Micah Redding — humanity, technology & the future

In this series:

Christianity against religion

Recently, I've had renewed interest in presenting a viewpoint I worked years and years to realize. When I was working on understanding it, I assumed that once I finished researching, I would be able to explain it to the world. But as is often the case, once I had finished, I had ventured so far from where I began, I wondered if it was even worth the time. I had, after all, changed in the process.

I'm talking about my understanding the message of Jesus as the rejection of organized religion.

This was my first truly revolutionary understanding - the insight that changed the way I thought about myself and my world. I reached it by following the lines of argument that the Church of Christ (my "birth" religion) had laid out - but unlike most others, I followed those arguments to their natural conclusions.

For now, I just want to sketch out what that looks like, and lay out a map of where I'm going with this.

  1. God is spirit. Jesus and Paul seem to see this insight as the core realization of the New Testament, the fact that changes everything. Jesus uses it to reject temples, rituals, and other forms of worship, to disavow religious hierarchy of all kinds, and to declare all foods clean. Paul uses it to reject circumcision, to proclaim the equality of women, slaves, Jew, and gentile, and to free all of his hearers from the bonds of the Law. The idea is simple: God is spirit, thus God does not care about external divisions or observances. God is spirit, thus the only thing God cares about is our spiritual state.

  2. No barriers to God. Building on the previous insight, Jesus' entire career can be seen as an attempt to free access to God from the constraints of religion, priesthood, and ritual. Access to God is available to everyone, everywhere.

  3. Universal brotherhood of man. Though phrased as classic humanism, this is a core idea of the New Testament, that all humanity is equal and created in the image of God. This was Paul's first sermon to the gentile world.

  4. Full equality of women. The bible makes four things very clear: that men and women were created to equally bear the image of God, that male dominance is a result of human brokenness, that full inclusion of women was a primary feature of the prophesied New Covenant, and that the first Christians scandalously included women as full equals in public settings.

  5. Shadows vs Truth. As the first Christians saw it, symbolic rituals were only shadows of the reality that was truly important - one's spiritual state. Thus, every ritual was to be removed in favor of real life and relationship. Where organized religion promoted actions that had no inherent value (sacrifices, washings, etc), Christians promoted loving one's neighbor, helping the poor, and protecting the innocent.

  6. "Church" was the rich following Jesus' instructions, and inviting the poor, the lame, the blind, the slaves, and the Jews into their homes to party. They were used to inviting each other, but by inviting those outside of their social group, they created a scandalous testament of human equality to the ancient world.

  7. "The Lord's Supper" was the rich sharing their food with the poor, eating together as equals.

  8. The "deacons" were those who volunteered to distribute food to the poor. The "bishops" were those who looked after the orphans and widows.

  9. There was no Sunday morning church, no worship service, no religious rituals, no central church treasury, no hierarchy of religious leaders, no congregations, no denominations, no church names, no church signs, no preachers, no worship music. Nothing like an organized religion.

  10. Some people think it's okay to be spiritual without organized religion. Others think that Christianity originally had no organized religion. But I think that Christianity was actually the rejection of religion altogether - the embrace of God and relationship outside of any artificial constructions.

These are some of the basics, some of the things I want to expand upon and demonstrate more fully. If you have any questions or feedback, I'd love to hear them.


Next: Paul

Alan Allison:

Micha, You are definitely on to something. Ecclesiology is a subject I’ve spent many years studying. Anything written by Jon Zens and Frank Viola will bless your socks off. Check out Searching Together Magazine http://www.searchingtogether.org/ and http://www.simplechurch.com/profile/FrankViola Neither of these guys are full preterists but they do have a good grasp of NT theology and ecclesiology. I would suggest that you bear in mind to whom Paul is speaking and to whom Jesus is speaking when you consider their words as they relate to NT church practice. Jesus was working within an OT law social structure and taught the keeping of the law to the Jews, knowing that the day would come soon when the law would pass away and Jerusalem would be destroyed. He did look forward to the time when worship would not be done on this mountain or that (His conversation with the woman at the well), but that soon the Father would seek those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. When you see Jesus challenging the teachers of the law He is usually objecting to their misuse of the law and adding to the law the tradition of the elders, which he flat rejected. He went out of His way to provoke the Pharisees by breaking their ridiculous traditions of Sabbath keeping, and healing rules, etc. When Paul spoke as an apostle to the Gentiles he strictly avoided bringing Gentiles under the law. They were not living in a society whose laws were the structure of OT Israel. So that conditions Paul’s words and must be considered. In the eschaton things were changing from OT to NT for the Jews, but for the Gentiles they were simply being taught NT theology. There is a church and that church is one and to be united. All sacerdotalism is swept into Jewish history and no longer a model of practice for the church. However, there is a new priesthood after the order of Melchizidek of which Jesus is the High Priest. All Christians now are priests and offer sacrifices to God. We do so by obeying Christ’s NT commands, preaching the gospel, and worshipping God in the assembly of the brethren. Our priesthood duties also include the expression of our gifts to the mutual edification of the church body. What you call religion I would call the traditional institutional church. The institutional church is so fraught with unbiblical traditions that violate Christ’s commands that it is unrecognizable in the NT.

DummySean:

Micah, I am reminded of Robert Funk's idea that the historical Jesus was a secular sage. It seems from your description that Jesus is made obsolete by modern liberalism. Does it matter, then, what he did or taught, accept for historical study? In what sense is "Christianity" a useful term anymore? Sean

micahtredding:

I don't see anything particularly secular about Jesus. My understanding is that Jesus based his whole teaching on an understanding of God that undercut the religions of his day. If God is a reality, then religions are entities that must answer to God for their divergence from him. I'm using religion in a very specific sense here, of course. I'm not talking about religion as beliefs or philosophy or ways of practicing compassion (in that sense, Jesus was promoting a religion). I'm talking about religion as a set of rituals and ritual objects and religious hierarchy. These are rejected because they take away from service to God, and divert people into futile exercises. The modern world is unquestionably a result of Jesus' work. All the great human movement towards freedom has traced back to him in some form. So I do see a connection. However, modern liberal democracy has no idea why it is being dragged towards freedom and equality. There is no secular rationale for the civil rights movement - it simply happened. Christianity is the force which gives impetus and reason and purpose to these movements. Society goes along against its will. But, if liberal democracies DID happen to be truly embodying such a belief system, then it would simply be the case that they were more aligned with Christianity than Christians are. It would be the kingdom of God at work among them. So I don't follow. Maybe you can explain to me how this would make Jesus obsolete? (Thanks for your comment!) -Micah

DummySean:

Micah, It may help if I expound the Jesus Seminar allusion a little more. As you might expect, Funk excavated his historical Jesus from Q, the earliest gospel. The Jesus of Q abandons his religion to found a nonreligious program of social justice and equality, in opposition to the religious program of divine intervention and priestly dominance. To my eye your Jesus, like Funk's, is essentially secular because he is concerned with the here and now rather than the hereafter. And "God" functions more as a literary flourish for things that are really just part of nature. Perhaps I am putting it too strongly? I've pretty much telegraphed the next move. I am hesitant to credit Christianity with modern social progress, because even if the memes of liberalism were present in Yeshua, they were buried with him for seventeen centuries. Liberal democracies grew out of the Enlightenment, which was itself the runaway child of Christianity not its disciple. Meanwhile the Enlightenment simultaneously overthrew Christianity and set out to discover its true origins, only to find that the original Christianity resembled the Enlightenment. Fate, thy name is irony. As for "where" morals derive from, I'm inclined to agree with Paul. We know that Exodus is a bad place for moral guidance and St. Matthew is a better one, by appealing to the same intuition that inspired your ten points which by the way are a vast improvement on the ten commandments. Cheers, Sean

micahtredding:

First, a note. I think you've short-circuited a little of my approach. It's not so much that Jesus is more concerned with the here and now than with the hereafter - it's that the future, and the afterlife itself, only exist in service to the here and now. So if conventional Christianity seems more concerned with what happens after escaping earth, then Jesus is going to appear radically earth-centric. If your idea of the afterlife doesn't have ramifications right now, it's not a very good idea of the afterlife. But this shouldn't be confused with a kind of anti-supernaturalism prevalent in some places. Jesus seems very convinced of God's reality, and the consequent reality of life after death. One can only presume this has something to do with his seeming willingness to die. This doesn't seem like the kind of thing someone would later make up. As far as the enlightenment - it definitely seems like a packaging of specific ideas found in Christianity. Were they buried for 1700 years? I think they seemed to move out of view from about 300CE, and moved back into view in the enlightenment, but they didn't disappear; they just had little political force. But I *wouldn't* say the enlightenment was the rediscovery of early Christianity - it was the rediscovery of some very specific pieces of early Christianity that had laid dormant for hundreds of years. We might criticize them for not being more present, but I would argue they couldn't have existed at all without the Christian story. But there is much more to be recovered. The enlightenment kind of collapsed into nihilism, because it didn't have the overall framework to sustain its optimism. But we have that framework, and we should be unveiling it.

Laura:

Hey Micah, I've enjoyed reading your thoughts for awhile. As I'm thinking through what you're saying here, it seems to only make sense if we deny the Incarnation. I hope its okay if I voice a little dissent? It doesn't follow that God would create a religion in the OT just to have Jesus come save us from it in the New. I would think rather that God (who is spirit) became man (matter) to heal and sanctify matter - so that those empty rituals of the old religion became full in the new. Perhaps the reason God created "religion" in the OT was because he knew man needs worship (or, let's say communion with God). I think you're saying that we can have that communion without religious worship. But it begs the question, why the Israelites? Why the incarnation of Jesus? I think your 3rd point is right on - God is three persons in one nature; man in his image is also many persons in one nature. So serving the poor, human equality, relationships, etc. are important parts of our embodying that image, parts that the Israelites often lacked. But I don't see your points 5-10 (that these relationships are at the exclusion of religious worship) as being biblically or historically accurate. In fact, it sounds a bit like gnosticism with a modern twist. You said you're following the Church of Christ arguments to their natural conclusion (and I see that). I'm wondering if those arguments are worth keeping?

micahtredding:

Laura, I'm loving your dissent. I'll end up addressing these things only partially, so please expand on your thoughts, especially if I end up missing your point. I don't think God created a religion in the Old Testament to rescue us from it in the New. I think Judaism was the answer to the way the rest of the world was operating, just like King David was the answer to the tribal kings that surrounded the Israelite people. The *ultimate answer to tribal kings*, however, was not another tribal king, but living personally in relationship to God. Just like the *ultimate answer to pagan religions* was not another religion, but living personally in relationship to God. I think your statement that "God became matter to heal and sanctify matter" is pretty accurate. The bible is about how God embodied himself in the story of Abraham and his descendants to reclaim humanity's original mission from Genesis 1. That was the promise (or the covenant) made to Abraham. But as Paul points out in Romans, the religion that came after Abraham was a temporary measure on the way to obtaining that promise. Jesus having obtained it, everything that came in between was fulfilled and completed. I think I understand your comparison with gnosticism, but I don't think it's applicable. Gnosticism denied the importance of our materiality, and cast spirituality as simply a means of escape. But I'm doing the opposite: - I'm rejecting religion because religion is fundamentally unreal. - In contrast, I'm valuing real relationships, and real acts of service. - I'm rejecting religion because it says relationship with God is determined by arbitrary rituals. - In contrast, I'm following the bible in saying that relationship with God is determined based on love. - I'm rejecting religion because it draws us out of the real world, out of our materiality, and into a world of abstraction. - In contrast, I'm embracing our materiality and spirituality as full human beings in the physical world. Gnosticism (as embodied in modern Christianity) is exactly what I'm trying to get away from. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Laura:

I think you're suggesting that man invented ritual himself, and God allowed and instructed them how to use it in a way that prepared them to know him. With that assumption you create a system within which the rest of your ideas flow nicely. God always I'm hesitant to accept this system for two reasons. 1. If man did create ritual himself, he did so from the beginning of human memory. Apparently even Cain and Abel were making offerings to God. If this is the case, and if ritual worship has persisted throughout human history, I think it says something very important about humans. Specifically, that we have a need to worship God. 2. You said that the early church had no organized religion, which I find opposed to history [baptizing, the council of Jerusalem, the early development of bishops, etc]. And if you're right that Jesus came to say, "we don't need these old rituals," then the early church didn't get that, and I don't really see that thinking in any christians until the radical reformation. And that's perhaps my biggest problem. Attempts to break off from what Christians have always believed generally leads to division and individualized faith - which is opposed that one nature image. So my counter proposition is based in my understanding of who God is: 1. God as trinity - As the image of God, we should love one another, as already agreed on. 2. God Incarnate - Your point that ritual is abstract (which is what I'm calling gnosticism) is only so if it is symbolic. If it is sacramental or "real," then ritual can be "embracing our material and spirituality as full human beings in the physical world." Both elements are essential parts of God's revelation of himself to us, and neither can be left out. Ritual is only empty if it doesn't result in love. Loving our neighbor is secular ("even the pagans do that"), if it isn't accompanied by prayer.

Laura:

Oh, I think I didn't explain that second point. I meant to say: If Christ is truly God and Man, the sacraments can truly function in both physical and spiritual ways.

micah:

Laura, I think there's an ever-expanding story here, so I'm going to have to let certain things go in order to address your main points. 1. Let me quickly suggest that the beginnings of ritual lie not in our desire to communicate with God, but in our desire for vengeance. Ritual is a way to cope with our need to kill. Cain and Abel suggest this dynamic, in ways too complex to get into here. This is being worked out by God himself over the course of Israel's history - first by replacing human sacrifice with animal sacrifice (Abraham and Isaac), then through the prophets' message of forgiveness, and ultimately through Jesus' rejection of rituals AND THEN enactment of *final rituals*. God is attempting to both placate and then do away with our desire to kill. 2. My main point is that the early church *did* get this. In the New Testament, deacons and bishops were people tasked with specific jobs related to feeding the poor - and were never treated as authorities. Baptism was presented as a *final ritual* in the same sense the cross was a *final sacrifice*. In fact, I would say that profound elements of what I'm suggesting lasted all the way into the 300s, in opposition to the prevailing world. Women were equal, violence was rejected, churches were not built. So I'm not suggesting a counter-historical Christianity. I'm suggesting one that has had to struggle with how it compromises with the outside world. At points, they sacrificed some very crucial things. We are now in a position to regain things they gave up, to recover more of the full revelation. I get the idea of sacrament as uniting both our physical and spiritual needs. But let me suggest that the real sacrament is activity such as feeding the hungry, or caring for orphans. This is the kind of activity Jesus reveals as sacramental: in the parable of the sheep and the goats, caring for the poor is revealed as caring for Jesus himself. Normal acts of kindness are shown to be the very acts most imbued with the presence and substance of God.

Daniel :

Truthfully religion is stupid. Religion is man using his good deeds tryibg to heaven whereas Christianity is a compketely different thing. Jesus condemned religion and religious leaders. He taught us how to live by faith while remembering to keep the commandments. We even learn that God even wants a personal relationship with us.