Jesus Neither Theologian Nor Ecclesiastic
Jesus did none of the things a man would do who proposed to establish and perpetuate any sort of kingdom, or school of beliefs, even in this world.
He established no institutions with formal constitutions. He did not draw up a codenot so much as a system of moral philosophy. He left no "theological institutes," with precise definitions and exact limitations. Some of his true friends have done their best at such work; he did not. Theirs is a man's way; his was not.
He left no formal creed; he never mentioned such a thing; he did not seem to think of it at all. It is so much a man's way to do such things that we are not yet familiar with the idea that Jesus did not. It comes to many with a sudden surprise when they discover that Jesus said not a word about systematic theology, that to many is so precious. In all his words are no "articles of religion;" not a hint of them. He did not so much as put into form a doctrine of his own nature and person. Very often and in many ways he spoke of himself and God, and of his relation to the eternal Father, but he made no definition. Often he spoke of himself, of the Father and of the Holy Ghost, but he said not a word of the "hypostatic union" of three persons in one Godhead; not a word of the "economic relations" of the Holy Trinity.
Some good people, if they chance to read what is here put down, will be so certain in their own minds that Jesus did employ some of the methods of a mere man, in order to preserve his teachings in the world, that they will suspect the writer of irreverence; at least of indifference, if not of something they think less of, in what is said concerning "creeds" and "theologies." They will be in error, as is common with them on such questions; the writer is only stating facts that no man can deny as to what Jesus did and did not do. Some admirable and good people have not yet learned the difference between arguing for their Church and pleading for Christianity; between defending their own notions and expounding the teachings of Jesus. And not a few confound their notions about God with the fact of his existence, as others mistake their theory of inspiration for the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures.
Our way of teaching is a man's way. If it is the best we can do let us be content; if not, let us amend our way. But let us not defend our way by pleading his example; let us follow our way because it is our way, if there be no better reason. Certain it is that the way Jesus took of teaching and perpetuating his doctrines was not a man's way in any respect whatever.
Jesus wrote no booknot a line. He founded no school or other training institution; his three years' loving and painstaking companionship with his disciples was indeed a training, but it was not an institution. This does not mean that his friends should not do such things; it is the only way they can do: but he did not do such things.
He did not so much as establish a Church; the Church grew out of his life as well as out of his teachings; it was compacted by the sympathy of men, women, and little children of common beliefs and hopes; above all, by the sympathy born of a common love for himthis far more, then as now, than by what they understood or believed of his teachings. He left for the government of the Church "no rules of order," no book of "discipline." He ordained no form of church government, "with checks and balances," whatever. All those things may be good, and order in government is necessary; but he did not provide them. He left all such things to the common sense and best judgment, guided by providence and the Holy Spirit, of his disciples. In Church as well as State the principle is this: God ordains the power; he does not prescribe the form; he ordains government, but leaves the form of it to the good sense and personal preferences of those who are to live under it.
All these things we have mentioned here belong to the works and ways of men; they are good or bad as they serve the ends of his kingdom. Moses, though an inspired lawgiver, yet a mere man, gave many forms and prescribed the order of doing many things; Jesus, the divine man, gave none.
In nothing is Jesus more unlike men than in his utter disregard of "forms" in the doing of the duties he enjoined. He has no word about forms except the terrible words he used concerning the many forms punctiliously observed by certain Pharisees and hypocrites who were playing at religion. His life was full of worship, but he left not a hint as to any forms or attitudes for devotion. That simplest and most comprehensive of all prayers, "Our Father, who art in heaven," is not a form; he said, "After this manner pray ye." The prayer might take any form of words, or leave all words unsaid. And this prayer he gave his disciples in response to a request for a form. Jesus had no forms; he cared for none.
Nor did Jesus care for the "letter," except as to the danger that good men might make a fetish of it. He said of the "letter, it killeth;" "the Spirit giveth life." The Spirit is every thing, the letter nothing. If we were to use of him the language that fits the case of a man we would feel like saying, Jesus looked upon punctilious eagerness about "forms" and the "letter" as mere child's play, that he scorned such unspiritual folly.
This is certain: the only thing he denounced in a tone that was almost anger was zealous adherence to the form and to the letter, and sanctimonious contentment with this poor substitute for religion when the spirit of worship and service was dead. It will be the plainer to us that his was very far from being a man's way when we remember that, with men, the less of spirit and reality an institution has the more anxious they are about mere form and letter. A spiritually dead man will contend more zealously about the form of a duty than the duty itself. And this is not unnatural; when a Church is dead there is nothing left but forma body ready for burial.
What terrific words Jesus used in what he said of such things! Let us hear him and try to understand how much he means for us of today:
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
"Ye blind guides, which strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."
Had Jesus been only a man, conceiving vast plans for propagating his doctrines and perpetuating his kingdom, he would have done all the things he did not do. He would have relied on force, money, diplomacy, argument. He would have considered what human selfishness is, and he would have appealed to it. He would have provided institutions and have founded schools. There would have been a "propaganda" compassing the world in its plans, and his agents would have been drilled in forms and methods after the manner of men. He would, to have been at all like a man in his plans, have left a system of "ethics" or "theology." He would have formulated a "creed"; he would have drawn up a "constitution" with "bylaws" for his Church, stating in terms every principle and providing, according to the foresight given him, for every contingency, as did John Wesley with his Discipline and Legal Hundred. (Can it be necessary to say this illustration is no reflection upon the great and good English reformer, who was a mere man?) He would have set for rigid observance forms and ceremonies of which he had none and prescribed none, not so much as telling men how they were to do in the matter of the sacramentsbaptism and the memorial supper.
Mere men always do such things. Jesus did not adopt a man's way in any of his work or plans, unless we except those who have learned of him something of the divine art of doing good to the souls and bodies of men.
Click Here to Return to Introduction and Table of Contents
Go to Top