By: Fred Plumer
At the risk of letting this blog page become a message or discussion board, I feel compelled to respond to publicly to Adrian's comments since his questions are so well written, and so universal. I believe that the vast majority of people who quietly refer to themselves as Christians today, like Adrian, are also sitting and the fence. And as I visit congregations all over the country, I have discovered that many of them are trying to function with a fence down the middle of the sanctuary that is much like the ignored "elephant in the room."
Actually this fence that he refers to has been there for nearly two thousand years although ignored by the vast majority of Christians over the years. At one point, by the end of the second century, it was divided into two large camps-those who believed that Jesus was God or and those who believed he was an angelic human who had a godly nature. It turned into a battle between the followers of Bishop Athanasias and the very popular Greek priest and theologian, Arias. The divide was clearly defined at the cost of many lives in the Forth Century when Constantine demanded a unified Christianity. Over a period of several decades Bishops were called together to vote on who and what Jesus was. As it turned out, the defining moment occurred in Nicaea in 325 when the Athanasias followers were able to get a majority vote for what became the Nicene Creed. The Arians were defeated and the power-brokers bishops who favored the God/Jesus began to clean out the Arian followers. The were deemed heretics and the fully human Jesus disappeared into the mist of mythology.
Most Christians today are totally unaware that the vast majority of things they believe about the person-hood of Jesus of Nazareth are the result of a huge political struggle between the followers of Arias and politically savvy Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria. Probably one of the best accounts of this often ignored piece of our church history is covered in an excellent book by Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God. According to Rubenstein and others there were several votes taken in different parts of the empire, before and after Nicaea that were a very close. The struggle between these factions continued for decades in spite of the arrests, the deaths and the torture that the Arian followers faced before going underground.
What would have happened if the Arians had won the battle? What would Christianity look like today or would it even exist? That of course is a very interesting question. I would suggest that it would have been difficult to build a church institution without a Savior whose access was controlled by that same institution. But of course we will never know.
The real issue is, what can Christianity be today? I believe the primary reason that our Christian churches are failing today is because they do not know what they believe, or more importantly, why they are in existence except to be a church. What is the purpose of the church today?
In my opinion scholars have done a pretty thorough job of deconstructing the myth of the one and only God/Jesus over the last half a century. The historical legs of Triune God have been systematically kicked out from under the stool, and most students of religious courses in our universities and seminaries are well aware of that. Scholars like Robert M. Price, Burton L. Mack and Tom Harpur among others have so thoroughly deconstructed the historical Jesus that they have even questioned if there really was a historical Jesus.
Harpur posits that the story of Jesus is no different than the story of Osiris and Horus of Egyptian mythology, right down to the virgin birth, the suffering servant, the god/human savior and the death and resurrection in three days. (The Pagan Christ) All of this information is available today to anyone who wants to do a little research. Certainly most serious clergy and seminarians have read some of these books.
The result is that a lot of main-line clergy and church leadership really do not know what to teach or why they are teaching it. The are uncomfortable teaching things they no longer believe in and they are even more uncomfortable talking about real change in positions with which people have become comfortable in their congregations. So they sit on the fence and muddle. The talk about social justice and teach about the historical Jesus but seldom confront the most serious flaws in their belief system. So the prayers stay the same; the rituals stay the same; the sermons are evasive and uninspiring and the people who were spiritual hungry, go away feeling even more hungry.
So what do we do with all of this. We get off the fence and look to see what is really there. Together we recreate a new and compelling Christology and a viable theology. What is there is a profound and beautiful path that can help us realize and actualize the truth of our tradition-that all living creatures are a spark of the divine and we have the capacity to incarnate that divinity through our faith, our mind and our actions. If we take the Christ path seriously and joyfully, we can incarnate the divine from within and begin to see the divine in others. We have both the power and destiny to deify the world. Now that is something that we can get excited about.
So what is this path. It is a way of being, of seeing and hearing our reality differently. It is contemplative and engaging. It is all right there in front of us, in spite of the efforts to bury it in depths of the early church's biases. But the one thing that I am certain-it does not start with a Savior but rather with a teacher. A very special teacher, I believe, who has been there.