Responding to a Nearly Right Take on Jesus, Part 3

Continuing from yesterday, I continue reply to an admirer of Jesus and critic of the Church who gets a lot right, but some crucial things wrong too.

He writes:

Jesus did not start the Christian religion. Organized Christianity has probably done more to retard the ideals that were its founder’s than any other agency in the world.

Of course Jesus started the Christian religion. This confident, breezy assertion, offered without a lick of evidence and in spite of a ton of evidence from the eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word who were there and who lived with Jesus for three years is one of the great myths of post-modernity.

Jesus goes out of his way to make clear that he not just forming a discussion club, but a New Israel with a structure, an order of discipline, a body of beliefs and practices, a hierarchy with 12 apostles and 70 elders and a man (recalling the Old Testament) who deliberately renames “Cephas” as a punning rebuke to the high priest of the Old Israel: Caiaphas. He breaks with rabbinic tradition by going out and proactively calling disciples (even women!) to follow him instead of waiting for them to choose him. He gives that new society a mission, and tells them that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away. He claims the authority to both edit the law of Moses and to forgive sins. And he tells them that he is founding this Ecclesia–this Church–with the promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. He promises the Twelve that they shall sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And their priesthood, like their kingship, is assumed in the very clear language of sacrifice that completely suffuses the Eucharist he establishes. Unsurprisingly, that gets reproduced in their appointment of successors in the Churches they found, which are again hierarchical and which assume similar orders of discipline and practice. None of this is corruption of a formless group of enthusiasts who happen to like to talk about theology and swap yarns about Jesus in between taking care of the down and out. All of this is clearly a planned society founded by Jesus with every intention of being spread to the ends of the earth and down to the uttermost end of days. It is the quintessence of a religion and owes everything it is to one man: Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who makes clear he is Son of Man, Son of David, and Son of the Most High God. That, not “Love your neighbor” is what got him killed.

Again the author has part of a point: As has been famously said, there is no stronger argument against Christianity than Christians. And MAGA antichrist Christianity is a particularly potent counter-witness to the gospel. But it is simplistic in the extreme to flatly declare that “organized Christianity” is simply and solely a total and utter reversal of Jesus’ intentions. For the fact is, the only reason you and I have ever heard of Jesus at all was because of the Church he created. And the very criticisms leveled against the Church are, overwhelmingly, due to the Christian worldview it has propagated so successfully that even it’s enemies assume it, often unconsciously, as the basis of their critique. My suggestion: Listen to these guys try to educate post-moderns on the unbelievably colossal debt we all owe to the permeation of human culture by the work of the Church, which has often been advanced valiantly and at great personal cost by faithful disciples of Jesus for 2000 years:

The trouble with this “Jesus would have nothing to do with the Church today” is that it steals far too many bases and pays no actual consideration to what Jesus, in fact, said. It is a pure act of ventriloquism based on nothing but the critic’s own personal frustration with real sins, but an abandonment of actual attention paid to what Jesus actually said and did. It boils down to saying, “If I were Jesus, I’d…” The critic is not Jesus. And the real Jesus is on record saying to the Church he founds, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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