Ten Things People Think Christians Have to Believe, But Don’t

 

#1 Christians don’t have to believe that Christianity is the only valid path to God.

The Bible teaches that God respects other faiths. Indeed the nature of God in Jesus includes holding dialogue with other faiths and respecting and loving people of other religions or paths to God.  Jesus respected the non-Jewish Canaanite woman’s faith (Mt 15:28).  Jesus validated Judaism and the commandments by declaring that “whoever does [the commandments] and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

A lawyer asked Jesus ‘‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’’ [and Jesus] said, ‘‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’’  [The lawyer] answered, ‘‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’’  And [Jesus] said to him, ‘‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ To make the point, two Jews, Jesus and the lawyer, both declare that a good neighbor can be a non-Jewish Samaritan. This ties in nicely with Jesus’ claim that anyone who feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, tends to the sick or visits the imprisoned will be in the Kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus respected non- Christian paths to God, and we can too. Christians don’t have to believe that Christianity is the only path to God.

#2 Christians don’t have to believe that science conflicts with religion.

Science seeks truth through reason and experience to understand how creation works. Religion seeks truth through reason and experience to understand our relationship with creation and that which created it. Both are limited by human understanding and experience.  Both cannot explain it all. Both begin with an aim toward truth and end in mystery and awe.

Reasoning that the universe began as a big bang of light and cosmic dust does not have to conflict with reasoning that the universe began with God’s Light and the creation of humans from metaphoric dust. Scientists, thinking openly, have brought us to a way of great wisdom, inventions and medicines. Jesus, thinking openly, has brought us to a way of great wisdom, love and morals. God, Messiah, morals, medicine, discovery and methods of science need not be understood as mutually exclusive. Christians don’t have to believe that science conflicts with religion.

#3 Christians don’t have to believe that homosexuality is  a sin.

Scripture need not be read to prohibit homosexuality. Jesus made no mention of it, and it is not otherwise expressly mentioned in the Bible except by putting modern words in ancient texts (like you see in modern translations). If you want proof, check out the older King James Version of the Bible. It does not use the word, “homosexuality” at all! Moreover, even passages in Leviticus, often interpreted to deal with homosexuality in America, amount to old laws expressly intended for application in ancient Israel. Christians do not have to believe homosexuality is a sin.

#4 Christians don’t have to believe that God is male.

Many insist that we must believe God is male. Yet the Bible itself suggests female images of God. Females are created in God’s image. God first  appears in the Bible as “ruah,” a female word meaning “Spirit.” It is natural to think of a female image at the birth of the world.  There are other female images of God in the Bible. In Isaiah 42:14 God “cries out like a woman in labor.”

Psalm 22:9 refers to God as a midwife; “it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.” In Hosea 13:8 God is a protective “like a bear robbed of her cubs.” Jesus refers to God in a mother image noting wisdom (another female word) “is vindicated by all her children” and that God acts like a hen, protecting the children of God, pulling her brood beneath her wings. If the Bible – and Jesus– imagine God as other than male, then so can we. Christians can, but do not have to, believe that God is male.

#5 Christians don’t have To believe that God is all powerful.

This is sometimes the hardest thing for folks to allow others not to believe. We want God to be able to override bad things in life. We want to hope for instant resolution of catastrophic troubles. But if God is love and all-powerful then shouldn’t God swoop in and instantly resolve suffering, end calamity and prevent things like genocide and war? If we had the power, we’d do it with our little bit of love. We know that God does not instantly fix bad things, so it’s fair to understand that either God is not all powerful or God’s power is limited. God doesn’t snap giant fingers to instantly stop evil and suffering. We know that to be true. This is hard to accept for those of us brought up thinking of God as wielding any power we humans can imagine.

Our experiences however suggest that it is reasonable to understand that God does not coerce creation in any way and that God cannot overrule our freedom or nature’s laws. While God’s power is not coercive, we can understand God has the persuasive power of Love which causes us to react and respond. Responding as God’s instruments we can stop evils like genocide, as we did in World War II, or with slavery in the 1860’s. We can stop some catastrophes too, like we did with polio in the 1950’s. If we choose, we can stop hunger and genocide and oppression today. Maybe we can even one day stop AIDS, cancer, and many other forms of suffering. But, it is God working through us that has that sort of power. It is not God with the magic snap, but God with the magic of LOVE. This is how God can be understood to work, so Christians don’t have to believe God is all powerful.

#6 Christians don’t have to believe that God sent Jesus to earth to be tortured and put to death as a sacrifice required by God.

At First Congregational UCC we tend to center theology around these three words from 1 John: “God is Love.” Those words are in direct conflict with the idea that God personally required human sacrifice to redeem us from a sinful state, and that God intentionally sent his only son Jesus to be sacrificed and brutally killed. As puny mortals with a thimble full of love compared to God’s  oceans of love, we know that sacrificing humans is not a mark of Love. If we are images of God, what sort of image does a human sacrificing God make us? What sort of God of Love could do that?

Jesus certainly sacrificed his life and God made the best of it — even resurrected him for us to find our Way to Love, but you do not have to accept that God planned and demanded Jesus’ death from the start to fulfill some Divine need, some hallowed blood thirst for human sacrifice. Christians don’t have to believe God sent Jesus to earth to be tortured and put to death as a sacrifice required by God.

#7 Christians don’t have to believe that Jesus was not fully human.

Lots of people seem to think of Jesus as a sort of Superman in a robe and sandals fighting oppression and healing people with super powers, but the gospel stories do not mesh with that super human notion.

Jesus lived, slept, breathed, drank, ate, got hungry, got angry, bled and died. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus never calls himself “Son of God” and it is doubtful he ever called himself “Messiah.” You can believe that the Jesus of history was super-natural. However, it is also okay to believe that the Jesus of history was not supernatural, but rather an amazing human who found a Way to God that is within us all; that he let God shine in all he did; and that he taught us the Way to do it too.

Boiled down, Jesus’ Way is not about this belief or that, it’s about Love. It’s about feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned. It’s about getting our God spark stoked and glowing to the point where our body burns brightly as the voice and ears and the hands and feet of God. We are to be the instrument of God doing love- oriented things in the world; seeking justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

Jesus as a human showed us that God could be incarnate not in a super man, but in a just, kind humble human.Christians do not have to believe that Jesus was not fully human.

#8 Christians don’t have to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

There are, of course, many Christians who believe the story of the virgin birth as historic truth. A number of us hold this belief, and it is dear to us. There can be much meaning in trusting that Jesus was conceived and born of a virgin. There is, though, no  requirement that to be a Christian you must believe it literally happened.

The Bible does not list this as a requirement. Jesus does not mention it as a requirement and neither does Paul. Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that Christ is a gift from God, and there are no requirements to receive that gift. In short, there is no mandate that we must believe Jesus had no earthly father.

This does not mean the story of the virgin conception has no meaning to those unable to believe it happened. After all, why is a virgin birth necessary to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? What cosmic truth could there possibly be in that event? A miracle birth? All birth’s are miracles. And Jesus’ birth is not the only virgin birth story in history. Alexander, Plato, Augustus and Buddha all have virgin birth stories connected to them.

But even still in the age of reason, we can hear the story of Mary’s virgin conception of God as wondrously full of symbolic meaning. Meaning, not historic accuracy, is the point one way or the other. For example, Gabriel tells Mary she will “conceive” Jesus. “Conceive” can mean to become pregnant, but it can also mean to apprehend or to have a conception of something. So, Mary’s story can speak truth to all conceptions of God.

Isn’t every single person’s ultimate conception of God between only them and God?  And don’t we all bear the spark of God within us that needs to be birthed?  The virgin birth story has a lot of meaning, but need not be considered history. Christians can, but do not have to, believe Jesus was literally born of a virgin.

#9 Christians don’t have to believe that The Bible is the inerrant word of God that must be read literally.

The Bible does not claim we have to believe it is inerrant or that it has to be taken literally.  Not even all churches claim those beliefs. The truth is Jesus challenged Scripture. He touched lepers, women and the unclean. He worked on the  Sabbath. He forgave sinners. In doing so, he did justice, loved kindness and walked humbly with God.

If we can get the same results by challenging Scripture, noting the fallibility of its authors, translators, cultures and ideas, then we should do so. Or, if by reading scripture metaphorically, instead of literally, we can discover truth, then we should do that as well. Christians don’t have to believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God that must be read literally.

#10 Christians don’t have to believe that questioning Church traditions is a sin.

We don’t have to believe that questioning church traditions is a sin.  That’s right. In Micah 6:6-8 we are told that all – ALL – God requires of us is “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with [our] God.” This is what the Lord requires.

The rest of religion needs to help us do this. Church traditions can be very helpful in tying us into the past, linking us with Christians through the ages. Of course the point of such traditions is to help us better experience the Sacred, leading us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. For instance, there are differences about how churches give Communion indicating that there are questions about it.

For most Christians, Communion helps connect them with one another and with God, in the end helping us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. It’s an effective tradition, a very Sacred tradition, but we can question it and questioning it does not make us un-Christian.

For many of us, Communion is a wonderful ritual  proven over the years to work. There are, however, traditions that might not work for us. We ought to be able to question them too. For example, the Church has a tradition of keeping women from leadership and ordination despite the fact Jesus brought women into his movement as equals and as leaders. The tradition of holding women back continues today in many denominations and women face difficulties even in churches where they do lead.

It’s not just women that Church tradition has oppressed. Church traditions have oppressed Jews and Muslims, promoted slavery and racism, discriminated against non- heterosexuals, even burned witches and heretics. Such awful traditions need questioning. How loving-of-neighbor can such traditions be? Where is the justice and the kindness and the humble walk with God in these practices?

Jesus questioned traditions and modeled for us faith that is unafraid to challenge the status quo whenever it oppressed anyone. Lepers. Women. Strangers. Hungry. Poor. Imprisoned. Those of other faiths. Christ loved them unconditionally– and still does!  Bottom-line: Christians don’t have to believe that questioning Church traditions is a sin. And thank goodness, because the other nine things on this list do just that!

Copyright © Scott Elliott 2009 – All Rights Reserved