John Titaly - An Indonesian Hero

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 11 February 2004 0 Comments
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Since you say that any god who can be killed should be killed, is it not fair to say that if Christianity can die, or should die or it must die?


My answer is a simple yes! If Christianity can die then it should die and it will die. If Christianity needs you or me to defend it from real or imagined enemies, it is surely in bad shape.

The real question is what is Christianity? Is it what the Pope says it is? Is it what Billy Graham says it is? Is it what Al Sharpton says it is? Or Jerry Falwell or James Kennedy or Robert Schuler? You see when we pose the issue this way, we discover that there is no consensus, and when the various defenders of Christianity discover that, when each defines what he or she believes Christianity to be, there is no consensus.

Christianity has changed throughout history dramatically. There was a time when the Pope was married, when the church taught that to invest money for interest was a sin, when slavery was allowed, and when critical thinkers were burned at the stake. The Church did not develop the doctrine of the Incarnation until the fourth century and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not fully developed until the fifth century. We once taught that Adam and Eve were real people, that Moses wrote the Torah and that David wrote the psalms. None of these ideas still has credibility in the great academies of Christian learning.

We now know that the Virgin Birth entered the Christian faith in the 9th decade of the Christian era that neither Paul nor Mark had ever heard of it. All of this leads me to assert that Christianity is not a fixed system that was born at the first Pentecost and might die in the 21st century. Christianity is a way people journey into the mystery of God. It is a process not unlike the ocean, it never changes its substance but it ever changes its form. People who want to defend or protect Christianity have always defined it in such a way as to make an idol out of their definition.

An idol always dies. A channel through which the living God is ever revealed never does. Christianity may be transformed but it will not die. Its forms, its creeds, its doctrines, its dogmas, all of which are the products of human creativity, are always mortal. There is no ultimate unchanging truth that anyone possesses. There is only subjective experience to which people apply explanatory words.

So enter the stream of history that has been called Christianity and allow it to carry you in ways you cannot imagine into the mystery of God but don't expect the forms of Christianity, developed in human history, to be immortal.

-- John Shelby Spong




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