Luke 9: 52-55 tells a revealing little story about Jesus’ attitude to people who held beliefs that were different from his own. When he was heading to Jerusalem as a pilgrim, villagers in Samaritan territory did not welcome him, since they did not accept Jerusalem as the main holy place of their religion. Refusing hospitality to Jerusalem pilgrims was their way of making their point. James and John, disciples of Jesus, then asked if they should call down fire from heaven on these heretics. Jesus turned and rebuked them. He did not want them imagining that God would back their prejudice.
I read in my newspaper today of a splendid group of Christians in USA called the “Return to Order Campaign” who have denounced a new film based on a book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The film stars David Tennant as the demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale who cooperate to prevent the coming of the Antichrist. The Christian group complain that this “makes Satanism appear normal, destroying the barriers of horror that society still has for the devil.” Even worse, “God is voiced by a woman!!” The group has form for they have previously expressed outrage at an ice-cream company called “Sweet Jesus.”
I can imagine a returning Jesus being charmed by this and buying ice creams for the disciples.
On another occasion he refused to criticise other healers who were using his name, indicating that he saw them as supporters.
Christianity has been weakened by a sectarianism in which groups of believers designate others as heretics and agents of the devil. This is the result of dogmatism that is not wholly absent from the pages of the New Testament. A religion of the word is always in danger of thinking the word of its message is more important than the word made flesh “ who dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” If there is a genuine point of separation in the tradition of Jesus, it is between those who say “Lord, Lord,” and those who “do the will of the father.” The Christian community ought always to value people who act in the spirit of Jesus’ father even if their doctrine is a bit dodgy, rather than those whose doctrine is perfectly orthodox but have neglected to act in the divine spirit.
Over the centuries the mainstream churches have rightly upheld the doctrine that God is revealed in Jesus his son, but have failed to take seriously enough the teaching and character of that man.