Monday, 22 January 2018

Faith and creeds

The thing Jesus didn't do was start a religion.

His teaching was all about how we treat one another — encouraging us firmly towards kindness and understanding, trust and simplicity, humility and mercy.

When the zealous tried to make him their leader, he took off. When they tried to elevate him to leadership he found a donkey, the ordinary man's humble steed, to say, "Yes, okay, but this kind of leader." When they called him "Master" and "Teacher", he accepted the accolade as accurate, but took a towel to wash their feet and said, "Like this."

He consistently pushed against the boundaries and challenged the strictures of the religion in which he was raised. No healing on the Sabbath? Really? Why not? No women in here doing theology with the men? Why not? Give family priority access? Why? Anyone can be my family. Not go to tea with a tax collector? Why not? Don't let that woman touch you? Why not? Throw stones at her? Why? Haven't you done things you're ashamed of too?

His criteria for godliness were nothing at all to do with doctrine, and were all about helping other people, generosity, acceptance, and a childlike spirit.

He lived in radical simplicity and the Spirit flowed through him in massive power for healing, sanity, and for bringing peace not to human beings only but across the boundaries of species: life listened to him and believed him. He lived with 100% authenticity and as a result could do what we call "miracles". Miracles are thought to be a suspension of the laws of physics, divine intervention into quotidian reality; actually they are incorporated into the realm of physics but are kicked into touch by hypocrisy, lies and constructed personas. When he said we could do even greater things than he did he wasn't kidding, but we hobble our capacity by our failure to live, speak and recognise truth.

After Jesus came Christianity, which does and does not have anything to do with him. About 300 years after Pentecost, the Council of Nicea nailed things down into a creed. But creeds are to faith what Tupperware is to manna. It goes off. Faith in Christ can only be lived, it cannot be formulated. As soon as you organise it, tabulate it, set it as dogma and doctrine, it ossifies, it goes schlerotic, it turns into something else.

Christianity, as organised religions go, has the capacity to be something very beautiful. As a faith system it has done a lot of good. It has also acted as a huge cloak for abuse and torture and caused untold misery of course, but that's people for you — it need not have done. Christianity remembers Jesus, talks about Jesus, points toward Jesus — at its best; it does also systematically trash everything Jesus ever stood for, sometimes.

But Christianity is not and never can be a substitute for knowing and walking with Jesus. That is something completely different. The creeds and leadership structures, the buildings and denominations and training schemes and accreditations and synods and imprimaturs and validated liturgies are all very well if you like that sort of thing, but in the end they are not the real deal.

"He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." It doesn't need a book, a set form or a certificate. It's all, entirely in your heart, or it simply isn't real. 


Rapunzel said...

Pen this is the most powerful thing I have read about religion in years and years.
You've put into words exactly what I keep trying, not very successfully, to explain to people who assume I'm an atheist just because I haven't joined any of the churches here.

Thank you with all my heart!

Pen Wilcock said...


Thank you. x

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pen. This is the unornamented truth. Quakers don't have creeds for just this reason (although, sadly, creed-like statements have snuck in and have done/are doing a great deal of damage within our Society.)

Jen Liminal Luminous said...

yes yes yes!!! I am so with you on this.

I am struggling with the church a lot because of creeds. Because we start off with confessing all we have done wrong. Why? Why can't we start with saying all the beauty in the world, all the good things have happened, what we are grateful for.

I don't think Jesus focused on the negative of people bu the positive, why should the church.

I'm in a no church phase atm because I just can't be doing with al the THINGS it demands from me, which isn't what Jesus says.


Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Bruce — Yes; I personally like Advices & Queries as a guiding light.

Hi Jen — I wonder if maybe it is enough simply to walk with him, seek his guidance, allow him to lead you into the fellowship that will nurture and nourish your soul. To meet with kindred souls is very strengthening, but signing up to an organisation isn't always.

Carly Green said...

I love what you have said here Pen; it is what I have felt, growing in insistence, for several years now. I've read a few of your books in the past year, after encountering your blog several years ago; I've found much to think about in your writing, thank you!

I try to walk simply, without organised religion, but fellowshipping every few weeks with a close friend who knows the beauty of relationship with Jesus, and have regular prayer and worship when on my treadmill :) Very effective I've found! With three children, all home educated, it's my sanctuary; these precious times I spend in the presence of God bring me back to my family filled, and prepared to serve, in a way that none of the churches I've tried have ever done. That might just be me though!

Again, thank you for your writing Pen; I have been blessed on my journey by your words, and I pray that you are in return.
Carly x

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you Carly! I'm so pleased to know you've enjoyed my writing and found it helpful. x

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. Thanks Pen.

I also agree with you too Carly as that's where I find myself too!

God Bless

Stella x

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Stella. Waving!


Fiona said...

Thank you for this, Pen. "His teaching was all about how we treat one another — encouraging us firmly towards kindness and understanding, trust and simplicity, humility and mercy." Such an important reminder. And I empathise with your readers who struggle with church/organised religion but want to follow Jesus. As you say, being part of an organisation isn't strengthening or nurturing for some people, but it's so often billed from within the church as vital to a healthy Christian life. I am glad to find kindred spirits here.

Anonymous said...

"It's all, entirely in your heart, or it simply isn't real". I would like to think so too. In the past,I have struggled to rationalise the idea that faith/ spirituality boils down to birth place, a cultural set of ideas, how and where one prays, sexuality, race, and so on. So much of the human race is dismissed through such ideology...and yet, as you have highlighted so brilliantly, Jesus' ministry was among the perfectly imperfect. If we all lived life from our hearts, unguarded and vulnerable, perhaps we would see more peace, tolerance and unity across our kingdoms; great and small. Your writing here seems to resonate with so many of us who seem to feel at odds with much of life. Such honesty gives air and life to 'whatever is' and I for one really appreciate that. Thankyou.
Gosh Pen, I too wish for a winter fireside and a pot of tea!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Fiona — We live in anxious times, I think, when people feel the earth dying and seek constant reassurance because the soul of humanity is struggling to come to terms with it, is in mourning. This leads to people-pleasing. To salve our modern world I believe it's imperative we learn to walk freely, to find a way to be at ease in our own skin, to rest trustfully upon God's goodness. This requires disentanglement from the clutch and bind of the world's adhesions. One has to find ways to cut loose.

Hi Deb — I guess the expression of our faith is culturally conditioned; I've heard it said that a missionary maxim is: "No Gospel before culture," meaning that how the Gospel is expressed and experienced depends on the culture of both the one who imparts it and the one who receives. This is enriching, and illuminating, I think — beautiful. It opens new vistas for us all. Like the 7th centre Chinese Taoist converts to Christian faith who described their new way as "the Light religion". Perhaps the essential thing is that the cultural norms should enlarge rather than restrict our horizons.

Anonymous said...

Hello again - It's taken a few readings but I like this interpretation very much. Something for me to ponder! Deb

Anonymous said...

Lovely clarification, thanks!

suzy said...

I really love this.
I have tried to find Jesus in many "religions." and although all have their own beauty I find Him better a little off the beaten track. He did say that we would one day worship in "spirit and truth". I've worried about whether I'm qualified to "disern" spirit and truth at times and have put my trust in other authorities but have now come to a place where I trust He can find me and heal my soul wherever I am much like he did the centurions servant. Saying all this, I do belong to a particular church because I love the people there and I find peace and strength in the ritual of it all. But ultimately all buildings and doctrines are man's best reproduction. He is the temple.

Pen Wilcock said...

That sounds such a wise balance, Suze. It's good to be part of a faith family; we build each other up and can do more together than separately. Much of what the New Testament asks of us is too much for one person (visit the sick and those in prison, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc) but together we can address it. The presence of Christ can be found in the living company of people; but the organisational structure is only exactly that and no more.

Rojnut said...

"As soon as you organise it, tabulate it, set it as dogma and doctrine, it ossifies, it goes sc(h)lerotic, it turns into something else" reminded me a lot of a blog post called "Killing Butterflies" that I've been toying with for a few months and prevaricating over, to avoid causing (too much!) offence. I decided after reading this, to finish my post. Thank you for the inspiration, Pen.

Pen Wilcock said...

"A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome."

(Tao Te Ching, ch 76, tr Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.

Anekha said...

Sometimes I think the ability to live without religious creed and structures is the difference between having Faith and living with belief. I feel like I made that shift... or a shift that I describe this way... in recent years. The need for different rules and explanations and rituals fell away... and there was God and there was me, and all the explanations and religions of men seemed... extraneous. I could no longer describe myself as the follower of my previous or any Faith. But I BELIEVE and I live in the nurturing embrace of Gods presence. I heard God's voice saying "Do you believe in me...?" It was a roaring wind of a voice that blew away all the words and thoughts about faith I had read for many years. After a few days of listening and pondering this question that echoed in my heart I answered "yes!". God told me that the path to follow was one I would walk alone. Like the main path went one way and God was leading me into the forest and through the tall grass and wildflowers. There was a threshold I was stepping over... I chose this way and the religions of man seem distant and ...not for me...
I understand why creed holds importance. It's a way of creating community and conformity and belonging. I believe its a cultural phenomenon and when we try to live in Faith its hard to separate culture from belief. It's the lens through which we experience our lives. We still like our boundaries and fences, even though I believe the spiritual journey is fundamentally supposed to be a journey of liberation. Too often we liberate ourselves from boundaries only to build or seek new ones.

Pen Wilcock said...

What an amazing experience you had of the presence of God!

rebecca said...

That next-to-the-last paragraph strikes a chord with me!
(Of course, the last one too!)
Thanks for taking the time to express these observations, Pen.
I love hearing your mind.
Wish I could spend a day with you.
I'm not sure we'd need to fill it up with words.
Just presence.

Pen Wilcock said...



tonia peckover said...

Thank you for this, Pen. It really spoke to where I am just at the moment.

Pen Wilcock said...

Good. Waving! x

Anonymous said...

"Jesus did not come to start a religion" But the apostles were to further his work; 'Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it'. E.J.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, E.J.

Jenna Caruthers said...

What he did was to point out that Judaism, as developed in Babylon in the absence of the temple where perfectly keeping the Torah was now your "atonement" for sin, had gone off course. They had "built a fence" around the Torah, adding many things to it that it did not say--and the Pharisees and rabbis had, of course, a serious stake in that. Yahshua, who some refer to as "Jesus," said that his words were the word of Him who sent him; so, no--he didn't come to start anything new but to call people to teshuvah ("repent" but that word is so loaded with baggage from the church)--to turn back to the Father.

I have to also comment about Nicea. Constantine (who did not, in actual fact, become a "Christian" unless it was the Roman version) used that to unify his empire and put 300 of the existing 1200 assemblies on his payroll. Much of the point was to distance the assemblies from anything Jewish--but that also meant compromise to include "Easter" (Roman Paganism 2.0) as distinct from the commanded feasts.

So, all in all, the baby went out with the bathwater in the early church.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, Jenna — waving! x

Sandy Makin said...

Hi Pen! I am 66 yrs young, married 47 yrs, 2 married children and 2 grand children. I am a very creative minded personality and love working witg my hands.
I can identify with your thoughts,and some of those of your readers for pea e and quiet and time to center your thoughts and get a break from the busy world. I listen to this brother in Christ online and highly recommend listening to his sermons.
Also he is on YouTube.
Please give him a good listen.
Since my husband retired, I do find/make my quiet time most mornings to think, pray, read and listen. Its wonderful.
He speaks about the freedom of the Gospel of grace, and who we are in Christ. Its all about what Jesus has done! and who we are in Him. His church is called Ecclesia: church witbout religion, and is in Lubbock, TX. It is about freedom from "religion".
Sent in love because I care.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, Sandy. I hadn't heard of Andrew Farley, so before posting your comment I looked at his website and read the reviews of his book — he sounds a most genuine person who has helped many people to find a sense of freedom in their faith. When I read among the reviews a frothing-at-the-mouth rant saying his work was nothing but Satanic trash for carnal people, I knew he must be okay . . . Thanks for the recommendation.