because it also connects you to God.
This experience seems to be very real to many Christians. Like the statement from New Covenant temple says, they feel it gives them “everything [they] need,” and “produces a genuine love for everyone.”
Many people refer to this as being “born again.”
Q. What Happened To The Christians’ “Genuine Love For Everyone”?
One problem with this “personal relationship”, though, is that it’s often hard to recognize the “genuine love for everyone” that it supposedly produces.
For instance, there have been Christian groups that have gone to war against other Christian groups, or against non-Christians. And some Christian groups believed in slavery, and segregation, and violence against women and homosexuals. Some still do. Some of the biggest Christian churches still believe women don’t have equal status with men. (BTW, I’m not pointing at New Covenant here; I don’t know their rules about these matters.)
And many Christian churches are convinced that everyone except their members, including you and me, is going to burn in hell forever, for sure. To use our muddy pit image again, their ladder comes down into the pit with a keypad attached to it. If you don’t enter the “correct” religious passcode (based on their creed), it gets yanked back up – no rescue for you.
There are lots of other differences among Christian groups we could mention.
Yet if all these people are having their “personal relationship” with the same Jesus, how do they end up with so many conflicting ideas and practices? How does this add up to “genuine love for everyone”?
By asking these questions, we’re getting close to the part about how Quaker beliefs can be different from some of these at New Covenant Temple, and many more or less similar churches.
Next Time: How Are Progressive Quaker Beliefs Different from those of the New Covenant kind of churches??
This post is adapted from the booklet, “Some Quaker FAQs,” by Chuck Fager. More information about it is here.