Two Christianities

Two Christianities


You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies…
Matthew 5:43-44

I believe there are two distinct versions of Christianity. Of course there are thousands of denominational variations within the Christian church, each nuancing the church’s message, purpose, and practices in various ways. But the evolution of the Christian religion in general has followed a track widely divergent from the one modeled by Jesus of Nazareth, at least as his path is recorded in the Gospels. It is not that what has become the Christian religion is necessarily wrong or bad. When compared with the original, however, it is often misleading and incomplete, and it may draw one’s focus away from what is most important, which is conscious love and Oneness with God. The church can, however, provide a context for transformation for those genuinely seeking to follow the life and teachings of Jesus. In addition, many churches do good, practical work in the world, provide opportunities for needed human fellowship and support, and help draw our focus onto something greater than our little selves. But few churches, if any, teach the path of transformation Jesus modeled.

The Christian religion, as it has evolved, has overly spiritualized the message and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. The result has been to make Jesus’s message less believable, tangible, and practical. Jesus was a devout Jew, but he interpreted and applied Jewish teachings in light of routine, daily, not-specifically-Jewish activities. He made the teachings relatable and earthy. When religious teachers became overly pious or inauthentically spiritual, he called them out. Some had made being a faithful Jew more about following inflexible rules than about loving and caring for what God loves and cares for, which is God’s creation. Following rules is mostly about supporting an organizational bureaucracy.

When we understand that the Christ is what manifests where spirit and matter consciously unite, many of Jesus’s teachings become clearer. The Christ is the conscious, physical embodiment of the Spirit of God, which is what Jesus became and modeled for us. He was not seeking to establish a new religion, nor was he trying to destroy the Jewish religion. He was helping lift people out of their spiritual ruts, regardless of which, if any, religion they practiced. His aim was to bring the spiritual foundation of religion – God with us – into the earthy concreteness of everyday life – to embody it. Jesus did not claim himself to be the Son of God; that was a title bestowed by others. He referred to himself as the Son of Man – the human one. He was not modeling what it was to be the only human child of God or to be the only human who was also fully divine. Rather, Jesus modeled what it looks like to fully allow the Spirit to inhabit a human body as its hands and feet on earth. He modeled what we are to strive for in ourselves – to consciously unite our earthly makeup with our divine heritage. Yes, we are to become like Jesus, but in our time and social context. Jesus says as much in many of his teachings (see John 14:12, for example[1]). Thus, Jesus never suggested that others worship him, but follow his lead. The Christian church today has primarily focused on Jesus-worship, with Jesus-following a lesser priority. Indeed, worshipping requires far less of us than following. Following requires us to change and surrender ourselves in difficult ways: to sacrifice many of our individual desires for the sake of those around us and to make our egos subservient to a higher, inclusive good.

Christianity, as modeled by Jesus, was never intended to be a set of beliefs and practices set apart from other religions or daily routines. That was done by the organizations that came later. Being a Christian, or following the Christ model, is about embodying the Spirit in everything we do. It is recognizing that we too, like Jesus, are children of God, both human and divine. It means consciously manifesting the presence of the Spirit of God in every activity and interaction.

The Christianity of some of today’s churches focuses on after-life insurance more than shepherding the personal transformation of priorities and behaviors that was modeled by Jesus. Salvation has nothing to do with qualifying for “heaven” after we die but with bringing God’s kingdom or reign into our everyday realities. That is the key to lasting joy, and that is the key to eternal life. Author Richard Rohr writes that Jesus came not to make us more spiritual (and certainly not more religious) but to make us more human – as in a fully consummated human being. And that is the original Christian path.

The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com.


[1] John 14:12: “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…”

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