Faced with Christian believers who claim to know Jesus intimately as their Saviour, I am often startled by how little they cherish his life, teaching, ministry, and human character. For them it seems enough that he was born, died on the cross, rose again, is alive and loves them. If, as John’s Gospel has it, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, then the classic Christian response has often been that it is too long and must be abbreviated, as if the essence of Jesus could be captured in the words of the creed, “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead…he ascended into heaven…sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” In churches where the memory of Jesus is celebrated and taught, the creed does no harm; but as soon as the memory of Jesus, including its incorporation in the Gospels, is neglected, the very substance of God’s word, that is, Jesus himself, is removed, allowing believers to invent a Jesus who offers no contradiction to their cherished moral and political convictions.
Some of this derives from the misunderstanding of St. Paul by the great figures of the Protestant reformation, whose view of salvation by grace alone focused the believer’s attention on the saving death and resurrection of Jesus to the gradual exclusion of the gospel narrative. Protestant churches here in Scotland with their abhorrance of images, have left their buildings bare of any vibrant representation of the life and teaching of Jesus. A small advance was made in the Sunday School movement in Victorian cities, which taught children the life of Jesus, wrongly assuming that adult members were familiar with it. This has contributed to the sad fact that many members of my church today last studied Jesus’ life in Sunday School.
At best, this bias distorts the Church’s worship, message, and mission. At worst it permits a form of Christianity which is little more than an enthusiastic expression of believers’ prejudice. An example of this worst are the Trump – supporting evangelical churches of the USA, who have lost all sense of Jesus other than as a presence who blesses their hatreds and will lift them up the air to meet him when the Rapture comes. Their claiming of Jesus as a Trump supporter has led, however, to a critical response in the from of the movement in the USA which has called itself RECLAIMING JESUS created by The Sojourners Community (worth googling) and its friends. There is happily nothing quite as alarming in Scotland as Trump- Jesus, but there are churches here claiming close adherence to Jesus Christ as God’s word, who have lost any sense of the human Jesus along with any desire to continue his ministry.
There are also churches of all theological positions, who have quite recently developed ministries of social care and justice, and know that their work could be better resourced by reclaiming the life of Jesus as their dearest possession. They are rediscovering with delight and wonder the unique character of Jesus and his explosive commitment to abundant life for all people, and especially for the poor, the outcast, the oppressed and the sinners. They find that the stories of the gospels express the wisdom and excitement of Jesus’ ministry in ways which can enrich the minstry of their churches.
RECLAIMING JESUS MEANS BEING RECLAIMED BY JESUS
Yes, I would like to see a Reclaiming Jesus movement in Scotland, but there is a danger that it could get trapped in the very kind of religious emotionalism that Jesus detested. “Blessed are the breasts that suckled you” a woman shouted to Jesus, who replied soberly, “Blessed are those who know God’s will and do it.” Any true reclamation has to take into account that the deadly enemies of Jesus were religious people on the one hand, scandalised by his friendship with people who were not religious, and on the other, the power holders who reckoned that Jesus’ kingdom might be more popular than theirs. To reclaim Jesus and be reclaimed by him is likely to be dangerous, but unlikely to be dull.
Where do I want people to start?
1. Read the gospel of Mark through at one sitting, say two hours. If there is one small thing you might do as a result, do it.
2. Find a modern version of the Lord’s prayer ( Good News, Revised English, New International), write it or type it boldly on card, and say it daily.
3. If you are interested, comment on this blog.
I will provide more information for getting started in my next blog.
( Rembrandt in his art reclaimed Jesus for his time and place)