Whoever is not against us is for us. Mark 9:40

Arguably, the most egregious sin of Churchianity is in its professed exclusivity, by which I mean the portrayal of Christianity, as understood and practiced by certain churches, as the only path to truth, the only hope for salvation, and the only way to God. Granted, this view can be supported by a literal reading of several passages from scripture, including some attributed to Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of John. For example, John records Jesus as saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[1] Similarly, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved…”[2] and “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”[3] Of course there is also the ever-popular John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” One must admit that following Jesus sounds like an exclusive club – there is no way to salvation other than through him. Churches that hold to a literal reading of these and other exclusive passages have a tight grip on those who agree with and appreciate the exclusiveness of their brand of Christianity. Unfortunately, these types of teachings, when taken out of the larger context of Jesus’ teachings and actions, completely isolate and condemn the many thoughtful seekers who refuse to believe that God condemns all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other non-Christians who follow different but equally devout paths.

Of course even Jesus was not a Christian; Jesus was a Jew. There is no indication Jesus wanted to replace the Jewish religion with Christianity or anything new or different. Jesus understood how the strict Jewish adherence to rules and doctrines made it undesirable, if not impossible for many to join in their common journey to become children of God. Those very rules and doctrines could become roadblocks to instead of aids to one’s relationship with God. Rather, Jesus attempted to reimagine Judaism, to make it less exclusive and more inclusive and accessible. It is disappointing how we have taken what Jesus worked so hard to make inclusive and molded it into yet another exclusive belief system. Heck, among Christian churches, we cannot even agree on who to exclude, probably because Jesus never provided guidance about excluding others. Whether by race, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, or sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, exclusion is exclusion and Jesus wanted no part of it.

Among the people the Jews of Jesus’ day pompously excluded were foreigners (Samaritans), their Roman oppressors, the Gentiles (non-Jews), tax-collectors, prostitutes, those possessed by demons, and those with one of the skin diseases called leprosy. No doubt, it riled the Jewish devotees when Jesus told a parable that had someone from a member of one of these excluded groups as its hero. For example, the story of the Good Samaritan[4], the parable of the Great Dinner[5], the cleaning of the Ten Lepers[6], and the parable of the Pharisees and the Tax Collector[7]. It was equally galling to them to know that Jesus ate with tax-collectors[8], gave healing attention to a foreign woman[9], blessed children[10], and healed the servant of a Roman Centurion[11]. In the context of the passage quoted in the epilogue, Jesus’ disciples question whether a non-follower who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name should be told to stop. Jesus responds, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Doing good is good and right regardless of who is doing it or under which, if any religious banner.

The Holy Catholic Church, the first formal iteration of the movement begun in the name of Jesus, is first and foremost universal, which is the literal meaning of the word catholic. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church, like its Protestant descendants, has taken what was intended to be universally inclusive and made it something far less. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, for whom he reserved his sharpest criticisms, are alive and well today in what has become the Christian church.

This is the 58th 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] John 14:6

[2] John 10:9

[3] John 11:25

[4] Luke 10:25-37

[5] Luke 14:15-24

[6] Luke 17:11-19

[7] Luke 18:9-14

[8] Luke 19:1-10

[9] John 4:1-42

[10] Luke 18:15-17

[11] Matthew 8:5-13

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