You remember the Greek myth of Sisyphus. The Greek gods decided to punish this poor man because he had discovered the secret — reserved to the gods — that enabled him to escape death. They sentenced him to the task of pushing a boulder up a hill for all eternity. He would no sooner get it up to the top when it would come rolling back down again, and he would have to start all over.
This reminded Albert Camus of absurdity, but it reminds me of Christianity. For 2,000 years, a few rejected Christians have been trying to push their religion back to its original form of love and service, only to see others make it slip and slide back down again to belief and doctrines. But I guess it’s absurd to think that Christians would prefer a life that’s difficult to one that’s easy. Why not sit back, relax and simply say: “I believe?” It’s like watching the boulder roll down the hill.
Brian McLaren wrote a beautiful and challenging book called: “The Great Spiritual Migration.” He feels that a constant and steady nudging by the rejected few has already begun to move this unwieldly boulder of faith from the slippery slide of doctrine and beliefs — up the tougher hill of love.
That’s where it all started, isn’t it? Nobody today seriously thinks that Jesus was asking his Jewish followers to abandon their belief in Judaism and begin believing in some other form of religion. When he urged them to believe in him, he was asking them to believe in his Jewish message of love and service, a very tough challenge.
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His Jewish friends already believed in Yahweh. They had all their beliefs spelled out in the Torah. Jesus was not giving them more beliefs but rather something much more difficult. He was asking them to befriend the disgusting lepers and those filled with scabs and sores. And not just heal them with salves and bandages, but invite them home for dinner.
McLaren remembers that Jesus didn’t say: “By their beliefs you shall know them,” but: “By their fruits.” The fruit of the original Christianity — the only way a follower of Jesus could be recognized — was though his service-type love for his follow man not through some formula of belief. If Jesus had wanted us to have the easy way, the slippery slide down, he would have said: “This is my commandment, that you believe in the right doctrines.”
When 600 bishops were locked up in the town of Nicaea in the year 325, and told by Emperor Constantine to establish the formula for identifying a Christian, they took the easy way down the hill. They wrote up a list of beliefs. It was called the Nicene Creed and Christians have been sliding down this slippery slope ever since.
Believing in this list entitled the Christian Crusaders to slaughter thousands of innocent Muslim men, women and children and stay good Christians. A denial of these beliefs sentenced thousands of so-called heretics to horrible torture and death, and this Christian Inquisition lasted for over 500 years. Instead of using the word, Christian, we should call this “Constantinian.” Radicals who put beliefs over love and service are following Constantine not Jesus.
I am not asking today’s Christians to put aside the list of dogmas that Constantine squeezed out of those frightened bishops in Nicaea. The Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, and Afterlife are wonderful mysteries for a believer. All I’m asking is that we don’t slide down that slippery slope as Constantine and many others after him did, and claim these beliefs make a Christian.
I think the follower of Jesus is the man or woman who attempts to climb that Calvary-like hill of tough love and service above self, and keeps climbing in spite of the shouts to slide down.