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March 18, 2012

                             SETTING JESUS FREE


The title of John Churcher’s book, first published 2009. The blurb on the back of the book says this:-


“The Bible and the Church have become more or less irrelevant to the contemporary world. Sadly the message of Jesus, totally relevant to all times, has been ignored and lost because it is seen as being part of the Church that is now rejected with nothing important to say to present -day life.

This book deals with the need to move away from structures of traditional beliefs, creeds and doctrines that are outmoded in our contemporary world. It encourages a move into a Church-based environment that promotes living by a set of Jesus values that include compassion, sacrifice and acceptance of difference without having to believe in the unbelievable and unscientific.

There is a new global spiritual movement that supports people to think outside of the traditional boxes of faith and their inherited understandings of God. As part of this development this book is intended for those who are on the margins of the Christian Church”

James Rowe Adams adds ‘John Churcher has a message for the ever-dwindling few who remain in the church. Present Jesus in terms that make sense to an educated, twenty-first century mind or be prepared for the total collapse of Christianity in the industrialised world. When freed from stultifying doctrines and mind-numbing dogmas, the teachings and example of Jesus make as much sense today as they did in the first century”

When I read stuff like this, I feel a thrill inside. It seems that some people within the Church have got something good to say. And then you come down to earth with a big thump, because this message isn’t in any of your local churches and when you float such radical ideas in Christian facebook groups, you get shouted down and told you are being ridiculous. They might not use quite these words, but that is the subtext. and the little plant of hope that was beginning to flourish inside your heart is stamped upon; it begins to wither.

I love the writings of Borg, Spong, Armstrong, Boulter, Cupitt and Churcher. They seem like people with prophetic voices to me and I want so much for the churches to listen up and take on board their message. But they seem so deaf and blind, and so sure that they are right. Smug they appear, the chosen  ones, able to easily believe what many consider preposterous and impossible, dismissive of anyone who cannot do likewise, churlish in their refusal to engage with your difficulties and be generous.

Always there is this ‘need’ to shove God at you. I find myself staggering back sometimes from the overwhelming and oppressive shadow of this being who is supposed to be Love personified and yet appears to me like a great clenched fist, squashing all freedom of spirit and expression.

Church is a straitjacket to me, where I wither and die inside. I wander in a barren land of darkness there, stumbling about without any signposts that make sense. A wonderland without any wonder in it.

The Jesus I have loved from early childhood seems strangely absent from these mausoleums where praise and worship words are uttered into the ether, and a grisly death is rejoiced over and celebrated.

So often I have been struck by the cliquey unfriendliness of many who gather there, dressed in their best for the respectable God of the Victorian church.

I cannot find Jesus in church. I feel, as John Churcher does, that he has been locked away somewhere from all of us who are not ‘the chosen few’ – stolen from us, really. I cannot say that even when I did consider myself a Christian that I was immensely struck by the compassion and warmth of my fellow christians, or by their spirit of forgiveness.  There was gossip over tea and coffee that was unlovely on the lips of people claiming to be vessels of God’s holy spirit. Not that I expected perfect behaviour, only humble attempts towards it. It shocked me that 10 minutes after a service of worship, I could hear people talking in unloving ways.

Moments like that planted the first seeds of the question ‘suppose this is all nonsense? Suppose there really is no God?’

Through these experiences and others, I gradually came to believe that God was a delusion. I cannot see how it is possible for there to be a holy spirit, an energy from a living God, moving amongst Christians, and yet the world be so unaffected and unchanged by it. A group of people who say ‘yes; to God and let him in, should surely, if there is a shred of truth in their claims, really shine out amongst us?

‘A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden’. Yet the light of Christ is so dim in the Church it is not discernible, even to those who seek avidly for it.Good people abound everywhere – they prove nothing about God. They tell me only that people have an extraordinary capacity for goodness within them, and atheists are just as likely to exhibit it as those who have some religious affiliation.

The teachings of Jesus, about how we should treat each other and live in the world have something to say to all of us, as John Churcher states. Yet the Church locks them in a chest and cloaks them in the old doctrines that prevent most of us ever getting near them.

I look around and I see how people behave sometimes  and know that we need these teachings if the world is ever going to be better than it is.

I wonder what might happen if the Church started to live by them instead of merely sticking them up on the wall as a goal and merely bemoaning the fact of their failing to get close to the ideal.

I wonder what the world might now be like if for 2000 years the Church had actually followed Jesus.

The man who told us to forgive endlessly, to render good for evil and love for hatred, to give our surplus away to those with nothing, to not judge, to seek peace, to have mercy and to hunger and thirst after justice has been betrayed for 20 centuries. All manner of oppression and cruelty has been perpetrated in his name, and still today, unloving attitudes and cruel acts abound.

I cannot look at the Church and feel that the world has truly been improved by it. Today it seems that it lags behind, as always, the mores of society, stuck in its past and the pages of an old book written by people who knew nothing very much about how the world worked.

Jesus challenged the religious authorities of his day and was condemned to death for it, as many others have been since.

The teachings of Jesus challenge the Church today, and that’s why they are locked up. The last thing the Church wants to do is follow Jesus, it seems. It would mean opening the doors to everyone, challenging its middle class values, understanding that a comfortable lifestyle in not compatible with a life centred in Jesus, that to have a lot of stuff is not his way. 

If God existed for real, then it would not be hard for those who say they love Him to live the Jesus way and show God to the rest of us who struggle with it. Trouble is, He doesn’t, so living like that is well nigh impossible.

Better by far to admit it and just accept that all we have is human endeavour, and to join hands in pursuit of peace and justice, forgetting about all that god stuff which seems only to cause conflict and misery as we fight over definitions and struggle to convince others that our ‘truth’ is the ultimate one.

Jesus never intended to found a church. He was a Jew, reinterpreting the scriptures he knew. He believed in God because he lived 2000 years ago. It doesn’t mean he was right about that, and the fact that folk back in those days thought that he was god incarnate, doesn’t mean he was. People believed all sorts of stuff back then. Science had not liberated them from ignorance.

The Church should give Jesus back to ordinary people and stop locking him away out of sight. Few of us want their god talk


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