Making Excuses for Jesus

Excuse 2. When Jesus said ‘Kingdom of God’ what he really meant was ‘the church’.

Kingdom

So if not the transfiguration, then what? Christians can’t accept that Jesus was wrong in all he prophesied, and must invent some other explanation. How about the church – the body of believers who saw, and still see, Jesus as their saviour? The church must be the Kingdom! Yes, that’s it surely.

But then they’re left to explain why the church, even in its early days, bore no resemblance to what Jesus said the Kingdom would look like. Where was the Son of Man descending through the clouds? The hosts of angels in full view of ‘the tribes of the Earth’? The disciples judging and ruling the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19.28)? The last becoming first and the first last? The meek inheriting the Earth? The righteous being rewarded for their good deeds, while the unrighteous are sent to outer darkness?

Even if we were to overlook the absence of these characteristics, all of which Jesus predicted would define the Kingdom, then isn’t the-church-as-Kingdom just a tiny bit, well… disappointing? It doesn’t embody either any of the conditions of the Kingdom that the Old Testament prophets promised it would (Micah 4.1-7 & Isaiah 11.6): nations continue to wage war, the lamb and the wolf don’t co-exist peacefully and God singularly fails to rule the earth from Mount Zion.

Instead, the church is all too human, riven with conflict and division. Despite the whitewash given to it by the author of Acts, Paul’s letters – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans and Galatians in particular – serve as a permanent reminder of the dispute and strife that have characterised it since its earliest days. It has also a shameful history of persecuting those with whom it disagrees and produces its fair share of criminals and abusers. Today, it is split into 45,000 different factions and, according to some of its own, is awash with ‘false doctrine’.

One thing it is good at – the very thing Paul insists it shouldn’t be (1 Corinthians 5.12) – is judging the rest of us.

The Kingdom of God it is not.

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Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

1. The kindly street preacher

preacher4

A bad-tempered looking man is standing next to a sign that announces that ‘Evolution is a Lie’ and ‘Jesus is Lord’. He – the grumpy man, not Jesus – is giving out some sort of glossy card. I do my best to sidestep him but he approaches and gives me one. It is entitled God Commands: 4 Things That God Commands, at least half of which is redundant. I notice that a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses have set up stall next to him (or perhaps he set up next to them).

‘So,’ I ask, ‘who’s right? You or them?’

They,’ he growls, ‘are of the devil.’

What a problem Christianity has. Islam too: so many damn different versions, all of which lay claim to being the one and only Truth. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reports that there are now 45,000 different churches, denominations, sects and cults within Christianity, every one of them insisting that they – and they alone – represent God’s Truth, only they have got it right. There are as many Christian web-sites out there slagging off other Christians – Apostate! Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing! Doing the devil’s work! False teachers! – as there are sites ‘reaching out’ to the ‘lost’.

What’s more, every one of them knows they alone have the Truth because the Bible itself says so. They quote from it to prove how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. Which just goes to show what a damnable, scurrilous load of tosh the Bible really is. If God is not, as it says in 1 Corinthians 14.33, the author of confusion then he can’t have had anything to do with it.

Of course we know he didn’t; it’s human through and through, every mean-spirited, self-righteous verse of it.