Did Early Christianity “Pass The Buck”?

The Early Church used ‘miracles’ as a marketing theme as much as the producers of ABC’s Lost do today. But by emphasizing Jesus’ Miracles more than His Teachings, it postponed the Kingdom

lost_logo.jpgFR. DAVID RICKEY: In the Bible, Jesus performed more miracles than filled the first four seasons of the ABC series, Lost, and it must have initially been a real kick for him. But for Jesus the miracles seem to have gotten in his way. He was even reported to have rebuked his followers after feeding 5000 people: “You’re following me just because I fed you! Seek the real food!”

For the New Testament Gospel writers, the miracles seem more important than the teaching. So often it reads: “Jesus taught them many things.” Then the writer goes on to tell us in great detail about a miracle. I always say, “Hey! What about the teaching? What was that?” But there’s no answer.

You can, in fact, find teaching, but it’s more in the “Non-canonical” gospels like The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel Of Mary Magdalen.

Why the emphasis in the Christian Bible on Miracles? In a word, marketing.  I believe the early church was more bent on persuading people that Jesus was the Messiah who would save the world than on spreading (and living!) Jesus’ teaching which, essentially told us how we could “save it”. In other words, the early church passed the buck. They wanted God to come again and fix everything that we messed up.

I could even bite the hand that feeds me and say that the Church worries that if people really got the message that they can do it, the bureaucracy would lose control. I tell my congregation: This is where Jesus says ‘Oy Vey’!

Instead of taking the responsibility to live the life Jesus taught, and thereby create the “Kingdom” as a reality here in this world, they “marketed” a heavenly kingdom that promised salvation, “If You Believe”.

For example, many scholars believe that The Gospel of John (The latest of the four canonical gospels) was based on a “Signs Gospel,” which was just an enumeration of the “signs” Jesus did to prove he was the Messiah. Things haven’t changed much. We still would rather have someone else fix our messes than do the deep inner work to stop creating them in the first place.

Am I saying that Jesus didn’t do miracles? No. I don’t believe all of them, but I believe many — mostly the healing miracles.

Miracles, I think, are intended to get our attention, show us that things aren’t what they seem.

A certain Guru in India, when asked about the miracles he did, answered: “I give them what they want, so they will want what I have to give.”

The miracles are meant, in a way, to blow our mind, so that our mind will open to the deeper teaching. They are meant to market, not the teacher, but the teaching.

And what is that deeper teaching? Generally it’s, “don’t look to the visible world for ultimate reality. Find a deeper connection within, a deeper reality that you are intimately connected to. Learn to live in that reality, and let it work with you and through you to create a world that embodies consciousness.”

In our own time, Eckhart Tolle sums it up well: Your life is about awakening to real consciousness. Everything that happens is merely the means for coming to that awakening, learning that the play of forms is the school in which we become aware of the source of forms, pure consciousness.

That’s why “Belief” doesn’t matter as much as understanding or awareness. Jesus said: (Gospel of Matthew) “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” Don’t hide your light under a bushel but let it shine out to transform the world.

Rather than our being the light, the early church told us to believe that Jesus was the light of the world (Gospel of John), and that he would change the world or bring us to heaven and leave the world behind—the ultimate bailout. Paul kept his churches waiting for Jesus’ return and the rapture, rather than teaching them how to create the kingdom of (en)light(enment) here.

So the buck got passed from the disciples to a future King. Fortunately, “Christian” mystical teachers, from the author of the Gospel of Thomas, through Meister Eckhart, down to Eckhart Tolle and Carolyn Myss, as well as many others like Sri Ramana Maharshi and Krishnamurti have embodied and taught the great wisdom. So, we have no excuse. Each of us is called to have the buck stop here, now.

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8 Responses to “Did Early Christianity “Pass The Buck”?”

  1. Thank you for this Fr Rickey.. Yes,I agree.. the buck stops here.. we’re all responsible for our own Enlightenment.

  2. I personally think that is silly. The miracles are there that we may see the work of the Father through Jesus. If everything that did and said was in the bible it would be so big that it would take years to read it.

    John 21:25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.

  3. I think you are missing the point. This article is suspect first because the author of the piece stated, “Am I saying that Jesus didn’t do miracles? No. I don’t believe all of them, but I believe many — mostly the healing miracles”. This statement flies in the face of Scripture. II Timothy 3:16 says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. If all Scripture is inspired by God, this would mean all Scripture is true – including the parts the author doesn’t believe in as well.

    Second, the author is using non-canonical (not inspired by God) writings such as the gospel of Thomas and Mary Magdelen as the basis for their argument. I am not saying that those writings are false. They may be useful for Church historical background, but they are not God Breathed (inspired). If you are going to examine where the early Church “missed it” you can only use Canonized Scripture for your argument.

    Third, the author is using New Age mystics such as Eckhart Tolle and Krishnamurti as trying to find “enlightenment” in humanity, where none such exists. The author has quoted and discounted Jesus Himself saying, “Rather than our being the light, the early church told us to believe that Jesus was the light of the world (Gospel of John), and that he would change the world or bring us to heaven and leave the world behind—the ultimate bailout”. In John 14:6. This is where Jesus himself said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. In other words, Scripture points to Jesus only as the focal point of enlightenment.

    As far what the Apostle Paul did for his followers, he taught them to be ever-ready for Jesus’ return. Remember, this is the same man who wrote 2/3 of the NT. He saw Jesus AFTER He ascended into Heaven (all others only saw Him while He was on the Earth). I think maybe you should re-examine what the author has stated in light of Scripture (ask the Holy Spirit that the eyes of your understanding be opened first). Once you have done that, you will see for yourself what is Truth and what is error.

  4. Alex, it takes years to read the Bible now, if you actually read it in depth. The passage you quote points to the “Signs Gospel” that I mention in the article.

    Alex and Gerald: It’s difficult in the 21st Century to hold on to a biblical literalism when historical criticism shows the many problems of that view. I tend toward Karl Barth’s view that the truth is not that God wrote the Bible but that God speaks through this human book. To make the Bible the “Word of God” discounts every other sacred scripture held by so many different human communities on this planet. Many in those “other faith communities” claim the same authority for their scriptures. Claiming “Ours is True!”, creates the basis for many of the wars on this planet and prevents any valuable discussion. Try reading Karen Armstrong’s book “The Bible, a Biography” or even more wide-ranging, her book on the “History of God” or the “The Battle for God”. I find that Truth reveals itself better when human beings share their experience of the Sacred rather than when any one group claims its experience is the only Truth.

  5. David,

    It is difficult to take Scripture as anything but literal since this is the only book that has predicted that an entire nation will cease to exist and will be reborn in a day. That nation is Israel. It is the only nation in world history that essentially ceased to exist, which was said by Jesus Christ Himself (see Matthew 23:38) and would be reconstituted in a day (see Isaiah 66:8). These are not statements on wishful dogmatic thinking. These are statements that are rooted and grounded in historical fact. The nation of Israel did cease being a nation (70 A.D.) and was reconstituted as a nation again (May 15, 1948). In addition, the language of Hebrew was not a national language until after Israel was reborn. That was also predicted by the prophet Zephaniah (see Zephaniah 3:9).

    To answer your statement regarding truth, truth is not relative. It is by its very nature absolute. Gravity is an absolute truth and it exists. These authors that you recommended in your last post, recognize truth as being as the very least relative. I ask you and anyone else reading this article to find any other nation in World History that meets the criteria that Israel has met as far as being a nation. You can test any other book you choose, see where and how these books lines up with world history. However, if you are being TRULY objective, The Bible will show itself to be amazingly accurate.

  6. Carin Elizabeth Basson Reply 13. Feb, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I’ve always been taught that the miracles Jesus performed were teaching aids, especially considering the way that they are presented in the Gospels.

    For example in Matthew 8 (happened to read it today), Jesus performs four specific miracles (and heals a bunch of people).

    First miracle: Cleansing the leper. In Jewish law, touching a leper made you unclean, but when Jesus touches the leper (something that would have been incomprehensible to the Jews) the leper become clean, instead of Jesus becoming unclean.

    Second miracle: Healing the paralysed servant of the centurion. Jesus not only heals a Gentile (who’s a member of the occupying force) he heals at a distance AND includes non-Jews at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Again what he does would shock Jewish witnesses and readers.

    Third miracle: Healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Here Matthew points out a fulfilled prophecy.

    Fourth miracle: Calming the storm. Power over nature, setting off questions in his followers’ heads.

    Fifth miracle: In Gentile territory he drive demons into a herd of pigs. Interestingly the demons recognize Jesus as Son of God.

    The Gospel writers put many miracles into their accounts because they are visual parables.

  7. Here’s an additional thought. The emphasis on miracles was largely a characteristic of the early “missionary church”. Once churches had become established for some time, as post-biblical Christian writings reveal, the emphasis shifted towards Jesus’ teachings and accounts of miracles became less common. Why? The traditional answer makes a lot of sense to me: the “spectacular” miracles had already largely served their intended purpose.

    So let us consider a statement from the article: “Instead of taking the responsibility to live the life Jesus taught, and thereby create the ‘Kingdom’ as a reality here in this world, they ‘marketed’ a heavenly kingdom that promised salvation, ‘If You Believe’.”

    My response is simply this. If the primitive church had not “marketed” themselves using miracles and a promise of heavenly salvation, they would not have gotten nearly as many people to sit down and absorb the teachings of Jesus concerning our responsibility to live the life Jesus taught in this world.

    In the ancient world, most people weren’t too deeply concerned with ethical humanism, except for the small fraction of people who were actively engaged in the pursuit of philosophy. But most were ordinary people: farmers, merchants, craftsmen, slaves, etc. And with most ordinary people, a good way to get their attention is through something spectacular, like a miracle, or by giving them the answer to a truly universal question: “What happens after I die?” Once the church got their attention, they would be much more receptive to hearing, absorbing and applying the truths of which Jesus spoke concerning how we are to live and act in this world to build the Kingdom.

    So I disagree with the article as I’m of the opinion that the Kingdom was best furthered by doing exactly what the first century church did.

  8. I agree with you Michael, except that having emphasized the miracles, it’s more difficult to find the teaching. Marketing is necessary. Paul found that out as he roamed around, being rejected by many until he found an audience. But the result is that the Gospels we include in the canon describe very little of the teaching. And the subsequent message of the Church also de-emphasized the teaching. Even more than that, when mystics like Meister Eckhart tried to bring the teaching back there was great opposition in the Church hierarchy.

    It’s very frustrating to me as a “Preacher” to continually find lessons that just say “Jesus taught them many things” and then go on to describe in detail a miracle. Yes, as a previous responder said, the miracles are often parables the relate to the teaching, and I use them as such. But I often wish I had some “transcripts” of what Jesus taught from the boat before the miracle of the great fish catch, or on the plain before the feeding of the 5000.

    I am thankful, therefore for people like Eckhart Tolle and Ramana Maharshi and Carolyn Myss and others for giving us Teaching.