What Jesus wants

“This is the church Jesus would have established,” the woman tells me. She is sitting next to me along with about 30 other people in the living room of an old house converted into a church. Four rows of chairs face a wall that is adorned by a single map of the Middle East with lines that don’t appear to demarcate modern-day countries. Is it from Jesus’ time? The woman is in her early 60s, but her big upside down glasses and floral print dress put her worlds away from my own mom whose usual Sunday attire is yoga pants. She elaborates, “Say, you came to earth and you didn’t know anything and you found a Bible and you read the New Testament, this is the church you would create based on what it says in there.”

I’ve entered what some people might call the “fundamental” phase of this experience. This is comprised of churches whose congregants insist that the Bible is the “inerrant” world of God and, from what I can tell, that means they think every word is absolutely true including the part about how the earth was made in seven days. Some of these folks call theories of evolution “false science.” I was hoping they were mythical creatures I would never encounter. But here they are in surprising abundance within a stone’s throw of two major universities world-renowned for the research that takes place in their abundant laboratories.

I started on this path the previous Sunday when I attended services in a one-room Baptist church. It was an adorable building, all whitewashed wood with a perfect little steeple. The sort of church you might find in miniature at a hobby shop. But when I walked in the front door, I was automatically standing in the chapel. The congregation of about 20 adults was assembled early for a bit of bible study so I had entered in the middle of this activity and everyone in attendance turned at once to see who had come in. They were all in couples and suddenly I felt like the Jezebel come to snatch husbands. I have never been more thankful for my default angel status. The Bible says, “Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels.” I forced my friendliest smile, and they had to smile back because it says so in Hebrews (13:2). When I walked in this week, I was relieved when everyone was a little more subtle about checking me out.

“Oh, good,” I say to the lady who tells me her church is what Jesus himself would have set up. I nod as if this makes perfect sense. I am sitting in what is called a “church of Christ.” The “c” is purposely not capitalized. A man gets up and makes a few announcements and then all the men sitting in the congregation chime in. They chat as the women sit quietly. Just like the week before, the ladies utter not one word. It says in 1 Corinthians (14:34), “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak.” It seems they are holding tight to this recommendation.

24 thoughts on “What Jesus wants

  1. You really captivated me on this essay. I’d be sure to entertain yourself pretty well because who knows maybe you are an angel unawares? FYI Just in case as a none You may not realize but Kabbalah A mystical Jewish path Teaches the Big Bang And science Discovered an energy From a big bang. However esoteric Sources in spiritual Says Cavemen Dinosaurs and humans All existed simultaneously And that humans devolved to caveman because of their gross nature. So much for posting using my phone. You’re really great writer on this 1.

    • Hey Corinna,

      I’m living to know what the lower case “c” in church of Christ means!

      In my own Church, the lower case “C” in chela that becomes capital when we fully live up to being a Chela under our chosen Guru. Be it Jesus or any other “Saint Robed in White” as dictated by Saint John’s Guru Jesus to him and recorded in the Book of Revelation.

    • It’s interesting and I have a theory about churches

      1 Corinthians 11:24 says Jesus took the bread, broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you..”

      There are several references where Jesus says the church is the body of Christ and I don’t think the different denominations are a mistake or a surprise.

      Because churches are filled with people, and groups of people inherently suck and do mean things, we don’t see the work of Christ in them.

      However, I think Jesus specifically organized it that way.

      Not sure why, and I find the organized church a tiresome experience, but I have to conclude it’s still the manifest hand of God.

      That’s part of what makes Corinna’s exploration so exciting

    • Jesus through the Apostles and other Disciples (eyewitnesses) did in fact gather together every week to worship and encourage each other to keep the faith, learn from each other for as with any group one may remember something another has forgotten or was absent when a certain event occurred and to share with those in need.. In scripture when Jesus changes the disciple’s name to Peter (Cepheus or Rock.) he says “and upon this Cepheus I will build my Church” The Apostles then began establishing churches in each town in which there were a group of converts as witnessed by Paul who wrote letters to “the Church in Ephesus” etc. At those times the church was in someones house and in secret during persecutions.People learned about Christ through catechesis or echoing the words of Christ and the Disciples. The problem today is that churches are being established on favorite portions of scripture and not on the complete revelation and traditions handed down by the Apostles and their disciples. We tend to ignore the hard parts. Jesus does not.

      • Rex, we’ve see some history shared here regarding two branches: from Luther and Calvin. I’d be interested to see some history before that point shared here. I’m not sure Jesus meant he’d build an outer church upon the rock of Peter but the Rock of Christ. Jesus was called “the Christ” out of his mantle of the Holy Spirit in manifestation rather than Jesus the man. We worship that mind that was in Jesus as the Christ Mind rather than the outer shell of Jesus. And yes, he was transfigured, but his body was filled with the spirit. And we are to become filled too.

        I’ve shared some myself regarding Emperor Constantine not being such a holy guy at the council of Nicaea in 325. He declared upon penalty of death people of his lands would follow the agree upon doctrine. If Saint Paul where here, he could tells us, I suppose?

  2. Well….so, what do we call you now….Jez? It sounds like you’ve gotten a chance to practice some Christian graces….eg, loving your neighbor, being patient, kind, etc. :-)) (my version of the smiley face). Michelle and I were involved in a “fundamentalist” group of churches for about 30 years, though not church of Christ. During that time, we would have used the word “inerrant” or “infallible” as well. It took me years to realize that saying such invariably led believers into a lot of wrangling about words and mostly served to distract and divide both Christians and non-Christians from Jesus’ agenda. While Jesus said, “I will build my church (or assembly–ie, his people), he wasn’t speaking about buildings or forms of worship. My own view is that I should stick to what the Bible says about itself: “Scripture,” “inspired by God,” the writers were “carried along by the Holy Spirit”. It is authoritative in my life, and tells us as much as–I think–God wanted us to know. I try not to go beyond that, though I am indeed “errant.” I also keep in mind that, for whatever reason, we don’t have the original Hebrew and Greek writings (called the “autographs”). I believe that they are mostly understandable to anyone–else, why all those Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms for so many years? Since I believe it’s God’s word, he can make it clear enough, and has given his people his Spirit to do so (I don’t consider myself a mystic or gnostic, but there is certainly great mystery here). God is not limited to my understanding, and I don’t have to defend him–he is well able to do so himself.
    Keep searching for truth and essential wisdom. God give you guidance, Corinna. (ps: I won’t say “Jez,” cuz she was trying to turn people away from God).

  3. I was a church secretary once, at a small Lutheran church. One day I was working on the bulletin and one of the parishioners was helping me. She was an older woman – I was in my 50’s at the time, she was in her late 70’s. We were talking about different things as we worked, and she was very much into the “What Would Jesus Do” movement. She wore a bracelet, and she was talking about how she always asked herself that question before any important action.

    I am afraid I profoundly shocked her, because my immediate and honest response was “If I were in a position to apply the ‘what would Jesus do?’, I’d probably go curse a fig tree!” Alas, she never looked at me in quite the same way again. What I meant by it was that I am pretty well aware of my shortcomings and I know that my first instinct is often NOT what Jesus preached (back to that old original sin thingie again, lol).

    What this has to do with your post is mostly that I am somewhat….wary…..for want of a better term, of any absolutism beyond that in the creed – Jesus was crucified and rose again – and that repentance and faith on him promises eternal life. I seem to see such absolutism as leading to something I’ve mentioned before, which is Christianity devolving into arguments as to how many angels dance…..

    I struggle with the concept of inerrancy and literalism, and the best I can do is say that I believe the Bible is absolutely true, but not always absolutely literal. There are many, probably including my own priest, who would disagree with me. What I keep coming back to in my beliefs must of necessity resolve into the most simple of terms, because that is all I can comprehend. And one of the earliest church prayers sums it up pretty thoroughly: “Lord Jesus Christ. Son of the Living God. Have mercy on me a sinner.” When I am lost in theological threads and worries about whether I have understood something or whether I am doing what Jesus would do or whether others are lost if they don’t believe and I am lost for my lack of faith, this is the prayer to which I return.

    Corinna, it’s good that you are experience so many variations in the Christian practice. It’s good to see different styles and methods of worship. I always had a sneaking suspicion that God is quite capable of understanding that we Christians require different flavors of ice cream, and indeed, in the first century Church there were LOTS of different flavors. So keep looking.

    I will say that where Jesus Christ Himself is alive and active in an assembly of His people, you cannot help but notice it and feel it. I wish you that joy.

    Yours in Christ.

    • Great advice, Patti! I think I could probably write a big ditto mark after it! You may have gathered that I have a very “high view” of the Scriptures–I understand them to be “God’s word”–but I don’t like the terms ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ because I’ve discovered that the meaning given those terms ends up with so many nuances put upon because–so I believe–people are forced into making them internally consistent with whatever system of theology they happen to follow. I thoroughly enjoyed your final statement about Jesus being alive and active in his people, you can’t help but notice. I used tell people to go wherever the Bible was “faithfully preached,” but I’ve since realized that in many of the churches I was associated with, the understanding of the Bible has devolved into a form of bibliolatry. I heard someone recently characterize it as a “new Trinity” of the “Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.”….that just makes me want to puke! (pardon my French) 🙂

      • oops! I forgot to add this: Some churches/people make a virtue out of studying the Bible verse by verse, looking carefully at each word in the original languages. There is some merit in looking at Greek and Hebrew, and words are the vehicles for expressing the thoughts and concepts that we want to communicate–but in saying that, I have seen too many miss the forest for the trees. A lot of wrangling about the Bible would disappear if we would look for the big picture of what Jesus was seeking to communicate.

  4. Corinna, in light of the goal mentioned in your subtitle, I am looking forward to seeing what “essential wisdom to live better” you mine from the fundamentalists. I really am. I never could find any. In fact, (this is just my opinion, your mileage may vary) I’ve found that the least wisdom and the most danger comes from the fundamentalist extreme of any religion. I think it has to do with humility and unconditional love, or the lack thereof.

    • I agree with you, “homewithin”. The writings of the mystics of all religions (people who had a direct experience with the divine and then took the time to write about it) give evidence of humility and compassion as the product of that experience. It seems necessary for us plebians of the world to have a holy story and a credo, but it is best to view it wearing one’s poet’s hat, and see that the story is pointing to a greater Truth that cannot be adequately conveyed in mere words.

  5. I winced at your story. I recognized myself in the woman as I used to be in my early days of passionate faith. I used to know so much with certainty. But the more I learn, the less I know. I still have a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, but it is more because of my relationship with him and the years of “trudging the happy road of destiny” than all the volumes of book “knowledge” I’ve accumulated over the years. Please forgive me if some of my entries come across as Mr. Know-It-All. I’m trying not to be dogmatic any more. Thank you so much for your honesty, Corinna. And keep it up.

  6. Most serious theologians grimace at people who see the Bible as the inerrant word of God. As one put it, “The Bible was never meant to be a science nor a history text, and to treat it as such insults the purpose for which God created it.” I like to think the Bible is a long, evolving love letter from God to His people, starting with simple stories (the Pentateuch) and developing ever more intimate and profound lessons (the Psalms) until it climates in the ultimate expression of love, Jesus, death on a cross for all of us. There are too many conflicting passages, too much variation, to take it literally, and doing so paints all of the faithful with the same ignorant brush stroke. Are we to take the writings of Paul on how to treat slaves literally? Did you ask the woman how she dares to speak in church in light of 1 Corinthians 14:34? Why would God create us with such an inquisitive mind and then not give us a reason to use it? think He expects us to use our minds to further His purposes on earth, which do not include trying to debunk science, which in its own way give us a profound insight on the magnificence of His creation.

    • The following words are from a great book entitled Oneness: Great Principles Shared By All Religions. It was compiled by Jeffrey Moses, and because I am not a theological scholar or historian, I have to take his word for it that these are actual words or accurate interpretations of the actual texts. This one comes from Hindu scripture:
      Study the words, no doubt, but look
      Behind them to the thought they indicate,
      And having found it, throw the words away
      As chaff when you have sifted out the grain.

      Seems to be sound advice.

  7. Great stuff!!! Merrill, that 4-line piece of wisdom is priceless. Tim, couldn’t agree more with this: ” the Bible is a long, evolving love letter from God to His people”. Mark, when you said this: “I still have a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, but it is more because of my relationship with him and the years of ‘trudging the happy road of destiny’ than all the volumes of book ‘knowledge’ I’ve accumulated over the years”, I said “YES!” right out loud. And Jan, I love the poet’s hat method: “the story is pointing to a greater Truth that cannot be adequately conveyed in mere words.” Wow, it’s a good feeling for me, to find people echoing my own heart.

  8. The title of your article intrigues me. “What Jesus Wants.”

    So many great comments here! I’ve enjoyed reading them all. Corinna, I especially appreciate your approach, and through it you have discovered the wide breadth of Christianity. The Bible talks about it. Once, one of the disciples said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.” That sounds pretty exclusive doesn’t it! But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.” Another time Jesus was going through a Samaritan village but the people did not welcome Him. So two of the disciples said, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” Jesus gave them heck over their attitude.

    So you have visited folks of the liberal persuasion and now folks of the conservative persuasion. Those on the “right” (to use a cultural identifier) hold to more orthodox beliefs, with a high value of personal piety. In their churches you will quite clearly hear that Jesus died for your sins and if you believe in Him and what He has done for you, your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. There’s an emphasis on living morally pure lives. They have a more literal approach to the Scriptures. Often people tend to see this side as narrow minded and judgmental. Corinna, you said you kind of dreaded even the thought that they existed.

    Then there’s the more liberal side of Christianity or the “left.” These people believe Jesus died to liberate the oppressed. To them, salvation is not so much about forgiveness and personal piety and heaven, but about making the world a better place. They believe in the good of humanity and the power of humans to improve our lot. They are comfortable with “naturalizing” the “spiritual.” This view embraces everyone just as they are — that is, except for the theological conservatives, whom they judge sharply.

    Then there are those who kind of focus on the church and its survival because . . . well, I’m not sure, but I think they feel it’s the right thing to do and if you take care of the church, it will take care of you.

    Now these are certainly very broad strokes I have written here, and you all may disagree with my somewhat simplistic definitions. What is hitting me in reading this post is the title (which I love): “what Jesus wants.”

    Each view, it seems to me, misses the point. The “right” tend to rely on living the right way in order to be okay with God. The “left” think they refuse to judge people, thus making them acceptable to God. But actually they judge those on the “right” as wrong. Both groups are striving in their own efforts to reach God. Where in the world is Jesus and what does He want?

    Jesus calls us all to the cross. That is, none of us can make ourselves right before God by our own efforts. Once Corinna commented, ‘I saw that big old cross up there and it looked like it would stab me.’ At the cross, we are all equals. It’s not about being good enough or about making the world a better place or seeing that the church survives as an institution, although all these efforts are part of it. It’s about recognizing your need for salvation, which the cross identifies.

    The hardest thing is to humble yourself and admit that we can’t do enough or be good enough to save ourselves. It’s about bowing before Jesus, putting your confidence in Jesus for everything, and living with Him right now, as if you have already begun the resurrection. It is not easy. But that is what’s transformative. The rest kind of sidetracks us to rely on rules or doing good or simply going to church. But what is truly liberating is to be liberated from living in our own kingdom into His kingdom.

    Hope you all have a great weekend.

  9. Ginger,
    As a non-Christian by choice (not, however, anti-Christian), I usually find your ONSS replies to be impersonal and tedious, but I do respect your right to state your beliefs and opinions. However, as a member of a liberal religious Church, I was offended by your “broad stroke” comments about the beliefs and the believers of liberal faiths. Your writing exhibited both a lack of experience and knowledge, as well as a denigrating tone in your views of liberal religions—-which can’t all be swept into the same bin, by the way. Please stick to what you know.
    Merrill Thomsen

    • Hi Merrill. Ginger may correct me, but I think she was commenting on liberal Christian churches, not on liberal faiths in general. I’ve been a Christian for many years, active and acquainted with churches of many different stripes, and it seems that how she divided up reflects a certain reality on both left and right (of the Christian churches). I don’t believe different denominations are necessarily a bad thing, (I like the 60s song “different strokes for different folks, and so on…..”), but I often think about all the in-fighting there is among and between these different groups. I think that the world rightly condemns us when we don’t reflect what Jesus said to us about how people will know that we are HIS disciples (learning from him and following him and doing what he says rather than our own agendas) if we love one another. He wasn’t speaking about any gushy love feelings, either. He had just washed the disciples’ feet (including Judas’) and told them to do the same thing–be servants to one another. (This conversation is in the Gospel of John, chapter 13).

      • Yes, Walt, exactly what I meant. In my denomination (Presbyterian) there’s a great deal of infighting within our own ranks. And, we are a mainline, generally liberal denomination. I was raised in it and like you, sprinkled (next post). Then, as a young adult, in trouble, needing help with a broken marriage, a baby and another on the way, was referred to a very fundamental church (Church of God, Anderson, IN). I really learned the Bible while in that church and the congregation saved my sanity, so to speak, with their love, acceptance, and support. I was re-baptized (immersed, just like you) and it was an exceedingly hope-filled event to me. I met my current husband. We eventually moved and found a young, vibrant Presbyterian church. We decided to go there rather than stay in the more fundamental denomination because I wanted our children to have a reformed foundation, and a little more educated approach to spiritual formation. That being said, I have a deep appreciation for what each one has to offer, but also it deeply saddens me about the judgment that comes out of each side for the other. As you say, it’s a bad witness to the world; definitely not reflecting well on our Savior, and that’s heartbreaking. You expressed it well.

  10. FYI
    I was reaffirmed a ‘none and ALL’ after listening to several Bill Moyers interviews with JOSEPH CAMPBELL (circa 1988). Joseph (another “JC” who graced the Earth, GAIA) was wonderful to hear. It was good to know there are others out there who made ME feel less crazy in a religious (but not so spiritual) world!
    Interviews were 6 on Joseph Campbel’s THE POWER OF MYTH. I STILL review them for a sanity check!!!

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