Swami (Dr) Snehanad Jyoti
My wife asked me about what I was going to write this week. I told her that I was going to write about retrieving Christ from Christianity. He suggested that instead I write about putting Christ back into Christianity. She said that she has known so many good priests, sisters, and other Christians who live a good life according to the teachings of Christ. What she said made good sense to me. Some persons make a distinction between “churchianity”, that is not marked by the spirit of Christ, and Christianity where Christ is actively present and guiding. I recently read a police report about a Word of Life Church congregation in New York state severely beating two teen agers (ages 19 and 17 ) on October 12, 2015 in order to make them confess to their sins and ask forgiveness. This happened during a “counseling session” exploring their spiritual status turning violent. The 19-year old died due to the beating in the church, and the 17-year old is in the hospital in serious condition. Their parents and sister with some other church members were arrested by the police. While I retell this sensational story I am aware that this happened in a very rare church that is reported to have some secretive and cult-like features. But the fact of the matter is that many churches are very coercive and punitive in their ways toward their members who cannot in their conscience conform to their laws that are extremely harsh and unchristian.
Most probably Christ began to exit the Church after the conversion of the powerful Roman emperor Constantine the Great in the fourth century. Constantine, who was considered to be a patron of Christian faith and a saint in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, profoundly influenced the history and course of Christianity. The juridical mentality of the Jewish Pharisees combined with the powerful policing structure of the Roman governing system changed the face of the Church forever. The Roman Pontiffs (Popes) governed the universal Church with the help of clerical canon lawyers. It is interesting that quite a few priests from all over the world still flock to Rome to get specialization in canon law from Universities conducted by Vatican! I think Christ got so suffocated in the Church that he left it on his own, and thus he was automatically excommunicated from the Church. In modern times Pope John XXIII through his humane approach tried to open the door a little bit to let in some fresh air into the suffocating Church through the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965. The authoritarian Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, instead of building on the Council reforms, piddled precious time on relatively unimportant, sectarian issues, and tried to close the door again. Currently the Catholic Church having a human face in the person of Pope Francis, there is a ray of hope. We have to watch and see as to what he does.
Our concern needs to be how to make Christ’s mission of the Kingdom of God influence every major decision in the Church. As Christ is bigger than the Church, the Church cannot contain Christ. And that’s good news. For Christ’s teaching summing up of all the Law and the Prophets says: “Do to others what you like others to do to you” (Luke 7: 12). This law is for the whole humanity. So either we can put Christ back into Christianity or, better still, Christianity can open up to embrace the whole of humanity, in which case Christianity loses itself and becomes a way of life. Humans can choose what they want to do with Christ and his teachings. When Christians do not exclusively confine Christ to Christianity or the Christian religion, Christ ceases to be a bone of contention. Let all religions as we know them disappear from the face of the earth. Let all humans study all the prophets for who they are and choose for themselves a spiritual way of life marked by love, compassion, freedom, fairness, and human rights. Let all be one in the One.