I attended a charming Christmas pageant a few weeks before Christmas. The small church in a small town is probably close to 100 years old.
Can you imagine all the pancake supper fundraisers that paid for this?
They were lovely folks with a tired and trite theology that’s hurt people since the day it was invented.
I’m a plodding, simple-minded man, far short of a theologian, but the Bible just doesn’t mean what fundamentalists claim it means.
Like other Christians with a fundamentalist view of the world, the church members believe Jesus died for their sins — Jesus paid the price so we don’t have to.
But the Fundamentalist view creates so many questions.
If Jesus died for the sins of humanity, what about the people who preceded him in death? Were their sins forgiven before he died for their sins?
If Jesus died for those born after his sacrifice, then were we born with the “price” already paid?
Fundamentalists suggest that we have to believe in Jesus before our sins are forgiven. But doesn’t that put the responsibility on us, sinners who probably shouldn’t be trusted to make good decisions?
If God offers forgiveness for only those who ask, then shouldn’t we be required to ask before Jesus died for our sins? But Jesus has already died, so we’re back to ‘haven’t we already been forgiven?’
Thinking that people must ask for a forgiveness that’s already been offered doesn’t make sense. The concept can be inferred from scripture, but so can a lot of other wrong ideas. (The Bible was used for a very long time to justify slavery, for example.)
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God offers us a gift.
A gift is a gift whether you want it or not. If God gives us the gift of forgiveness, we are forgiven. It doesn’t matter if we accept the gift or not. The gift has been given.
(Now, if you accept and acknowledge the gift, then your life ought to be changed. You ought to be more grace-filled, not more judgmentally pious. But this is a conversation for another time.)
Thanks be to the God who forgives us, we were forgiven before we asked. Before we were born.
But, this understanding of scripture doesn’t work if you’re trying to grow your church or authority. So over the passage of time, as Christianity grew from a Way to follow Jesus to a means to control people, the forgiveness of God became something only achievable through a priest or church leader. (In some cases, retroactive forgiveness.)
With the Protestant Revolution a portion of Christianity moved away from the authority of the Church, and invested trust in the Priesthood of the Believer — You can determine what Scripture says, not the priest. But they retained this way of controlling believers.
If you know your Bible, you may be thinking about John 3:16. By all means, read it. Then look at the footnote, concerning verse 15.
Then read this: John 10:10
And this: John 12:32
And then let us continue to cherry pick verses until we have enough to bake a pie.
The overall message of Jesus and the Good News is that we are loved so much, we have been forgiven.
Parents forgive their children even when the children don’t ask. We are just forgiven, because of who we are. Not because of the church we attend or the prayers we offer. We are forgiven because we are loved.
But a forgiving grace being offered by God the moment we are born makes the organized religion of a church unnecessary.
To avoid the suggestion that our sins are forgiven before we were born, Augustine invited the idea that we’re born with original sin. To that I simply say nonsense, and quote my Bible: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. . .’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” ~ Gen. 1:26-27
All of those children and church members at the Christmas pageant were born in the image of God. Each of them has been forgiven.
I understand that they think they’re trying to help others when they say that others need God and need to ask for forgiveness.
But the result of their theology is they see others as others. We who are saved and those who are not.
But that’s not the overall message of the Bible. We are ALL born in the image of God. We are ALL loved. We are ALL forgiven.
Thanks be to God.