The Church vs the Christ, Part 2

The Church vs The Christ, Part 2

“Christ is not Jesus’s last name.” Richard Rohr[1]

Assuming the church to be synonymous with God has led to a deceptively limited perception and portrayal of God, both for church and non-church people. When our pastors remind us of the importance of supporting the “work of God,” it is automatically assumed that means giving money to the church. Granted, the Old Testament sets the expectation of giving the first tenth of one’s income/possessions to support the Temple, and I am not suggesting that members should stop supporting their churches. My wife and I certainly do. But does supporting the work of God mean supporting the church? Are my financial and other obligations to the work of God fulfilled with my pledge? It is only when we equate the church with God that such assumptions make sense. The work of God is infinitely larger, infinitely more accepting, infinitely more generous, and infinitely more inclusive than the work of the church.

The church is a limited entity; God is not. When Moses asked God for God’s name so he could share it with the people, God gave an ambiguous non-answer: “I am” (Exodus 3:13-14). Our typical human response is “I am what?”We limit our understanding of whatever we name, and God would not allow it. Names define what something is and is not. We can answer our question of “I am what” with about anything and be correct about God. We cannot, however, be entirely correct because whatever we put after “I am” will capture only a portion of what God is. Just because God is whatever we fill in the blank with does not, however, mean that whatever we fill in the blank with is God. It is a single manifestation of God – one of an infinite number of manifestations that are still manifesting, or spoken into being in the creation terminology of Genesis and John.

And this is our dilemma when it comes to understanding the relationship between God and the church, as well as between Jesus and the Christ. The church is one manifestation of God. It is a small and limited expression of an impossible-to-limit-or-define God. Likewise, Jesus of Nazareth was one manifestation of God’s eternally creating blueprint, which is the Christ. As Richard Rohr makes clear in his book The Universal Christ, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ is a title. While we can say Jesus of Nazareth was (or became) the Christ and be correct, we cannot be entirely correct because the Christ is much larger than one person who was raised in Nazareth 2000 years ago.

The Christ is a universal reality that spans all of time, all created beings, and all religions. It is not, as most believe, exclusive to Christianity, at least not as Christianity is practiced. Christ refers to someone or something anointed or chosen by God, which includes all of God’s creation. One record of Jesus’ anointing is found in the story of his baptism (Mark 1:9-11) where a voice from heaven says, “You are my (Child), the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Voices from heaven (and family) say the same at our baptisms. The Christ is the creating Word of God described in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through (the Word), and without (the Word) not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3b). Everything created by God’s Spirit impregnating the material of the earth is the Christ, which iseverything, including us. Unlike us, Jesus consciously awoke to and accepted his Oneness with the Christ and thus became a visible manifestation of it. Jesus modeled what it means to be Christ-like and told us to follow.

We, like Jesus, recognize our chosenness – our place in the Christ of God – as we awaken to our material and spiritual nature. We are of the earth and of God. Jesus did not refer to himself as the Son of God but as the Son of Man, which means the human one, or a fully developed human being – one who has consciously awoken to the union of matter and spirit which is their essence. We are quick to grant Jesus his divinity and deny his humanness, and we are equally quick to deny our divinity and emphasize our humanness. The life of Jesus of Nazareth shows what it looks like to have a fully united physical and spiritual nature. The apostle Paul recognized the Christ-nature in Jesus, referring to him as Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. Paul did not know Jesus of Nazareth, nor is that who he wrote about. Paul knew and taught about the Christ as manifested in the person of Jesus.

This is the 47th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, Convergent Books, 2019, p. 11.

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