I'm struggling with Church.19 January 2021
This may be a strange thing to say for an ordained minister who has spent the last sixty or so years working in the Church environment, but looking back on those sixty years, it was being an Industrial Chaplain that saved me. I've often said that I wouldn't have had the patience to be a parish priest, but working with people at work was the ideal solution.
But now, in retirement and having time to read and ponder, I'm beginning to see another side of what I thought I knew quite well. If I'm honest, it's rather an unwelcome truth that I've given so much time to something about which I now have serious questions. I'm not alone - there are a great number of people, word-wide, who are trying to stand, as it were, outside the Church and look at it as the world sees it. Or, perhaps, doesn't.
These are evolving thoughts - I'm starting, as it were, midway through a journey somewhere, aiming at a more coherent understanding of what our faith is all about. And I have to start with the Church because it's been the focus of my working life since my teens.
Jesus didn't start the Church. He grew up in a Jewish family as part of the Jewish faith community - in the way that many of us grew up in the Church and never needed to join it. So where did the Church come from? Not from the gospels, certainly. Rather, from Paul, whose letters to the Jesus communities that he had set up revealed his understanding of who Jesus was - the Christ of God and the universal saviour of Jews and non-Jews. Paul pretty well ignored the earthly Jesus - for Paul, God's new world order, to be inaugurated by the returning Christ, was dependent on the gospel reaching every nation ("Searching for the real Jesus", Geza Vermes).
The Jesus of Mark, Matthew and Luke is quite different. He was a wandering and charismatic preacher in the region of rural Galilee, given to confronting the Jewish authorities over their petty obedience to the letter of the Jewish Law, proclaiming instead the imminent arrival of a new regime. He was a reformer of Judaism, and met his death at the hands of the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish authorities who saw him as a troublesome revolutionary. If Paul had not declared Jesus to be the Christ, and if the Emperor Constantine had not declared Christianity to be his favoured religion, we might have travelled down a very different road behind an exciting and passionate leader.
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