Nearly all the people now living who profess to love and follow Jesus have no awareness of who He is and why He chose to be born on earth. That fact is heartbreaking, when the truth about Jesus and His mission is so glorious! The only evidence we have now of the Lord and His mission is His genuine words as they are given in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the four books of the Bible which are commonly referred to as the Gospels. And to be frank, I am a skeptic when it comes to strictly believing the words of someone who lived two thousand years ago and whose words were passed down orally for two generations after His death, then translated through two more very different languages before you and I first got to read them! But the greatest discovery of my life has been the fact that those that we used to think were dead uniformly confirm that the Gospel teachings of Jesus are the most essential core human truths of all.
I have shared with you what Jesus actually tells us in the Gospels, and how it is that Christianity has managed to get the Lord’s mission and message so wrong. For its first few centuries, Christianity was a movement based in the teachings of Jesus, and there were many variations on those teachings that were accepted under that movement’s broad tent. Ideas that are central to Christianity now were very much minority views for the first five centuries after He died! For example, more than six million Christian burials were conducted in the Roman catacombs up until the early fifth century C.E.; and in all that time, according to the nineteenth-century scholar John Ruskin, there is “Not a cross as a symbol in the Catacombs. The earliest Latin cross is on the tomb of the Empress Galla Placidia, 451 AD. No picture of the crucifixion until the Ninth Century, nor any portable crucifix until long after. To the early Christians Christ was living, the one agonized hour was lost in the thought of his glory and triumph. The fall of theology and Christian thought dates from the error of dwelling upon his death instead of his life.”
Jesus tells us in the Gospels that His teachings were meant to begin the arrival of the kingdom of God on earth. The fact that instead Christianity soon became a deeply fear-based religion is due to the fact that Roman Emperors adopted the Christian movement and imposed upon it their own orthodoxies to help them better control the faithful. Over the next millennium, the Roman Church stamped out more than three dozen differing interpretations of the Lord’s Gospel words at a cost of more than twenty-five million mostly brutal deaths. Even worse from the long perspective of history, the religion they erected in the name of Jesus has almost nothing to do with Jesus.
Let’s look briefly at a few of the false Christian teachings that don’t have roots in the Gospels, and in fact are entirely untrue according to those that we used to think were dead:
There are other false Christian dogmas, too, that are not derived from the teachings of Jesus as they are expressed in the Gospels and affirmed by those that we used to think were dead. But these five bogus human ideas are the core teachings of modern Christianity! All of them are intensely fear-based, and all of them flat-out contradict the genuine Gospel teachings of Jesus. Fear is the polar opposite of love. You cannot love what you fear. And for so long as these five teachings are included in the dogmas of modern Christianity, the religion will continue to debase and defile the very people Jesus came to serve.
This travesty is further complicated by the fact that the Christian leaders who most ardently preach fear-based falsehoods like the five listed here will generally claim that in doing so they are “preaching the Gospel.” They exhort their flocks to go out and share these human lies as “the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” when in fact they are no such thing!
What does the word “Gospel” actually mean? Here is one dictionary’s definition: “The word gospel comes from the Old English word god meaning ‘good’ and spel meaning ‘news, a story.’ In Christianity, the term ‘good news’ refers to the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.” When used most strictly, the word “Gospel” refers to just those first four books of the New Testament which detail the words and the life of Jesus. “Gospel” doesn’t refer to the rest of the Bible, and it certainly doesn’t refer to any later-established Christian ideas! The genuine story of Jesus as it is set forth in the Biblical Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is Good News indeed! It is arguably the greatest news that ever has been given to humankind, but almost no Christian preacher on earth is currently sharing that good news with anyone. Even worse, many Christian clergymen have so misused the word “Gospel” that it has become for many a term based in fear. To quote one of these well-meaning but deluded men of God: “There is no other issue as important as how to be saved. That is why the Gospel, the ‘Good News,’ the death, burial, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ must be taught without compromise.”
This terrible sullying of the term “Gospel” is at the root of Christianity’s current decay. In the United States, only 65% of adults now identify themselves as Christians, a decline of twelve percentage points over just the past decade. And during that decade I have heard from many who are in that twelve percent, all lifelong Christians who have fallen away in desperation and despair. The reasons they give for leaving Christianity generally boil down to these four:
When clergymen claim for their bogus use of the word “Gospel” a divine provenance that does not exist, they are polluting the Lord’s sacred message. To use a term that many of them are quick to apply to those who follow Jesus, these preachers are doing the Devil’s work.
This confusion about what is and what is not the genuine Gospel of the Lord is greasing Christianity’s slide toward oblivion. In simpler times, people were easily led to adopt the fear that lies at the heart of modern Christianity, and to accept with it the relief of knowing that they had a Get Out of Hell Free Card by virtue of the Lord’s sacrificial death. Even as late as a few decades ago, this false “Gospel” was widely believed; and if hell was real, then warming pews was a reasonable price to pay to escape it. Now, however, the abundance of afterlife information and its easy dissemination via the Internet, when combined with the fact that twenty-first-century Westerners are generally more sophisticated, means that the old trick of “scare ‘em, then lure ‘em to church to save ‘em” that maintained Christianity for two millennia simply cannot work anymore.
But the coming fall of Christianity can be a great opportunity for Jesus! The only way to fight errors and lies is with the truth. Those who are being driven away from Christianity still retain a positive opinion of Jesus, who has an approval rating in the United States that stands at 90%. Even God’s approval rating in the same survey is just 52%! The Gospel teachings of Jesus are precisely what we need if we are ever to break humankind’s eternal cycle of fear, rage, and despair. Jesus has the answer, and He is much beloved; all He needs is a more efficient way to bring His true Gospel to humankind. And fortunately, that is an area where you and I can help!
My next book, The Fun of Loving Jesus – Embracing the Christianity That Jesus Taught, is due out early next year.