Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Christ?

Christ. What is Christ? Why Christ? Is Christ today distinct from the historical Jesus Christ, and how? Why would one man at one time have so much significance, and no one else, nowhere else, at no other time?

When people speak of having a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I have a hard time translating that experience into a language I can understand. I don't believe any one time in history is any more spiritually significant than any other. Why would only people after the time of Jesus get to have this kind of relationship, and not those before his time? We here today are no more spiritually important or significant than those who lived before the time of Jesus. So Jesus Christ in this context must be symbolic.

In terms of Christ being a Lord and/or Savior, I'm not so sure. I don't believe in the biblical definition of sin. I believe that humans make mistakes, that we cannot avoid making mistakes, and that mistakes are how we learn. To be saved from our mistakes, well, what would we learn from that? I'm not really sure where I'm going with this; perhaps I am being too literal?

There is another way I look at the idea of Christ as someone or something with which one can have a personal relationship. I can relate to the idea of the presence of Jesus in one's life as I experience the presence of my brother in my life. My brother left an indelible mark on who I am and how I am, such that I consider him an integral part of myself. Potentially, one could become so steeped in the teachings of Christ, so involved in the spirituality of Christ, that Christ could become a presence in one's life similarly to how my brother is a presence in my life. It would certainly be a different sort of relationship than that which I have with my brother, but it's the same idea.

In thinking about that now, though, something about it makes me a little uncomfortable. This may seem like an absurd question, but would Jesus really want that? When he was alive, he was speaking to his Jewish community at the time. Who am I to invade that sacred space? Who am I to take his teachings, already translated in various ways many times over, out of their original context to apply as I wish to my own life? Perhaps I am thinking about this the wrong way. (Is there a wrong way to think about this?)

In any case, I am not well steeped in the teachings of Christ as found in the Bible, and perhaps that is where I should go now before anywhere else.

Love and Light,
Claire

12 comments:

Bill Samuel said...

Well, Claire, that would be a good starting point.

Jesus' Great Commission appears in one form or another five times in the New Testament. It is a call to make disciples in all nations - among all peoples. So it's not something exclusive to a particular group at a particular time.

In a foundational passage for Friends, the beginning of John is about the Word of God which has existed before creation and became flesh in Jesus. People before the time of the incarnation were not excluded - early Quakers were very clear about that in their doctrinal writings.

Delving deeply into the gospels and early Quaker writings might help you find a Jesus Christ that doesn't fit in the box that many churches seem to present. Maybe then you can grasp the centrality of Jesus Christ in a way that's not been presented to you thus far.

forrest said...

This is good on an intellectual level--but what is not clear, here, is: Do you relate to God as a real, actual mind/personality?

Some people with that kind of mystical connection use the traditional name and image of "Jesus".

The historical man Jesus himself is a good window into what God is like & what he wants of us--but not a magic word to take the place of that mystical connection.

I am inviting people I appreciate (but don't know) to blog communally on Quaker matters at
A Quaker Watering Hole--that means you!

(and of course those I've known awhile (You, too, Bill!) are likewise invited!)

and please, A Friendly Scripture Study has needed more good Friends for awhile now!

Claire said...

Bill - Thank you for these things out, that it's not necessarily presented as exclusive, and the distinction early Friends made. This is very helpful. While I have spent a great deal of time immersed in various Quaker writings, I have not focused so much on the role of Jesus, and I think it's time I did.

Forrest - Thank you, too. You're right: what I've written here is very intellectual, and it's humbling for me to post it as such. My experience with God is, well, experiential. I feel a strong connection to/with/in God, and am struggling to articulate it in a very intellectual manner.

In my previous (first) Quaker blog (http://quakerspeak.blogspot.com/), my posts were of a different nature - not so raw, intellectual, and incomplete, but more thorough and I suppose confident-sounding. My faith now is just as strong (if not stronger, in some ways) as it was then, but my approach to blogging is very different, as well as I'm in a very different place with faith.

Anyways, it does make sense to me that those who relate to God as a real personality/mind would make a strong connection with a historical person, Jesus.

I will definitely check out the two blogs you mentioned - thanks!

Again, thank you for comments - comments are what make this Quaker blog-o-sphere a blogging community.

Love and Light,
Claire

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Dear friend Claire, you wrote in your second paragraph, "I don't believe any one time in history is any more spiritually significant than any other. Why would only people after the time of Jesus get to have this kind of relationship, and not those before his time?"

You might be surprised to know that many of the most influential thinkers in the early Christian Church not only agreed with you, but had a sensible answer to your question.

Justin Martyr, who was the first known Christian to write an Apology (Robert Barclay's Apology was partly modeled on his), wrote in the mid-second century that Christ "...is the Logos [the Word, the Logic that harmonizes and reconciles], in which every race of men did share. Thus those who lived according to the Logos are Christians even if they were accounted godless, as of the Greeks, Socrates, Herakleitos, and others like them." (Socrates and Herakleitos were Greek philosophers who died hundreds of years before Christ was born.)

Pseudo-Clement, an early Christian theologian, wrote in his influential "epistle to the Corinthians", again in the mid-second century, that "...if we do the Will of our Father, God, we shall be (members) of the original Church -- the one abiding in the Spirit-breath -- (the one) that was formed (even) before the sun and the moon."

Tertullian, an immensely influential early third-century theologian, wrote in his tract Adversus Marcionem that "it was not the pen of Moses that initiated the knowledge of the Creator.... Most of mankind never heard the name of Moses, let alone his book, but they know the God of Moses none the less."

And Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who is regarded in the West as a Father of the Church, wrote in a letter to a friend called Deogratias in the early fifth century, "...From the beginning of the human race, whosoever believed in Him [i.e., Christ], and in any way knew Him, and lived in a pious and just manner according to His precepts, was undoubtedly saved by Him, in whatever time and place he may have lived. For ... the nature of faith is not changed, nor is the salvation made different ... by the fact that ... that which was then foretold as future is now proclaimed as past. ....The true religion, although formerly set forth and practised under other names and with other symbolical rites than it now has, and formerly more obscurely revealed and known to fewer persons than now..., is one and the same in both periods. ...

"...From the beginning of the human race, He never ceased to speak by His prophets, at one time more obscurely, at another time more plainly, as seemed to divine wisdom best adapted to the time; nor were there ever wanting men who believed in Him.... ...Seeing that in the sacred Hebrew books some are mentioned, even from Abraham's time, not belonging to his natural posterity nor to the people of Israel, and not proselytes added to that people, who were nevertheless partakers of this holy mystery, why may we not believe that in other nations also, here and there, some more were found, although we do not read their names in these authoritative records? Thus the salvation provided by this religion [Christianity] ... was never wanting to any one who was worthy of it.... And from the beginning of the human family, even to the end of time, it is preached, to some for their advantage, to some for their condemnation."

Justin Martyr's reasoning, and Augustine's too, are anticipated in the teachings of the apostles Peter and Paul: see Acts 10:34-35 and Romans 2:11-16.

Johan Maurer said...

I love Claire's questions and the comments so far!

Just to add a couple of thoughts to what Marshall said very well: there have been many theologians since the early days who have affirmed the universality of God's provision for reconciliation ("salvation"). Friends' "functional christology" fits into this honorable line, in that we don't see Jesus Christ as a divine rabbit's foot or magical flag on top of the flagpole of one particular religious camp, but as a functional provision for this reconciliation, an incarnation of God's intention to reach out to a humanity that often seems intent on objectifying each other and ignoring the Creator.

To me this avoids the awkwardness of calling those who yield to and live according to this provision "hidden Christians" or "anonymous Christians." Those terms have good theological content but as categories can be insulting and unhelpful to interfaith dialogue. If the Logos is considered functionally rather than in the spirit of a distinct camp demanding camp loyalty and exhibiting a triumphalist attitude to others, then we can see how Jesus is active in the world among sheep of other folds, without the permission of the Christian establishment.

This isn't to say that there's not a wonderful advantage in being in a community that organizes itself around the leadership of the Christ who's given evidence of his existence and work and links to his divine Parent. But the kind of joy and liberty that maybe ought to be part of this "advantage" is so rarely exhibited by institutional Christians that I find boastfulness about it to be completely out of order. Instead, "sing and rejoice ...!"

Those of us who experience today what the early Friends experienced--a return to the apostolic experience of being bodily gathered into a community around the living Christ--are not asked to believe in some supposed superiority over others, but simply to testify to what we've experienced. If others are "tender," to use Fox's term, and are drawn to us by the power of our testimony, we are to welcome them and disciple them. This is a way of responding to the "Great Commission" mentioned by Bill without arrogance or unwarranted comparisons.

That testimony is important in today's world, not because we know for sure that people who have never encountered a winsome Christian witness are bound for eternal damnation, but (aside from the command to testify--which itself is important; once we're in covenant community, we're no longer completely autonomous!) we know for sure that there is bondage in the world. There is oppression in the world, whether or not we have personally experienced its worst effects. Some of that bondage is spiritual--not all paths really do lead up the mountain. And where there is one kind of bondage, there are probably many others.

Texas Friend said...

Claire,

As someone who has wrestled with this question, I'll comment.

First, while I wrestled with the question over time, I noted that Fox and other early Friends believed human spiritual life was different pre- and post-Jesus, so, at the very least, I knew the belief (somehow) was at least consistent with Quakerism. I offer the following points that came to me, in hopes that they might help you, though they might not.

1. I realized how deeply-held my spiritual individualism was, and I've tried to root-it out. Instead, now, I accept that all humans are spiritually connected. The spiritual state of each of us affects all of us. Thus, to me, that the spiritual state of Jesus could deeply affect me no longer seems curious. I've come to see all human beings across time as being part of a single Organism. (Visually, I imagine a DNA-like spiral working its way from the dawn until the end of time.) In scriptural terms, I believe this is, ultimately, the Body of Christ.

2. I accepted the early Friends' belief that humans are given different measures of the Spirit. This is not some sort of favoritism. Rather, we are each given the measure needed to do the "job" God gives us. Those whose lives will require incredible sacrifice (e.g., martydom) are prepared with a greater measure. (Why God uses us for "work" is much more mysterious to me). Early Friends believed Jesus differed from "the rest of us" in the measure of the Spirit he was given. Thus, Jesus differs from "the rest of us" not in kind but in degree; not in quality of the Spirit, but in quantity of the Spirit. Early Friends said his measure was "unlimited." Since we are all connected to Jesus, his unlimited measure becomes, in a sense, ours too. As it comes "through" him, it is rightly called "his" in some sense.

3. In light of 1 and 2, I believe there's an unlimited measure of the Spirit at work in the human Organism "post-Jesus." This is not favoritism for those "post-Jesus." Those before Jesus were given all the Spirit they needed to complete their personal callings. The greater measure is to prepare us for a greater spiritual burden as the gathered Body. (I consider being part of "God's people" being willing to take on additional burdens -- not in exercising additional privileges. I also identify the gift of the Spirit as being given the ability to hear and obey God's call on our life rather than as a means to enlightenment.)

I believe mainstream liberal Protestantism has focused on the teachings of Jesus, whereas traditional Quakerism focused on the Spirit who taught as Jesus in Palestine still being Present to teach us today. Rather than the intellectual value of looking for general moral principles in the scriptural records of Jesus' teaching, I read the scriptures differently. My experience of the Spirit strengthens and clarifies in a certain way when I read "the teachings of Jesus." This helps me discern which of the many energies within me belong to the Spirit of Jesus. Experiencing this connection between the Spirit and the scriptures has been essential to my ever-evolving understanding of Jesus (and the scriptures.)

Relatedly, I believe there are many energies at work within us and within our meetings. Discerning the Spirit of Jesus is, for me, key to what I am trying "to do."

My final comment is to encourage you to experiment. For example, you might consider gently identifying the Spirit as the Presence of Jesus during worship and throughout your day. (Lloyd Lee Wilson of your YM wrote of his use of the Jesus Prayer, which you might consider.) Over time, with paitient waiting, see if you are led to continue this identification. It's very mysterious to me, but, in my personal experience, as I opened-up more and more to identifying the Spirit in worship as the Spirit of Jesus, my whole life began to change. As Friends, I believe that's the way to "solve" theological "problems:" taste and see.

Thy Friend in Texas

piotr said...

I get a link to your blog and article about Christ. I am sure that people understanding english would appreciate. We will discuss about this subject in french this month.

a very good article .....at this adress

http://godthat.blogspot.com/2007/05/christ.html

from Claire

Pour ceux qui lisent l'anglais un bel article sur le visage du Christ; la notion de péché et la théologie de la Chute- notions que nous rejetons, sur l'Incarnation et sa signification avec des commentaires de qualité !!!!

Fin juin, nous reviendrons sur ce sujet, fondamental dans notre foi.

Piotr
http://quakers.blogs.nouvelobs.com/

Claire said...

Wow, so many great comments!

Marshall - Thank you for all of these examples. The sense I get is the same spirit that worked through Jesus and Moses and other prophets, the Logos, is not restricted to them. By restricted, I mean that they are not the sole example to learn from, that one can choose to focus on their examples, but those who never even come across them are not excluded from the divine experience, divine leadership. Hmm, it's difficult to articulate this because I never felt that the spirit or God was restricted in any manner, but sometimes when hearing about Jesus I often hear language that feels as though God is restricted.

For instance, when people claim Jesus as our one and only Lord and Savior, that feels very restricting - our one and only, whoo! I think it was this sort of claim that I was in part responding to in my initial post here. It is good to read of the examples you presented, as that is much more in line with how I feel and my experience.

Johan - I like what you say about being called to testify our experiences gathered together. I like the image of Friends gathered together in community around Christ for this testimony of our corporate experience. You're right - it's so important. This reminds me of thoughts (and maybe an old post or two in my old blog) I've had about evangelism. Perhaps the greatest form of evangelism is not explicitly asking people to/if believe things or proclaiming the rightness of one Way or another, but is simply bearing witness to the incredible experience of God.

Texas Friend - Your descriptions ring true in my heart! I really like the distinction you make between quality and quantity of spirit, and that while different people at different times may have different measures of spirit, the quality is not altered, and that the measure of spirit one has depends upon need. I don't think I'm 100% comfortable with the idea, but it's one I will definitely sit with for awhile.

I also really like the idea of one Human Organism - we are all connected, those who've come before, those who are here today, and those who are still to come. Mmm. A lot of my experience of God these days comes back to this sort of connectedness.

Piotr - Je parle seulement un peu francais, mais merci de votre commentaire! Je peux employer http://babelfish.altavista.com/tr pour aider à traduire. Je suis heureuse pour lire ce que je peux!

[English: I only speak a little French, but thank you for your comment! I can use http://babelfish.altavista.com/tr to help translate. I am happy to read what I can!]

Love and Light,
Claire

RichardM said...

Claire,

What most people are familiar with when it comes to Christian doctrine is the exclusivist version in which all and only Christians go to heaven and everyone else goes to hell; and being a Christian means consciously and verbally saying something like "Jesus is my Lord and Saviour." Familiar enough, but as Marshall points out that's not the whole story of what Christians have thought or think now. One key point that separates the evangelical or fundamentalist brand of Christianity which dominates the public sphere from more moderate or liberal forms of Christianity is precisely this claim that the NAME of "Jesus Christ" is somehow crucial to salvation. Contrary to what some say believing that is not necessary to being a Christian.

Texas Friend has already made some good points about the possibility that spiritual conditions for mankind as a whole might change with historical circumstances. I would just add that this isn't just a Christian idea. Many Buddhists also believe that the Buddha's attainment of enlightenment changed the spiritual condition of mankind and that conditions are now in some cosmic way more favorable for us than they were before Buddha lived. This of course doesn't prove anything but it does show that the idea isn't just one that is peculiar to our culture.

And a final comment. You are trying to tackle a lot of big ideas all at once. It might be a good idea to try to consider them one at a time.

Rich in Brooklyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich in Brooklyn said...

Rich in Brooklyn said...
Claire,
I, too, love your questions and I unite with much of what has been said in response.

One of your comments, though, has not yet been addressed. You say:
In terms of Christ being a Lord and/or Savior, I'm not so sure. I don't believe in the biblical definition of sin. I believe that humans make mistakes, that we cannot avoid making mistakes, and that mistakes are how we learn. To be saved from our mistakes, well, what would we learn from that?
This left me wondering what you are referring to as the "biblical definition of sin" that you don't believe in. Lots of different ideas about sin have been either found in the Bible or read into the Bible. It's possible that the sin Christ came to save us from is not the same "sin" that people have spoken about to you. Jesus had a very different view of "sinners" than the religious establishment of his day and perhaps a different view than that preached by churches today.

Can you say what particular concept of sin it is that you reject? If you can, that might be a starting-point for further dialogue and further seeking.

Blessings on your journey,
Rich Accetta-Evans
(Brooklyn Quaker))

Claire said...

Richardm - You say:
One key point that separates the evangelical or fundamentalist brand of Christianity which dominates the public sphere from more moderate or liberal forms of Christianity is precisely this claim that the NAME of "Jesus Christ" is somehow crucial to salvation. Contrary to what some say believing that is not necessary to being a Christian.

This brings up another important issue - what does it mean to be Christian? What constitutes being Christian? These are more questions I've struggled with, and I don't really know where I stand with it right now.

Also, though, you're right. These are all big issues that are difficult to tackle. I'm at a point where I finally have some time and energy to tackle some of them and haven't figured out where to begin quite yet, so I'm throwing them all out as they come. Perhaps it's too much a reflection of how scattered I often am in my life right now. As I continue through this summer and with blogging I will probably settle down a little. Thank you, though, for pointing this out.

Rich - You ask a good question - what am I referring to when I say 'biblical sin'? I realize now that I hadn't really thought that through much at all, and upon reflection find that I don't really know what I meant. This is not very helpful, I know. I think I am quite lost when it comes to the concept of sin and what it means.

When I think of 'sin' I think of things that are unforgivable mistakes, mistakes that only Jesus could save people from. I don't believe there are unforgivable mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Perhaps this goes along with Jesus saving people from their sins, or forgiving the otherwise unforgivable. Perhaps I've got it all wrong.

Love and Light,
Claire