Liberating the Jesus spirit


Glynn Cardy, an Anglican priest in New Zealand, has written a series of blog entries on the subject of Easter. His third posting, "The Great Easter Deception", includes the following text:

...The first post-resurrection Christians found the liberating spirit of Jesus wonderful, enlightening, and world changing. However, in time, other Christians, especially some in positions of power, found it frightening. They wanted to restrain and control the Jesus spirit. They were anxious that people would take courage, turn the world upside down, and thus upset the way things are. They were anxious that their power would be reduced.

So what some leaders did was take the metaphorical language about sacrifice [that had been around awhile] and applied it definitively to the Easter stories. They turned Jesus’ death into a once-for-all blood sacrifice to cleanse us of our alleged sin. Instead of the forces of injustice killing Jesus all of us so-called sinners were responsible. His death was de-politicized. If it weren’t for our sin, so the story was re-told, he wouldn’t have had to die.

Jesus was now no longer the confrontational revolutionary prophet but a self-sacrificing lamb. Good Friday was not the Romans killing off a pestilent rebel but the assisted suicide of the forgiving martyr. Easter Sunday was not the days of new hope, determination, and resistance congealing among his followers but a 40-day power display in order to show the benefits of having Jesus forgive us.
It is clear to me, as I study the history of the development of orthodoxy within the early centuries of the Christian church, that this de-politicization of Jesus's message that Glynn Cardy refers to in the above text was accompanied, at the same time, by political maneuvering for power by the leaders of the early Church. Those two processes went hand in hand, because in order for the self-appointed gatekeepers of the new religious order to justify their consolidation of power, it was necessary to strip away from their religious faith any real reference to Jesus's prophetic call on behalf of the powerless in the face of collaboration between secular and religious authority. The taming of the Jesus spirit into a restrained and safe orthodoxy which ultimately triumphed over "heresy" was not a polite, restrained, peaceful affair. It required Machiavellian subterfuge, coercion, and violence--all of which violated the spirit of Jesus's teachings, of course, but then that was the point.

If, as Glynn has suggested, the Jesus spirit has been restrained and controlled, how can we then liberate the Jesus spirit once again? How can we reincorporate what I believe to be Jesus's message of radical inclusion, his rebellious spirit, his prophetic call, his identification with powerless, into a modern faith?


JP Manzi said...

Love the way you are making me think.

Heather said...

If I'm remembering my history right, Constantine saw a vision of the cross right before a battle (and possibly was promised victory if he believed/said certain things), and then after he won, decided everyone must convert to Christianity. I always found that ironic, given that the early Christians didn't support war. And sobering, since that is how Christianity pretty much became dominant afterwards -- almost tainted with violence, in a way.

Mystical Seeker said...

There's an interesting book called "When Jesus Became God" by Richard Rubenstein, which tells the story of the defining of orthodoxy during the time of Constantine and afterwards. Rubenstein suggests that Constantine was really not such a nice guy (he was an Emperor, after all). He apparently murdered his brother-in-law, for example, and instituted horribly draconian laws against people who violated his conception of morality. He forced the bishops to accept the Nicean creed by threatening anyone who didn't sign on to it with exile--thus creating the illusion of nearly "unanimous" support for it (kind of like the way those "elections" in the old USSR were nearly unanimous). And the chief "hero" of the orthodoxy against the Arian "heresy" of that era was bishop Athanasius, who used underhanded means to get appointed bishop, behind the backs of those who were supposed to appoint him to the post, and who then subsequently used violence against "heretics".

All and all, it was nasty business. Far from being a holy, solemn process guided by the loving influence of the Holy Spirit, what constituted the orthodoxy was decided by the dirty reality of political maneuvering, with little regard for playing nice.

Heather said...


This is the fourth or fifth time I've heard of that book, and it's on my amazon wishlist. Maybe this is a sign? ;) It was referenced in 'The Dishonest Church.' Which I think you critiqued in your blog a while back, which is where I heard of it.

**Far from being a holy, solemn process guided by the loving influence of the Holy Spirit, what constituted the orthodoxy was decided by the dirty reality of political maneuvering, with little regard for playing nice. ** Yes. And sometimes, when people say that Christianity is peaceful, I want to stare in befuddlement and go, "Have you *studied* how the religion because a power on the national level? There was nothing peaceful about it!"

Of course, that is because Christianity become political. Then again, they were strifes even before that happened, such as the Gnostics. The religion is peaceful in principle, and many have been changed for the better. But it also has some dark spots.

Kay said...

Hi Mystic Seeker. I wandered in via JP's blog, but realized, after reading a couple of posts, that I "know" you from the TCPC forum (though neither of us have posted for a very long time).

I'm glad to find your blog. I'll be a regular visitor, I'm sure.


Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Kay. Thanks for paying a visit to my blog. I took a look at your blog and I liked what you had to say about the Bible. Take care!