In a series of articles before Christmas, I discussed the Revolution that took place with the birth and life of Jesus. The effect on the status of women, the poor, and the marginalised in society was radically altered by Christianity in the years following that first Christmas. But it might be asked: what happened? Where’s the Revolution? The answer is complex, but it speaks to the way in which Christianity has been portrayed and betrayed, often in the name of Jesus, in the centuries since.
Christianity today is often dismissed by the wider society as irrelevant, too concerned with wealth, possessions, status, and condemned for its ties to radical politics, of both the left and right. The role of women is also pointed to as being unfair and discriminatory, keeping them in a subservient and submissive role. To make it all even worse, the Bible is used to justify much of this reactionary behaviour, and so Christianity, as a whole, is cast aside as irrelevant, or, even worse, as a negative influence on the lives of people.
What has led to this dreadful situation? Are the critics justified in their condemnation of Christianity, and religion generally, as a negative influence that we should all outgrow and leave behind as a sad remnant from more primitive and gullible times? This, to be clear, is exactly how it is portrayed by many today.
The basic answer to this is found in a comment by John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School, Oxford University, and teaches for the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme. He was once asked how he explained the fact that Catholic and Protestants in his native Ireland were killing each other in God’s name. His reply was that, in doing so, they were not following Jesus, they were disobeying him.
This is an important point to note. Just because someone claims to be acting on behalf of Jesus does not mean that they are, in fact, doing so. Remember something Jesus said about this kind of thing: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” [Matthew 7.21-23]
This is relevant to questions about the Inquisition, the Crusades, and so many other times when people calling themselves “Christians” showed by their actions that they were disobeying the one they claimed to follow. Lest anyone think this is too facile an explanation, remember this: Christians do not have the right to ignore what Jesus said, or what is contained in the Bible generally. A great deal of the problems facing Christianity today are the result of Christians not taking the Word seriously. Comments like “that was only meant for the early church. Times have changed”, or “you can’t take that literally today”, are too often a rationale for not obeying Jesus’ explicit teaching.
Nevertheless there have always been those throughout the centuries who remained faithful to God’s word and refused to compromise with the demands of politics, or the changing mores and morals of their day. If Christianity is to have the influence on the world today which it should, and could, have, it must return to the, dare I say, fundamentals of what the New Testament teaches. This is not as simple, or as simplistic, as it may sound. To be obedient to the Word of God requires knowing what it actually says. This means reading, thinking and praying before coming to conclusions. It also means not taking any verse of Scripture out of context, or on its own. The proper approach is to take “the whole counsel of Scripture”, finding out what the Bible says on any topic and getting a total understanding on the issue.
Another vital undertaking is to understand how the Revolution that Jesus initiated has been watered down and squashed by religious people over the centuries, and how the teaching and commands of Christ have been sidelined and ignored when it didn’t suit the political, social, or religious situation of the times. That, however, is for another day.