Bill Ferguson’s column last Friday raises even more Christian questions. And he reveals that one of the richest assets of Christianity is its unashamed ability to question itself. Christianity has never been certain no matter how much its leaders wanted it. From its very beginning, doubts led to questions and questions to opinions and opinions to thousands of denominations. And this uncertain reality has been the beauty and strength of this 2,000 year old religion.
Our founder never left us anything in writing, but many decades after his death, our four evangelists imagined Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane agonizing over his impending capture. They don’t paint a picture of a man certain of his future. They describe a man just like us, sweating and crying and trying to pray his way out of doubt and uncertainty.
After Jesus died, his followers remained faithful Kosher Jews in Jerusalem under the leadership of his big brother James. But almost immediately groups of Hellenized “God-fearers” who could attend parts of the synagogue service and listen to stories about Jesus, began to doubt the necessity of Judaism. They wanted to follow the teachings of Jesus without all the laws and restrictions of his religion. Their doubts led them to Paul who championed their split from Judaism and created a “non-Jewish Jesus Cult.” (Acts 11:26)
But even Paul had to face doubt and questions from his Hellenized converts when they began to veer away from his version of the new religion (1 Cor. 1:10). We see this same problem in the following centuries as the Christian “authorities” strive valiantly to keep doubt away but it keeps tumbling back like laughing children in a school yard playground.
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First, it’s Adoptionism where Jesus isn’t God in the beginning but is adopted into divinity. Then comes Apollinarism which taught that Jesus had a human body but a divine mind. This was followed by Arianism, the opinion that Jesus was not divine at all. And then Docetism which held the opposite: he wasn’t human at all; he only appeared that way.
Christian doubt kept racing down the centuries un-checked while popes and councils and bishops waved their crosses and shouted for “certainty.” Nobody listened. Even when the heretics were burned at the stake there was always one more Joan of Arc to say, “What about this?”
Finally, we arrive at the year 1517, just 500 years ago, and sincere thinkers like Father Martin Luther and John Calvin and John Wycliffe and John Knox entered the Christian scene. Since then, Christianity has never been more uncertain: Should we welcome the LGBTQ community or not? Should we open our doors to the “other race” or stay with our own? Are Catholics and Mormons really Christians? Are the scriptures inerrant? Is the pope infallible?
Voltaire, the great French philosopher once said: “Doubt is uncomfortable, but certainty is absurd.” Christianity can be serenely uncomfortable, but I think it only becomes absurd when Christians claim certainty.
These fundamentalists try their best to keep all questions and doubt as far from our church as possible. They are like the popes of old (not Francis) who claim certainty for their opinions, and heresy for all others, and say questioners like myself have embarked on “the slippery slope of immorality,” and that I use “blasphemous claims to motivate truth seekers,” and finally, that I have begun a campaign to “undermine Christianity.”
My questions make them uncomfortable; I understand that. As Bill Ferguson says, their hubris makes them absurd; I wish they understood that.
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