Monday, September 19, 2011

Was Jesus a Christian, African American, Republican or Something Else?

We'd all like to make Jesus (and God) in our image versus seeking to understand and striving to walk in, imitate the image of Jesus and/or God. I do believe the significant point was the humanity of Jesus. One of my students once responded to a question on a quiz that asked about Jesus’ ethnicity with the answer that Jesus was African American. Don’t laugh. In fact that answer is no more far-fetched than the notion, implicitly and explicitly propagated by some, that Jesus was a (Evangelical or otherwise) Christian. In fact, her answer may be closer to the truth.  I often tell my students that Jesus was not a Christian (I was so glad to hear this spoken so publicly by the author of The Shack [a popular book read by so many Christians; must admit I've not read it] William Paul Young the other night at an Ashland Theological Seminary event in Detroit at Hope United Methodist Church). Jesus was Jewish (ethnically and religiously); he lived on the earth, in the eastern Mediterraenean, as a Jewish man. He lived long before the birth of Christianity, although Christians like to connect (retroject) the birth of Christianity back to the actual birth of Jesus before the common era (BC/BCE).  As a universal institutionalized religion, Christianity emerged hundreds of years later. There is no testimony in the New Testament that Jesus came to create a new religion or a religious institution centered on himself. Jesus, in all four Gospels, came to be “God with us,” “among us,”  “the (present and future) Basileia (trans. Kingdom) of God, and/or to glorify God. (Yes, Matthew’s Gospel does seem to say that an assembly/gathering (ekklesia) of believers was established around Peter’s name [Matthew 16:18]; but we do know that different assemblies (ekklesiai) existed in Jerusalem and Antioch and other places from the Acts of the Apostles. And this is not too much different than the assemblies that met in Jewish houses of prayer (proseuchae) and/or synagogues).  Jesus practiced the Jewish rituals and observed the Holy and feast days from birth to the grave (first through his parents and lastly through devout Jews).

Jesus was considerably, I believe, more theocentric than Christianity tends to be.  Humanity was created in the image of God. Jesus bore the image of God as the son of God (however, we understand the “image of God”). In John’s Gospel (and elsewhere like Philippians), Jesus sometimes appears to be subordinate to God. At other times, God and Jesus are said to be one and/or at least so close that only Jesus is entrusted with certain information, secrets, or mysteries (the middleperson between God and the rest of creation). Jew was Jewish, theocentric, and never evangelized for the not yet established Christian Church.