‘Til the moon deserts the sky, ‘Til all the seas run dry,
‘Til then I’ll worship You.
‘Til the tropic sun grows cold, ‘Til this young world grows old,
My Darling, I’ll adore You.
You are my reason to live! All I own I would give
Just to have You adore me.
‘Til the rivers flow upstream, ‘Til lovers cease to dream,
‘Til then I’m Yours. Be mine.
– Carl Sigman (1909-2000), from “Till” (1961)
As we mourn a religion that is frankly dying, and is far enough now down the fatal slope that its end seems to be inevitable, it seems suitable for us to pause and to look back briefly, and to wonder. What has gone wrong with Christianity? And how might things have turned out differently if the original Way of Jesus had not been hijacked by the Romans in the year 325, and if instead the Lord’s perfect teachings had been allowed to spread quietly from heart to heart and nation to nation beneath all the radar until they gently took over the world?
I have my own ideas, but my ideas are biased by my sense of betrayal by the religion that for most of my life I have loved so much. So I have been cruising around the internet this week in search of other theories. And I have found no end of theories! One in fact suggests that the internet itself is the problem, and that “Christianity is declining in America. Its root cause is outdated U.S. Internet unaccountability policy that imposes amoralism, a doctrine of not caring about right and wrong.” I guess I would say in response that if the religion is already so weak that the advent of the internet alone has been enough to kill it, then it must already have been pretty far gone!
Perhaps the most prominent theory, though, is some version of our having outgrown the need for religions altogether. As we have become more sophisticated as individuals and as a worldwide community, we have come to see through the excessively simplistic and fear-based dogmas of Christianity, and perhaps of other religions as well. We are at the point of freeing ourselves from being told scary and often internally contradictory fables meant to force us into pews each week. I understand how those fables have betrayed earnest Christians, since I have heard from so many people who have told me how they have felt betrayed. People have been writing to me, and have told me about what they once believed, and how those beliefs no longer feel right to them. Or how their former churches no longer feel welcoming. Or perhaps how something else has gone wrong in their old relationships with Christianity. And what feels to them like a sudden disconnect seems to trouble them very much indeed! The point is that they have not become atheists. And they certainly haven’t given up on Jesus. I don’t think that I have heard from anyone who has suddenly decided that there is no God! But for all of them, it is the religion itself that is no longer making sense. And this disconnect is happening fast.
It has been estimated that sixteen million American women have left Christianity in just the past decade. Come to think of it, most of the people who have lately emailed me about leaving Christianity have indeed been women. So in recent years, we might say that this death of Christianity in the United States seems to be at least in part a phenomenon of women pulling away from churches where they no longer feel welcome, either because the dogmas feel barbaric – that was what finally chased me away – or because the church-people have become cliquish, snobbish, and self-righteous, which can be one result of horrific church doctrines like Calvinism. So whenever you do these investigations into why religions worldwide are dying, you end up finding good reasons why the process is ongoing, at least in the case of Christianity.
Christianity was clearly born to die of its own false and fear-based dogmas. When you plant a tree you must plant it straight, or eventually it will topple of its own crooked weight.
Our intended topic this week was to wonder what The Jesus Movement could have been like today if the Roman Emperor Constantine never had seized and usurped The Way of Jesus. But first we needed a frame-verse. That is how we start the blogging process each week. First of all, Thomas and I set out to search my mind for a frame-verse to give us some inspiration around our proposed topic, but this time we couldn’t find a hymn that adequately expressed the way that I have come to feel about sweet Master Jesus. So then Thomas found a non-Christian song in my larger mental database of songs and poems, and he suggested it to me with a chuckle because the lyrics sounded silly to him. He thought it was perfect, though, for our topic, what with worship and miracles among the lyrics, and with my promising Jesus that I would live for Him and promising to be His. But I rejected it at once. Good grief! I barely even remembered that song from when I was a teenager. He insisted that it was spot-on, but so what? It was a drippy teenage love song! I went looking for a suitable hymn on the internet. My relationship with Jesus is highly unusual, and the fact that I have a personal relationship with Jesus at all has grown from my spirit guide’s amazing relationship with Jesus, and from the fact that he now sometimes takes me with him when he visits with Jesus. Almost no one trailing a silver cord ever gets to meet with Jesus. And even at that, Thomas won’t let me remember most of our meetings. I only know that they sometimes happen.
And it was just when we started to look for a frame-verse this week that I realized the extent to which I have fallen completely in love with Jesus. Omigod. The word “charismatic” was literally invented to describe how it feels to be around Him. It is no wonder to me that He attracted crowds when He was on earth! Jesus is a people-magnet. And the way that He looks at you, the love that He expresses for you individually just by meeting your eyes is indescribable. It is God’s love, literally. I have never felt so much love from anyone! And yet, He has no ego at all. The one person who really deserves to feel self-important has no ego whatsoever. The more I looked for a hymn to use as a frame-verse, the more that gushy teen love song that Thomas had found and resurrected kept playing in my mind. I would do anything for Jesus. And so would you! Thomas and I have been bickering for years about how long I will be willing to stay on earth. But for Jesus, for God literally who is trying so hard now and so touchingly to maintain His status as a human being, I would live to be a hundred and twenty years old if He wanted that. I will teach the Gospels on earth for Him for so long as I can speak. That song, word for word, is what I would do for Jesus. So, there it is. Our frame-verse this week is a gushy teenage love song to the Lord.
And my rediscovering that song after half a century as I also am revisiting Jesus’s Gospel teachings and writing the scripts for teachingsbyjesus.com is giving me another revelation. Why on earth has Christianity ever even remotely ranked the merely derivative letters of Paul with the precious Gospel words of Jesus? Except for 1Cor 13, which Thomas tells me was channeled from God through Paul, and which you clearly can see was channeled when you view it in context – except for that one letter – all the letters of Paul are merely Gospels commentary! Only Jesus is God. There is no other. He came to earth so God could “look through His eyes” (as Thomas has expressed it to me), and come to better understand people on God’s behalf. So then Jesus could develop the teachings that He spent those three years and more delivering to us. The Lord’s Gospel words are sacred! By comparison, the words in all the rest of the Christian Bible are mere dross.
And the historical record shows that Jesus did indeed have an amazing effect on those who knew Him personally. His Way spread rapidly during the first three hundred years after His death and resurrection, as far away as Rome and to millions of people in the Mediterranean region before the Romans under Constantine decided that a variant of the Lord’s message could be useful to the Romans as a means of fear-based control. So then they invented at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 what became Christianity. But let us imagine now that instead, Constantine came up with some other means of controlling the masses seventeen hundred years ago. And let us further assume that the teachings of Jesus were preserved in the canonical Gospels by some other means, and they spread peacefully under the radar of the powerful and the brutal – no Inquisitions; no Crusades – to then be passed along and taught over all the world, just as we have them today. What then would the world be like, do you think? Can we even begin to imagine that world now?
I think that this would be something like the world as it would be today:
- The Jesus Movement. There would of course be no Christian religion. Instead, people would carry a skinny black book – you can read it in an evening! – of the sayings of Jesus alone. And yes, it might be those same four canonical Gospels. People might be reading the other Gospels, too. They don’t add much.
- A Lot Less Fear. Without that fear-based religion, we would never have had the worry of sin, but we would have had instead the certainty of God’s love and forgiveness and God’s kingdom overspreading the earth. Jesus talks about God’s kingdom overspreading the earth at least a hundred times through all four canonical Gospels, and that would have become most of our focus over the past two thousand years. It would have made a gigantic difference!
- History Would Have Unfolded Very Differently. As I have experimented with living history forward with The Jesus Movement for the past two thousand years, I must say that all of history moves very differently. Most Christians don’t understand that Jesus actually abolished the very concept of sin. He did away with the Sabbath as well. He set about freeing us in so many ways that The Jesus Movement soon would bring to light, and He made of loving and serving our neighbor a kind of radical joy that really does upend everything. The first shall be last. The mighty fall away, and the gentle really do inherit the earth.
You can play with it yourself, once you internalize what Jesus actually taught! In no version of world history that I have come up with over the past week do we end up with a continent-wide United States. And we don’t have major wars, although we do get skirmishes, especially during the first thousand years or so, that courageous groups of people step in and talk down. Countries, yes, but they tend to be smaller and governed by consensus. Membership in The Jesus Movement grows and grows, kind of like a Boy and Girl Scouts thing for grown-ups. It becomes something that eventually pretty much everyone wants to do because it makes people happy. It includes a lot of gigantic get-togethers, like Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, and beachy backyard holidays all year round that virtually merge together and include a lot of singing and pep talks.
The thing is that leaders don’t seem to develop. People seem to want to do everything by consensus. That takes longer, but with nothing to measure it against, it feels normal. I think that perhaps people have an aversion to leaders except in times of stress, and living by love eases stress and makes people happier. And crime doesn’t entirely disappear, but it mostly does; and then crime becomes something like a socially embarrassing abnormality. Can you imagine a society in which people are choosing to live more varied and always peaceful lives, and by now that choice has been simply normal for at least the past thousand years? Men and women live essentially equal lives, both doing childcare, both supporting the family? Eventually you probably don’t really need either soldiers or police, because when necessary everyone helps to create immediate peace. People don’t go to gatherings just on Sundays, but it’s more a community sort of thing. A lot of spiritual sharing happens in people’s homes as well as in community centers, and in monthly and quarterly events in larger places, and annual events in off-season sports stadiums. There seem to be charismatic people who arise now and then and try to mimic Jesus and get laughed off the stage, and also modest people who are listened to because they give thoughtful discourses on what Jesus taught but they don’t try to replace the historical Jesus. I don’t know. At first, it seemed to be impossible. But the more I think about it, the more I think it really could have happened.
And my dear blog friends, The Fun of Loving Jesus – Embracing the Christianity That Jesus Taught is just now in print. This book is the companion to the upcoming website, teachingsbyjesus.com, so it is true to what Jesus actually said but if it is first found by evangelicals it is likely to get some poor reviews! Therefore I would love it if you would read it first, and would give it your own thoughtful Amazon review. If you will send me an email through the green contact block on robertagrimes.com, I will send you a review copy in PDF. Thank you!