Christianity, like every other religion, tried desperately to develop a set of statements or dogmas that should never be questioned. It was supposed to be a litmus test. “If you believe this, you’re a Christian; if you don’t — you’re not.”
Unfortunately, over the past 2,000 years, two things happened:
1. The dogmas kept changing and sometimes became downright contradictory.
2. Christians continued year after year to question this ever-changing litmus test.
For example, in the first century when our religion was just getting started, we see early Christian leaders like Paul and the Pseudo-Pauline writers of Timothy and Titus railing against those who have begun to raise questions:
In Galatians 1:6: Paul says he’s amazed that his new converts have so quickly turned away from what he taught them. He complains that there are some “who are troubling you.” Paul knows that questions can be very troubling. And of course, Paul himself questions why the followers of the Jewish Jesus must be Jews and he has a terrible fight about this with the Jewish brother of Jesus. (Gal. chapter 2) So Paul has a few questions himself — although he doesn’t let on very often.
Titus 3:10 states categorically: “Reject a divisive person (one who questions) after a first or second warning.” It’s interesting that he gives us a few warnings.
But the questions kept coming and the dogmas kept changing. All through the Middle Ages, we see that Christianity split into an alphabetical list of different beliefs starting with Adoptionism and Arianism to Gnosticism and Nestorianism and Sabellianism, etc.
The list goes on and on. “Was Jesus God?” “When did he become God?” “Was it in the womb or at his resurrection, or for all eternity?” However, the group that was “in power” condemned all the ideas they didn’t like as heresy. They held councils nearly every other century for that purpose alone. But that didn’t stop the questions.
You know the names of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, John Smyth, John Wesley and Henry the VIII. Their questions generated nearly all of the Protestant religions that exist today. And the questions haven’t stopped. Highly respected and eminently qualified theologians and scripture scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, Burton Mack, Bart Ehrman, and many more continue to ask more and more questions about Christianity. What’s wrong with that?
Well, it can be very uncomfortable for somebody who sees their religion as stable and complete. Many Catholics don’t wish to question papal infallibility or transubstantiation and many Protestants shun any question about scriptural inerrancy. There are some who even believe the four evangelists traveled with Jesus and wrote their gospels sitting by his side. Others who acknowledge that the gospels were written 40-70 years after Jesus died claim that either each generation remembered his words without any change or alteration, or that God whispered the words into the ears of the authors as they wrote.
In the past 2,000 years, we have learned a lot about science, and a lot about memory and mythology, and a lot about literature and the way it’s written. Our Bible, just like the Quran, was written by fallible humans, and our traditions, just like the Jewish traditions, have grown and changed over the years.
As Christians, we have outside evidence (mainly the two books of Josephus) that a man named Jesus really existed and was crucified by Pilate, but very little else can be gleaned from historical evidence. Everything else is faith, and we know our faith has grown and changed and is still changing. This causes a lot of questions.
But if you are like the millions of us over the centuries who have found great peace and joy in discovering the truth about Jesus in the midst of mythology and well-intentioned misinterpretations, stay with us and ask questions. The answers are really satisfying.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.