2000 Years of Pauline Christianity!
Copy of Essay Published by RC Hogan (2006)
Since the fall of the Roman Empire, the force that has most profoundly affected Western culture is Christianity. Its influence is so pervasive that we don't even realize its effect; we just take its rules for granted. This essay explores the results of that influence, the possibility that they could have been different, and certainly the hope that they may be altered in the future.
This exploration ends in hope, with the conviction that love, tolerance, acceptance, and compassion were central to Yeshua's teaching and will have a profound effect on mankind in the centuries to come. However, it begins with some negative statements about the church. Please stay with the explanation past the dark beginning to the light at the end.
Why are we saying these things now when they weren't said centuries ago? Probably because people were not given access to the Bible until the 17th Century, and even then knowledge of the content of the Bible was not widespread until the 20th Century. The church has had such a firm grip on spiritual affairs, often combined with the State, that we simply have not been able to rethink it.
We are also able to look at Christianity, the authorities, and the Bible without fear of being burned at the stake if we disagree with the authorities. That has only been true for a couple of centuries.
The Early Church
In the days after Yeshua's death and resurrection, there was no Christian church as we think of it today. The followers of Yeshua were with James, the brother of Yeshua in Jerusalem, Peter, and the other apostles. Some suggest they were there with the Essenes, in whose movement they may have been a part, although there is considerable disagreement about that, and the author of Luke, the only history of the early church we have, did not mention them. Outside of the core group were followers who were not willing to convert to Judaism and were simply "believers."
Then Paul, formerly Saul, a Roman citizen and persecutor of the early followers of Yeshua, began publicizing Yeshua widely. Paul never met Yeshua and knew about Him only through the stories that were being circulated. Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem church, Peter and James, the brother of Yeshua, were at odds over whether converts must first convert to Judaism before becoming followers of Yeshua.
Paul's teachings about Yeshua were very different from those of James, Peter, and the others in the Jerusalem group. It is striking that Paul's letters never quote Yeshua, rarely refer to Yeshua's teachings, and never mention Yeshua's life. Paul taught his own version of Yeshua's teachings and created his own rules. The Christian church throughout the 2,000 years since Yeshua has been formed by Paul's teachings, not the teachings of James, the brother of Yeshua, and, some say, not the teachings of Yeshua himself.
The fact that Paul did not present Yeshua's teachings in his epistles or his own preaching has been acknowledged for centuries. Only the church, built around Paul, fails to admit that fact.
The Central Difference
The central difference between Yeshua's teaching and Paul's church was in justification by faith. Paul believed the statement in Ephesians 2:8: "You have been saved by God's love and kindness because you believed. It was not because of anything you did, but it was a gift from God."
Yeshua said repeatedly what was reported in John 3:3: "'I tell you the truth. No person can see God's kingdom if he is not born again.'" And in another form in Luke 17:20-21: "The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." Humankind was to develop its own salvation by changing within. No one would give it to a person as a gift.
Yeshua promised the transformation would require work: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14) Spiritual development, Yeshua assured us, was going to be hard. He described the thought and behavior that should be characteristic of a spiritual person, but said it would take work to attain it. He never suggested that all a person had to do was swear allegiance to him and nothing else would be required.
A few passages later in Matthew, Yeshua is reported to have said, "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:24-27)
Yeshua gave the blueprint, but it would require that those receiving it build the house by putting the lessons "into practice." That means someone might hear the words and have the belief in Yeshua as the Messiah so they build a house on the words, but if the person doesn't grow spiritually, the words are meaningless--they have a foundation of sand, Yeshua said. He made a point of contrasting the two approaches to his teaching: belief is not sufficient, He said; spiritual growth is necessary.
Yeshua asserts elsewhere that simply making a statement of belief is insufficient to achieve what He describes: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-27) Evildoers is an appropriate name for many in the church today who confess belief, but whose actions defy Yeshua's words about living in love. That is especially true of those who sexually abuse children or protect the perpetrators.
Yeshua states explicitly that the person who will live in the kingdom of God that is within, for eternity, is the one who loves God and loves his neighbor:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" [Jesus] replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbor as yourself." "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." (Luke 10:25-37)
Yeshua makes no mention of believing in him as the Messiah as a requirement to inherit eternal life, even when asked directly what one must do!
Because a believer in Paul's church needed only make a statement of belief to fulfill all the requirements of Paul's Christianity, no expectation of spiritual growth was included in the new church. Not surprisingly, after two millennia of Paul's church, little advancement in spiritual maturity among Christians and in the church as a whole has resulted. Neither the church nor the believers have been able to see the kingdom of God within as Yeshua described it. The societies founded on Paul's teaching bear no resemblance to the kingdom of God in Yeshua's teaching.
Understanding Paul and His Time
I believe that the scholars have portrayed Paul accurately, and it must be acknowledged that Paul's theology formed the Western Christian church (beginning with the Roman Catholic church). However, Paul undoubtedly had the best of intentions based on his view of what was happening to humanity. Understanding Paul and his time will explain why he disregarded Yeshua's teachings and created a church based on one creed that was not in Yeshua's teaching: believe in Yeshua as Messiah to be saved.
Paul's conversion experience described by the author of Luke and alluded to by Paul in his epistles must have had a profound affect on Saul, persecutor of the followers of Yeshua. He left his preoccupations and occupation and embarked on arduous journeys to tell humankind about Yeshua. In the end, he was killed for his belief, without recanting. The experience in which he spoke with Yeshua after his death had been life-changing.
It had such a profound effect on Paul that he dedicated himself to telling others to believe in Jesus as the Messiah Israel had been waiting for. But he wasn't expecting Yeshua to delay returning for a few decades, and certainly not for two millennia. He was sure Yeshua was going to return in a few days or weeks, but certainly within his lifetime. So there was no time to lose. People had to hear about Yeshua and believe in him to become part of the elect who would inherit the kingdom. Converting the gentiles might also hasten Yeshua's return.
That being true, talk of brotherly love, ethics, conduct, and spiritual growth was less important, even superfluous. Why would people need to grow to learn how to forgive others, not judge others, pray for their enemies, or follow any of the other spiritual teachings of Yeshua when the Kingdom of God was going to be established in a few days or weeks? There would be no life in which spiritual growth would matter.
What was important was conversion--belief in Yeshua as the messiah. Paul had a genuine zeal to bring belief to the world before the end. He first wished for conversion among the Hebrews, but that was difficult because of Yeshua's ignominious death, which scandalized the Jews. The Messiah couldn't have been killed by the Romans as slaves were executed: through crucifixion. Paul probably had greater success with the "god fearers," groups of people at every Synagogue who admired Judaism and observed many of its practices, but were not willing to be circumcised or follow Mosaic law. Paul had the answer; they could join a Jewish group without following these requirements. The final group he appealed to was the Greek and Latin gentiles, who could believe in Yeshua as a savior, but wouldn't have to convert to Judaism, follow Mosaic law, or understand the notion of a Jewish Messiah.
Paul described his zeal and adaptation of his message in I Corinthians 8:19-23:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Since the remaining days were few, conduct, Jewish observances, and spiritual growth were subordinated to conversion to the point that they were minimized or discarded. He wrote stirring words about love, especially in I Corinthians 13, but his focus wasn't upon helping the communities grow spiritually; belief meant everything. His admonitions about love and peace came only when the communities had conflict that threatened his mission.
And so Paul set about with great zeal converting everyone who would listen. He didn't want to lose valuable time explaining Yeshua's teachings; converts simply had to believe. The result was that the church Paul founded focused entirely on belief, with little regard for love, morality, ethics, and spiritual growth. Circumcision and the Mosaic law, especially concerning diet, were obstacles for converting Gentiles, so he expunged them from the new church. Nothing mattered for him except bringing the Jews, the "god fearers," and the Gentiles to belief so they would be part of the kingdom of God. He also likely believed that converting the Gentiles would hasten Yeshua's Parousia (second coming).
Paul was also heavily influenced by the Hellenistic Mystery Religions. These religions were well known to the gentiles he was attempting to convert, and in his willingness to change his message to suit his audience, he re-characterized the Yeshua he never knew to fit the Hellenistic religions. Central to them were the violent deaths of Osiris, Attis, Adonis, and Dionysus that brought eternal life to their initiates. Paul added the interpretation of Yeshua's mission as being killed to save humankind.
In 49 CE, he was summoned to Jerusalem by the leaders there to explain why he was abandoning Jewish Torah law and inserting the Greek Mystery Religion atonement death belief system. Paul downplayed the extent of his change from Yeshua's teaching, asking only that the gentiles not be required to convert to Judaism to become followers of Yeshua. He was thus confirmed in the role of "apostle to the Gentiles," with full permission to enroll Gentiles in the messianic movement without requiring full conversion to Judaism. But it is clear that Peter and James had no real understanding of Paul's revolutionary thinking that departed from what they knew of Yeshua's teaching.
However, when Peter visited Paul in Antioch and became aware of the full extent of Paul's views, a serious rift began between Pauline and Jewish views of Yeshua's teaching. At a second conference in Jerusalem, around 55 CE, James accused Paul of teaching Jews "to turn their backs on Moses" (Acts 21:21). Again, however, Paul evaded the charge by concealing his views, and he agreed to undergo a test of his own observance of the Torah.
His deception, however, was detected by a group of "Asian Jews" (probably Jewish Christians) who were aware of his real teaching. A stormy protest ensued. Paul feared for his life and was rescued by the Roman police, to whom he declared that he was a Roman citizen so they would protect him. This announcement surprised the apostles in Jerusalem because the Romans were their chief enemy. It was the end of Paul's association with the Jerusalem church. And in a sense, it was the beginning of Christianity as we know it today.
Paul managed to marry the most attractive elements of Judaism and the Greek Mystery Religions, making this new belief in Yeshua attractive to the gentiles, who admired Judaism but were not willing to convert (because of the Mosaic law requirements and circumcision), and who knew and were committed to the Mystery Religions. The new religion was a fabrication containing little of the teachings of the Jewish Rabbi, Yeshua ben Yosef, who taught in the hills of the Galilee.
The church Never Reconsidered Paul in Light of Yeshua's Teaching
Unfortunately, as the years dragged on with no return of The Messiah, the church had created the rigid religion that had evolved; it would not reconsider Yeshua's teachings. Generations of people were living and dying while waiting for the second coming, and they needed to grow in love and compassion to establish the Kingdom of God Yeshua described. However, focusing on the individual communing with God and growing through understanding and wisdom would have diminished the church's control--people would have grown closer to God and further from the church. The powerful, wealthy church leaders were loathe to give up the control and power they held, so they kept the flock in fear and obedience by subjugating Yeshua to church control.
At the Council of Nicea in 325, nearly three centuries and 10 or so generations after Yeshua's death, the church still focused on belief in the Messiah, preparing for the second coming. Spiritual growth remained superfluous, as it had been for Paul.
The church had no substance other than the belief and salvation creed, so Yeshua's birth, death, resurrection, and divinity came to dominate everything about the church and church practices. Yeshua's teachings were relegated to meaningless words recited mindlessly in a liturgy that became increasingly complicated and filled with repetitious rituals and regalia. The crucifix became the central icon because of the focus on the sacrifice of Christ and requirement of belief.
The church based on Yeshua, who focused on love, evolved into an organization based on fear. In countries where the church had more power, there was more fear. Hell gained in prominence to frighten nonbelievers into conversion and keep believers from straying from the church's grasp. The church began selling indulgences by promoting the fear that loved ones were to spend eons in purgatory or be consigned to hell if the survivors didn't pay. Amid this harsh atmosphere of repression and fear, Mary, the mother of Yeshua, became deified because she was the gentle, feminine figure who could intercede to enhance a worshiper's stature with Jesus to avoid hell and enter heaven.
And so, for the millennia that followed, Paul's zeal to convert people before what he believed to be the imminent coming of the end in the first century continued to dominate Christianity; time had stood still. In Dark Age Europe after the fall of Rome, the focus remained on conversion and belief, even though Paul's bones, along with his expectation for an imminent return, had been cold and dead for centuries.
In the Middle Ages, Yeshua's teachings remained in abeyance while the church built magnificent cathedrals and developed elaborate liturgies. At the Reformation, the Protestant church didn't use the new broom to sweep out the antiquated expectations Paul held and inaugurate an era of spiritual growth based on Yeshua's teachings. During the revivals in American Evangelicalism in the nineteenth century, no firebrand preachers returned to Yeshua's creed to show the world they were his followers by having love for one another; instead, the preachers bellowed that the sinners must repent and believe to avoid hell's fires.
And today, 2,000 years after Yeshua's death, the church still maintains Paul's focus on a belief that he held because he was sure spiritual growth and conduct were inconsequential--the end times were a few days away.
However, over the centuries, the requirement to believe has been expanded: people must believe in the church as well as the Messiah. The conversion is not complete or genuine unless the person obeys the rules the church asserts as dogma. The Christian church speaks for God. No other approach to God is true; in fact, other interpretations of God,
Yeshua Jesus Christ, or church doctrines are inspired by Satan. The pages of text you are reading now may be dismissed as Satanic.
Because Yeshua's teachings were regarded as inconsequential, the West experienced no spiritual growth for the two millennia since His death. Instead, the church's requirement for conversion and its burgeoning power and wealth resulted in 2,000 years of pressure to conform, torture, and widespread murder. Since the only worthy people in the universe were those who agreed with Paul's interpretation of Yeshua and followed Paul's rules, all other human beings were pagan rabble who could be conquered, subjugated, and killed unless they converted. Armies led by Christian banners slaughtered Muslims, Native Americans, Jews, suspected witches, reformers, and countless millions on every continent of the globe, all because a religious leader in the first century believed people must be converted to save their souls.
Even within the church, groups who do not obey the Pauline rules and believe the Pauline truths are ostracized. The intolerance of the church has provided justification for ethnic, national, gender, sexual, and racial bigotry, with the assurance that the church condones condemnation and violence against those the church related groups abhor.
On the interpersonal level, one person to another, Christians, bolstered by the church's intolerance, lord over other people, castigating them for not following the rules, browbeating them about their lifestyles, and cutting off relationships or sending transgressors out of families because they don't follow religious practices and rules the self-righteous churchgoers require. They could not do that if the church didn't tolerate it and provide the model for it. The source is the Pauline focus on intolerant belief with no regard for love and compassion.
In the end, Paul's theology separated man from God. Within the Pauline church, following Paul's model, the knowledgeable few interpret God for the ignorant many. Until the 16th century, common people were not even permitted to read the Bible, much less seek God and listen to the Holy Spirit individually, in their hearts.
Those who disagree with the knowledgeable were killed, but today are simply asked to leave the church. Under no circumstances is an individual to interpret God's will without the intervention of the knowledgeable who derive their power from the writings of the earlier authorities, especially Paul. Common people may pray to God, but the answers they receive must match the answers condoned by the knowledgeable authorities. Anyone who speaks directly to God and receives answers not sanctioned by the knowledgeable authorities was burned at the stake as a heretic (and is today castigated in the media, excommunicated, or denied tenure).
This unyielding intolerance and the adamant requirement that all people in all cultures must obey the church to be considered worthy of even existing, have led Western civilization into a focus on a physical world religion with external rules and away from the inner realm where Yeshua said we must be born again and the kingdom of God resides. It has created the opportunity for all of the abuses that come from the physical realm: corruption, arrogance, bigotry, intolerance, sadism, and even sexual abuse. And in the end, as people abandon this repressive church, they abandon God.
The idea that the church must intervene between man and God, and that the God in all of us isn't powerful enough to speak to us individually, is so much a part of our culture and thinking that we don't question it. We would never think of receiving personal messages from God without the church, the minister/priest, and the Bible telling us what God is saying. We think someone who says they hear from God is crazy! That isn't what Yeshua taught us or wants for us; it was taught to us by the church.
Pauline Christianity, in other words, has profoundly separated man from God. At the same time, its arrogance and intolerance have fostered remarkable violence, cruelty, and sexual and psychological abuse. It has effectively separated man from man. And it has taught that man cannot trust his own instincts and the inner voice that speaks to him about what it right, good, and compassionate. It has assuredly separated man from himself.
Yeshua's Teachings: Love God and Love Others Unconditionally
Paul's requirement to profess belief in a creed was not part of Yeshua's teaching, but striving for spiritual growth to have a loving, compassionate society was:
One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
At the Last Supper, giving those closest to Him the words He wanted them to carry with them to the world about His teachings, a summary of His ministry, He said:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
There is no room for telling someone he can't be in the church because he's a homosexual or doesn't go to church every Sunday or doesn't give a dime in the offering plate. Yeshua doesn't say, people will know you follow My teachings, if you harass others into converting and coming to church or if you tell someone they aren't welcome in church because of their beliefs or if you rid the church of homosexuals. The intolerance, cruelty, and hate in the last 2,000 years of Christianity and in today's churches comes from Christians, not from Christ.
Do Not Judge Others--Be Tolerant and Accepting
The Gospels show that Yeshua taught acceptance, love, tolerance, and compassion, without judgment of others. He undoubtedly said what was reported in Matthew about the requirement never to judge another under any circumstances:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
In effect, we will never be so perfect we can state a judgment to someone else about that person's imperfections; we have a plank of wood ten feet long, twelve inches wide, and two inches thick in our own eye; what nerve we have to tell someone else about the speck of dust in her eye! When we get the plank of wood out of our eye, then maybe we can tell someone else about a little speck in her eye. But we'll never get rid of every speck of that plank from our own eye! That's what Yeshua was saying. We'll never be perfect enough to judge another or cast the first stone. So just don't do it.
No person was unworthy in Yeshua's eyes. You know the story of the adulteress brought to Yeshua. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Yeshua, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" (John 8:3-6) They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
Here's what's important. Even the Pharisees knew that this man Yeshua, who was astounding everyone with his wisdom, was teaching his followers to be compassionate and tolerant. Yeshua's teaching was so clear about tolerance, love, forgiveness, and acceptance that everyone knew it, even the Pharisees. The law said an adulteress should be stoned. No one defied the law--they wouldn't even think about it. It would be like us today thinking it would be OK to rob a bank or run all of the red lights we come to.
The Pharisees went to the trouble of setting up this whole thing because they knew He would not condemn even an adulteress, a person who had broken God's law as they interpreted it. Instead, he would accept her. They thought He would say, "I don't care what the law says; don't stone her. She has just made a mistake, but we must forgive and accept her as we must forgive and accept anyone, regardless of what they do or have done." They then would have had cause to stone Him because He was party to her guilt; that was the law too.
They were sure He would fall into that trap because love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness were central to Yeshua's teachings, and everyone who heard of Yeshua heard that about Him, even the Pharisees. There was no Bible with Yeshua's words in it, then. It was the way Yeshua lived His life, and the central message of His teachings. The Pharisees chose that teaching of Yeshua to trap Him because they knew He was so strong about it that He would never condemn the woman.
But Yeshua bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. We don't know what He wrote. When they kept questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
Yeshua took the responsibility from a faceless crowd judging the woman in God's name and placed it in the hands of each individual, saying, "If you can stand before God now having never made a mistake, go ahead, throw the first stone." He was restating His fundamental teaching: "First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
He was saying, yet again, "Unless you're perfect, don't judge." Here, in fact, He was taking it a step further: "If you ever have sinned, don't judge." He put His life in danger to say that.
Yeshua straightened up and asked her: "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, Sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Yeshua declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:10-11)
Those words should reverberate in the minds of every person who claims to follow Yeshua: "Then neither do I condemn you." Where can those who profess to follow Yeshua find room in that statement to be intolerant of anyone: Jews, atheists, women, rock stars, homosexuals, people of color, people who never go to church, adulterers, thieves?
He didn't tell her she was wicked and He wouldn't accept her if she didn't change her ways; that she wouldn't go to Heaven; that she shouldn't come to church until she straightens up. The word, "sin," meant "mistake" in the Greek words used to write the original text of the Bible, not what it means today: An act not approved by God. He said, don't make the same mistakes again! And I accept you, unconditionally!
Yeshua said to His disciples, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." The zealots in the church today who condemn people who make mistakes or don't live life the way they require them to live it are, by Yeshua's words, not followers of Yeshua.
These are Jerry Fallwell's words after the Word Trade Center and Pentagon bombings:
I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."
Pat Robertson then said, "Well, I totally concur."
It is remarkable that today's Christian fundamentalists are viewed as bigoted, intolerant, condemning, judgmental, closed minded, and insensitive. Whose followers are they?
People Should Approach God Personally, without the church and Minister/Priests
The records of Yeshua's words in the Gospels also show that Yeshua wanted people to approach God individually and commune with God without the layers of rules and intercession of a knowledgeable hierarchy of priests. Of the more than sixty times in the Bible the words pray, prayer, or prayed are said by or descriptive of Yeshua, only three relate to praying in public. He told his followers to commune with God individually, and never said don't trust the answers God gives them. He never once said "Go ahead and pray, but check out the answers you receive from God by getting approval from the priest/minister."
When Yeshua defied the law in the scriptures and the church, He asked the people who had assembled planning to stone the adulteress to search their own hearts individually. He said, in effect, "Disregard the law and look inside. Look at your spirit. If you find yourself to be perfect and blameless, then you can cast the first stone." And the converse is equally true: "But if you find that you, yourself, have had mistakes in your life, then you can't administer this church law. You should be tolerant, accepting, and forgiving over any law set forth by the church." The rules of the church are not as important as the personal, inner searching you do about your relationship to God and to those around you.
The two times Yeshua emphasized the importance of loving God and loving others, He prefaced the teaching with "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" and "A new command I give you." The laws have been replaced by the admonition to love.
The words reported in Matthew and Luke as spoken by Yeshua resonate with His entire ministry.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." . . . [Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer and said a parable, then replied,] "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:1-13)
Yeshua said ask and God will give you, via Holy Spirit, the knowledge you ask for. He didn't reply to the disciple saying "Pray, then ask the priest what God's answer is" or "Pray only in the presence of a minister so the minister can give you God's answer" or "Pray, then study the Scriptures to see what the answer is." Yeshua was answering the question about how the disciples should pray: "Your prayer is a question and your Father will send the answer; your prayer is a knock at the door and your Father will send the Holy Spirit to open the door; your prayer is seeking and your Father will send the Holy Spirit to make sure you find."
The church ignores these very clear words of Yeshua about love, acceptance, tolerance, and the importance of a personal relationship to God without a church or minister/priest intervening; the reason is that Paul described a church hierarchy and the leaders' exclusive power over people. He believed the churches had to stay intact while gaining more converts--Yeshua was returning any minute. Paul was also dynamic. He likely felt he and the leaders of the church could do a better job of evangelism than God within.
At its root, the Pauline reliance on strict rules, scriptural backing for the injunctions, full time minister/priests who must tell people about God, and evangelical campaigns to "sell" God, reveal a remarkable absence of trust and faith. It suggests that God simply isn't powerful enough to do the job; God can't get it right. At worst, it is almost agnostic: they don't seem to have confidence that there even is a God who can have any influence over the people. The church fills the void and presents God in the ways that suit its purposes.
Yeshua said the Father would send the Holy Spirit to anyone who asked. What is it that the church thinks it can provide that God can't?
What Could Have Resulted from 2,000 Years of Teaching Tolerance, Love, and Compassion?
Had the last 2,000 years been dominated by Yeshua's teachings that focus on tolerance, love, and compassion, our culture might be quite different today. Norms in a culture are built slowly, over time. The norms in Western culture today have been built by Pauline intolerance. Had Yeshua's teachings predominated, our culture today would have been built by the millions of faithful following the teachings that would have created a loving, tolerant, compassionate society. Today, we would have had 2,000 years of people looking for ways to demonstrate their love for one another. The rules would not have dominated church activity. Instead, expressions of love, rewards for loving acts, and encouraging learning ways to show love would be the common content of church teachings and practice.
People would be reaching out to other groups they don't understand with tolerance and hope for understanding. The church would be at the forefront of showing people how to follow Yeshua's lead in accepting all people, regardless of their station, beliefs, or practices. He illustrated the importance of tolerance by embracing the abhorred Roman tax collectors, adulterers, the homeless, Samaritans, and all others who were ostracized from Jewish society. In this world based on Yeshua's teachings of tolerance and compassion, no one would be intolerant of others. All those who are different would belong.
People would care for one another and give all they have to help others to be comfortable. There would be no competition, backbiting, gossiping, and efforts to destroy other people. The church wouldn't condone it. The 2,000 years of living Yeshua's teaching would have resulted in a compassionate culture.
All would be encouraged to find God and commune with God in their own ways. The lessons they learned as they commune with God would be valued, and would teach others as they found their own individual relationship with God. The inner self, prayer, meditation, and direct communion with God, would be the norm. No external intercession by others between man and God would be necessary or tolerated.
Other beliefs would be understood and accepted. The religions all agree that God is the originator of love and that God wants man to live in harmony and peace with other men. The differences come in the manners in which people want to enjoy their relationships with God. Some bow to Mecca five times a day; some light candles; some set objects afloat on a river; some eat bread and drink wine to symbolize the body and blood of their leader; some dance around stones in the middle of a field; some walk through a forest.
The manner in which people approach God tells us about the people, not God. That seems so obvious in the face of the thousands of religions that exist that I am incredulous that anyone could claim that there is only one right, true manner of communing with God that is sanctioned by the One God--and it's mine.
The One God is shared by all faiths who approach God through a great variety of practices. The problem comes when someone demands that everyone participate in his practice, saying God has told him his is the only one God accepts, and condemns all of the other practices. What arrogance! In the face of thousands of different ways of approaching God, some claim theirs is the only right one and all of the rest are delusions. And in the process, they fly into rages that diminish their love for man that is the primary injunction in virtually all of these religions.
The Pauline church is remarkably intolerant of religious practices, even among the followers of Yeshua, and enforces separation of man from man.
When we have 2,000 years of following the guidance from God in us, as taught by Yeshua and others, then the guidance from God in us will result in a moral consciousness that will transcend all of the egocentric's and violence we see in the world today. Where can we hide from ethics and morality when God is One with us?
Our Inner Voice, the Holy Spirit, Teaches Us
The spirit of God in us teaches us. External teachings may help us to understand, but they are only stimulants to help us as we journey on our path toward greater self understanding, love, and communion with God. The final determiner of Truth is what resonates with our spirits. God is not in a book. God is in us. We are One with God.
That is why our inner voice has always been uncomfortable with some of the teachings of the church;
that only some people will have eternal life and those God doesn't like will suffer intolerably in Hell for eternity;
that some people are not worthy of being accepted as they are and must change their ways before we or God will accept them;
that God has such a weak ego that He created people to worship him;
that God lives in Heaven, somewhere in outer space, and just comes to visit in church on Sundays;
that God made a mistake and created an evil being so powerful that even God can't control him, and consequently God has to powerlessly let Satan prey on God's beloved children;
that the God in us isn't as powerful as the God that was in Paul, so we won't get God's message listening to the God in us and we need to listen to Paul instead, or actually, we need to listen to the minister/priest who tells us what Paul really meant because the God in the minister/priest is more powerful than the God that is in us, and we won't understand the God in the book without the minister/priest, but the God in the minister/priest still isn't as powerful as the God that was in Paul, so the minister/priest has to listen to the God in the book so he can tell us what God is telling us;
that only one of the many books about God is the right book, and it's my book, and only one interpretation of the book is the right one, and it's my interpretation, and all the rest of the books were created by Satan, and all of those who don't agree with my interpretation are minions of Satan;
that God is in the book, not in nature, not in you, and not in me, and that whatever the book says is true while what nature or our hearts tell us about God is lies if it doesn't agree with the book; but I have to interpret the book for you and my interpretation is right even though hundreds of other people reading the same book have different interpretations;
that we can only apprehend God in a place where a knowledgeable person can tell us about God, so Sunday morning has to be spent in church, not in nature or with a few loving friends at home, or helping people in the local nursing home, and the seating has to be in a square, with everyone facing the knowledgeable minister/priest speaking while we all listen quietly because we are ignorant and God is in the minister/priest, but not in us!
The reason our inner spirit has such difficulty with these teachings of the church is that they're simply not true. Just as a teenager's body coughs to tell her that first cigarette is not good for her, our spirits cough at these teachings from the church. Our spirit, God in us, is telling us they're not true.
God isn't in the clouds or the church or the minister/priest. God in us teaches us, independent of the book and the knowledgeable hierarchy of priests and ministers. Yeshua's words resonate with us because they're true. God in us tells us that, not the Bible or the minister/priest.
Unconditional Love and Acceptance
The primary difference between the dogma of the Pauline church and these teachings is embodied in the concepts of conditional and unconditional love. Pauline Christianity places rigid limitations on acceptance to the fold, which result in a broadening of the limitations by those in the church with an agenda to exclude others. Depending on the social factors, various groups are accepted or rejected by the church. Today, homosexuals, Jews, and atheists are the target groups most widely not accepted by the church. In the recent past, it was rock stars, and before that women, the poor, psychics, free spirits, and people of color.
Among Christian groups, other Christian groups are not tolerated. After Pope John Paul II's death, a Baptist church wrote in its newsletter, "Satan's minion here on Earth, the Pope, head of the largest cult in the world (Catholicism) is finally dead and back home with his father, Lucifer, in Hell." ("Satan Calls Another Pope to Hell," Landover Baptist church, April 2005). Pope Benedict XVI returned the sentiment by declaring that Catholicism is the "one true church," meaning other Christians are pagans bound for hell (Address to members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, via the National Catholic Reporter: 1/31/08).
This intolerance comes from placing any conditions on love between God and man and man and man. God's love is unconditional love. There are no limitations; there are no conditions. That is the model for the love man should have for man; love without requirements or expectations.
Having any conditions on love—any conditions—results in the feeling that other conditions can be placed on love. Unconditional love means just that—without conditions! Conditional love teaches the person loved that the love can be withdrawn at any time. It teaches her that she isn't lovable without constraints, that some unknown conditions may be given at any time. And it teaches people, especially children, that we can impose rules on those who will receive our love and we have the right to withhold love if the person doesn't do what we require. That is not unconditional love.
Conditional love leads to judgments and intolerance based on any criteria prominent in the religious group at the time. Unconditional love permits no judgment and intolerance under any conditions. Any teaching that includes some conditions for love and acceptance allows the followers to broaden the intolerance to anything currently unacceptable to them. It teaches them that conditions on love are acceptable.
On the other hand, any teaching that includes unconditional love accepts no intolerance in any form. It teaches people how to be tolerant in all areas.
Yeshua taught unconditional love and acceptance without requirements and expectations. Even the Pharisees knew He not only taught that, He lived it. They were so sure He would accept without conditions that they set up a scene that Yeshua probably had not been involved in before, with an adulteress about to be stoned, knowing He would accept her unconditionally as He must have demonstrated repeatedly, to all, that He would accept anyone unconditionally, without exception.
Yeshua said if you follow Me, you must love unconditionally: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another."
I'm not sure why His followers today don't recognize the central, clearest, most often repeated teaching in His ministry. The Christian churches, throughout history and today, are full of condemnation, bigotry, hate, and intolerance, all in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Next 2,000 Years
And so, it may be true that these alternative teachings, which I believe to be at the core of Yeshua's teachings, will guide our culture during the next 2,000 years as they have not during the previous 2,000 years. An acceptance of these teachings separated from the Pauline biases and listening to our own sense about the Truth from God within us, will help us as a species evolve into a loving, compassionate, tolerant race that will erase the cruelty, violence, and hate that dominate our culture today.
It will require a rediscovery of the God within us, and of the teachings of Yeshua and the other great teachers. But foremost, it will require that the church lose its grip on people's spiritual lives. Yeshua predicted both the corruption of His teachings and the reemergence of them.
A Convergence of Facilitating Factors
We may be experiencing an unprecedented spiritual awakening during our time that was intended to happen in this way. The spiritual evolution of our species may be progressing toward that ideal world that reflects Yeshua's teachings in our time as it was meant to happen. A number of forces are converging that will encourage the development of a culture based on Yeshua's teachings, the wisdom of the other Great Teachers, and foremost, the guidance of God who is One with us.
James' church in Jerusalem died as the Pauline church grew to influence the entire world. Today, the Pauline interpretations of Yeshua's teachings are widely accepted, perhaps because of the rigidity of the Pauline interpretations of Yeshua's teachings, single minded evangelism, and intolerance of alternative interpretations of the Nature of God. It may be true that this widespread acceptance of the Pauline interpretation of Yeshua will make it easier for people to accept the alternative view of Yeshua and Yeshua's teachings today. The world may have needed that single minded evangelism to be prepared for the alternative teachings of Yeshua.
At the same time, mass communication, especially the Internet, has made it possible for us to share understanding and experiences as it has never been possible in the history of mankind. Understanding the loving, compassionate, tolerant Nature of God will be easier for large numbers of people who will influence the culture more quickly and powerfully.
The Internet encourages understanding and communication about the Nature of God and mankind. The church is not able to remain the sole authority. Information is accessible to all people, and alternative interpretations of the Truth are more easily accessible. Another convergent influence is that evolution into a mobile, separated society where the extended family does not exist and individuals feel isolated from one another is providing an impetus for understanding and embracing the Oneness that overlays our individuality. The physical world seems to be forcing people apart; people are yearning for real connection.
Finally, political mandates have created an environment that permits people to share alternative views of religion, God, and even Yeshua, without fear they will be burned at the stake. It will be possible for messages about the church and alternative views of Yeshua to be openly discussed in the mass media as they could not have been discussed prior to the 18th century.
As a result of these forces, it may be the time in the history of mankind for the alternative interpretation of Yeshua's teaching and the wisdom of the other Great Teachers to provide people with a spiritual underpinning allowing them to become more tolerant, compassionate, loving, and knowledgeable about God by approaching God individually, from within. The next 2,000 years of mankind's spiritual growth may result in a tolerant, compassionate, loving society that we can only dream about today.
It may have been meant to happen in this way.