I was born into the church and remain in it today, by choice. Grew up with the stories — Creation, Garden of Eden, the Flood, the Coat of Many Colors, the Exodus, the Kings, the Prophets, the Birth, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Church. While I moved on to algebra, a little calculus, physics, chemistry, logic, philosophy, geology, jurisprudence, the scientific method and a host of other subjects in my formal secular schooling, I pretty much was stuck with “the stories” in my religious education.
While in graduate school, I shared an office with a Mormon, a Christian Scientist and a Presbyterian, and my favorite professor was Orthodox Jew. Thus began my enduring and serious avocational interest in theology, religions, the Bible(s) and Christianity.
My journey now leads me to a simple question that intrigues and challenges me to reexamine the Christian label. Would a Christian church call Jesus for its pastor?
Here is his resume.
While he never murdered, raped, robbed, accosted or otherwise committed a felony crime, he was executed as a common criminal. He never swindled, cheated or got a speeding or parking ticket, as far as we know. He did break the Blue Law by working on the Sabbath to feed the hungry. He probably committed a couple of misdemeanors when he turned the tables over in the Temple and withered the fig tree, and maybe even more when he drowned 2,000 pigs. But, execution? What did he do to deserve such a fate?
The religious establishment accused him of heresy and the civil authorities accused him of treason or, at least, of being a trouble-maker. What did he do to deserve such judgment?
Well, he never married. He was a party-goer, seemingly never missed a good party, often with Publicans and sinners. He made wine. He befriended the outcast, related to women on level grounds, helped and extolled the poor, and wanted to free the prisoners and turn the other cheek from war. He gave away his cloak. He made only 12 appointments, one of which was fraught with intrigue and conspiracy. He seemed to say the ends justify the means. His economic values included paying the same wages regardless of hours worked and a return on investments. His fellowship of believers held everything in common. He was a faith healer.
He was pretty critical of the church leaders for not doing the same, telling them they didn’t have a chance of making a passing grade. He was also fairly tough on the wealthy; they, too, did not grade well.
He taught in parables so the people would listen but not understand and informed his closest companions in secret. He was very clear in his instructions to not pray in church or in public to be seen but to pray in your room with the door closed.
He clearly supported separation of church and state and fidelity to both.
He walked the dusty, rural roads and the cobbled, city streets and addressed human needs wherever they were, and that got him entangled in a host of social, political and economic issues. He was relevant. He ministered at the point where faith meets life. He tried to build a kingdom based on this model.
For doing so, the letters to the editor questioned and criticized him daily. He clearly had church, politics and the poor all jumbled up. His associations and lifestyle were questionable. He was not widely popular.
With this record, would your church call Jesus as pastor? What would happen to attendance? Contributions? Would he make so many members so mad so quickly with his theology, priorities, lifestyle and involvements that the church would be threatened?
Or, maybe, just maybe, there are churches who would call Jesus as pastor — churches that have called pastors who model Jesus and with members who support that model. Should we seek and find and join that church and follow and support that pastor? He or she?
Or, should we write another letter to the editor questioning the pastor’s faith and the church’s calling and, thereby, challenging the Jesus model?
Why not crucifixion? Would we, are we doing it again? Surely, hopefully, not. Even so, he would love and forgive us anyway, knowing we know not what we do. That is the Jesus model.
Gerald W. Johnson is an Auburn University Emeritus Professor of Political Science and a member of Auburn First Baptist Church.