When I saw this title, I was immediately interested...how could someone possible believe this? The article is called: We can't know Jesus without a church by Jim Ketchum. To be fair, the author appears to be confusing what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "Christian community" with the concept of "church." But I guess maybe it is not all that confusing; where else does Christian community happen other than church these days? But is it true that we can't know Jesus outside of a church? We'll blog on this idea below, using Urantia Book teachings, but first, here are a few snips from the article:
"Declining church attendance, especially among millennials – those reaching adulthood early in the 21st century – shows little sign of reversing itself. Data gathered by the Pew Research Center show that, among those born between 1990 and 1996, fully 36 percent identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated.
"Ask and you'll find a host of reasons: Millennials don't relate to organized religion. They tend not to be doctrinaire. They don't see religion speaking to the problems they face, and they don't see the church offering any practical solutions.
"The Rev. Peter Marty has decided millennials don't go to church mostly because it's inconvenient.
"...as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, we cannot know Jesus 'apart from Christian community.' Translate that as 'church.'
"That's why church remains worth doing – every Sunday, no matter who shows up."
Click to read the article
Spritual community is a good thing
In our opinion, church very well may be "worth doing," but in its present state, it is largely not a place that is conducive to change and improvement; as a result, fewer and fewer people consider it worthwhile. The church in general needs a considerable overhaul - doctrinally, socially, and theologically. No more are people inclined to be told what to do - expecially when they are expected to follow a set of arbitrary rules and regulations that ring hollow to their own experiences as spiritual and truthseeking beings. If church was truly spritually sustaining, no amount of "inconvenience" could prevent a sincere seeker from showing up.
The author of the article above does a very good job in the front part of the article explaining his understanding of the reasons that millenials - and others - are leaving and even avoiding church participation. These are reasons that are covered very well in Urantia Book teachings about organized religion, and we'll look at those in a minute. Nevertheless, the idea of the socialization of religion (Christian community) is very sound:
99:6.2 There is a real purpose in the socialization of religion. It is the purpose of group religious activities to dramatize the loyalties of religion; to magnify the lures of truth, beauty, and goodness; to foster the attractions of supreme values; to enhance the service of unselfish fellowship; to glorify the potentials of family life; to promote religious education; to provide wise counsel and spiritual guidance; and to encourage group worship. And all live religions encourage human friendship, conserve morality, promote neighborhood welfare, and facilitate the spread of the essential gospel of their respective messages of eternal salvation.
There cerrtainly are those churches that provide some of these attractions for their congregations; those are likely the churches that will ultimately survive this time of change in the Christian church. There is nothing wrong with finding Jesus in church and then socializing one's experiences with others... far from it.
But the main point that I want to address in this article is the idea that the author of the article posits: We can't know Jesus outside of a church.
When I was growing up, I was taught this in my church and I believed it - maybe you grew up in a church like mine that so thoroughly indoctrinated you that that church became - not just a place of prayer, but an entire way of life. Deviation from the rules, independent thought, questioning of dogma...these were never encouraged; in fact, these things were taught as heresy; any deviation from the church's rules was considered dangerous, even sinful. And I dare say that many who have left the church have left in the wake of just that kind of thinking.
It could be that many HAVE found Jesus in churches such as these; I did, and for that, I personally am grateful. However, I suspect that any seeker for truth can and will find Jesus whether they espouse a certain religion or not - and often may find Jesus in spite of the church's teachings. In my own case, I left the church, and even pretty much disowned God in the process, but there was always something about Jesus and his "red-letter" words that prevented me from disowning him, too.
Later on, after many years of recovery from the church's overarching influence on my life, I was lucky enough to find The Urantia Book, where I was able to successfully connect with the Jesus that I always suspected was the true Jesus. And he was not a part of any church.
Urantia Book teachings allowed me to discover that Jesus was not inextricably bound to any church, but that he belongs to a whole universe of diverse beings of his creation. I learned that Jesus is not a Christian and that he did not establish any church; instead, that his mission was the establishment of the kingdom of heaven in the hearts of his children. I learned that Jesus is still here in the form of the Spirit of Truth - a spiritual presence in the minds of all people.
The Urantia Book presents a completely new and completely accessible picture of Jesus that transcends any church or any church teachings. Furthermore, it is a picture of Jesus that is accessible to anyone - a reality of of his teachings and his legacy that may even be best appreciated OUTSIDE of any institutionalized and/or organized church. Coupled with the rest of the teachings in The Urantia Book, which transform the reader's whole framework of reality itself, the beiever's connection with Jesus - and the heavenly Father - becomes the strongest spiritual foundation one can possess.
The gospel of the kingdom, as taught by Jesus, becomes the solid foundation upon which to build a lasting, fruitful relationship with Jesus that can propel the believer into the saving acceptance of sonship with God and service for the brother/sisterhood of all his children. And this is an eternal reality - citizenship in the kigdom of Heaven - that can be had right here and now.
Urantia Book teachings successfully transfer the believer's dependence on ecclesiastical authority to the acknowledgment and reliance on the authority of God's literal presence in his/her mind. This beneficent presence, coupled with the presence of the Spirit of Truth and the Holy Spirit are all that the believer needs to navigate the troubles waters of earthly life.
Many, many Urantia Book reader/students come from the Christian churches; and many still attend those churches and do what they can to act as leaven that might help to transform Christianity from within. But to say that Jesus can't be found except in these churches is error.
Why is it that the Christian church is not the best place for finding Jesus?
For one thing, Jesus is largely misunderstood by the churches. He is seen as a sacrificial lamb, and we are seen as hopeless sinners who need redemption through his blood. The atonement doctrine has been a huge stumbling block for seekers who desire to reconcile the idea of a loving Father and a peaceful Savior with the Biblical concept of an angry, vengeful god who requires blood sacrifice. Adoption of this institutionalized picture of Jesus is incompatible with a loving God. And this may be one large reason that people are weary of church. The doctrine about the atonement is a rock-solid pillar of belief that must be accepted before one is in good standing as a Christian. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Please see our topical study on ATONEMENT and find out why it is such a stumbling block for modern minds.
Another reason that church is not the ideal place to find Jesus is that the church is full of authority figures who espouse an idea of Jesus that condones just the opposite of what Jesus taught: he taught peace; the churches have long supported war-mongering in the name of patriotism. Jesus taught detachment from wealth; many churches are fixated on obtaining more and more money to further the church's (not Jesus') agenda. Jesus taught that man is not the child of the devil; the churches teach that man is a craven sinner. Jesus taught unity; the churches are completely sectarian:
99:6.1 Sectarianism is a disease of institutional religion, and dogmatism is an enslavement of the spiritual nature. It is far better to have a religion without a church than a church without religion. The religious turmoil of the twentieth century does not, in and of itself, betoken spiritual decadence. Confusion goes before growth as well as before destruction.
99:6.3 But as religion becomes institutionalized, its power for good is curtailed, while the possibilities for evil are greatly multiplied. The dangers of formalized religion are: fixation of beliefs and crystallization of sentiments; accumulation of vested interests with increase of secularization; tendency to standardize and fossilize truth; diversion of religion from the service of God to the service of the church; inclination of leaders to become administrators instead of ministers; tendency to form sects and competitive divisions; establishment of oppressive ecclesiastical authority; creation of the aristocratic "chosen-people" attitude; fostering of false and exaggerated ideas of sacredness; the routinizing of religion and the petrification of worship; tendency to venerate the past while ignoring present demands; failure to make up-to-date interpretations of religion; entanglement with functions of secular institutions; it creates the evil discrimination of religious castes; it becomes an intolerant judge of orthodoxy; it fails to hold the interest of adventurous youth and gradually loses the saving message of the gospel of eternal salvation.
99:6.4 Formal religion restrains men in their personal spiritual activities instead of releasing them for heightened service as kingdom builders.
An ideal church
103:5.11 ...this must not be construed as meaning that there is no place in a progressive society for home, social institutions, church, and state.
103:5.12 When a member of a social religious group has complied with the requirements of such a group, he should be encouraged to enjoy religious liberty in the full expression of his own personal interpretation of the truths of religious belief and the facts of religious experience. The security of a religious group depends on spiritual unity, not on theological uniformity. A religious group should be able to enjoy the liberty of freethinking without having to become "freethinkers." There is great hope for any church that worships the living God, validates the brotherhood of man, and dares to remove all creedal pressure from its members.
For further study on Urantia Book teachings about Christianity please click HERE
And for a probing and thorough commentary on Christianty and its manifold problems in this modern century - problems that are even discussed in the article cited above - please click HERE, wherein we read this, regarding the Christian church:
195:9.9 Christianity has dared to lower its ideals before the challenge of human greed, war-madness, and the lust for power; but the religion of Jesus stands as the unsullied and transcendent spiritual summons, calling to the best there is in man to rise above all these legacies of animal evolution and, by grace, attain the moral heights of true human destiny.
195:9.10 Christianity is threatened by slow death from formalism, overorganization, intellectualism, and other nonspiritual trends. The modern Christian church is not such a brotherhood of dynamic believers as Jesus commissioned continuously to effect the spiritual transformation of successive generations of mankind.
195:9.11 So-called Christianity has become a social and cultural movement as well as a religious belief and practice. The stream of modern Christianity drains many an ancient pagan swamp and many a barbarian morass; many olden cultural watersheds drain into this present-day cultural stream as well as the high Galilean tablelands which are supposed to be its exclusive source.
In the next section called The Future," we read this about ecclesiasticism and the divided state of Christianity:
195:10.8 Ecclesiasticism is at once and forever incompatible with that living faith, growing spirit, and firsthand experience of the faith-comrades of Jesus in the brotherhood of man in the spiritual association of the kingdom of heaven. The praiseworthy desire to preserve traditions of past achievement often leads to the defense of outgrown systems of worship. The well-meant desire to foster ancient thought systems effectually prevents the sponsoring of new and adequate means and methods designed to satisfy the spiritual longings of the expanding and advancing minds of modern men. Likewise, the Christian churches of the twentieth century stand as great, but wholly unconscious, obstacles to the immediate advance of the real gospel—the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
195:10.11 Christianity is seriously confronted with the doom embodied in one of its own slogans: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." The non-Christian world will hardly capitulate to a sect-divided Christendom. The living Jesus is the only hope of a possible unification of Christianity. The true church—the Jesus brotherhood—is invisible, spiritual, and is characterized by unity, not necessarily by uniformity. Uniformity is the earmark of the physical world of mechanistic nature. Spiritual unity is the fruit of faith union with the living Jesus. The visible church should refuse longer to handicap the progress of the invisible and spiritual brotherhood of the kingdom of God. And this brotherhood is destined to become a living organism in contrast to an institutionalized social organization. It may well utilize such social organizations, but it must not be supplanted by them.
This blog is a way of connecting you, the reader, with the saving message and uplifting teachings of The Urantia Book, a modern-day revelation of truth mandated by celestial government. It is mind-expanding, spiritually uplifting, and eternally adaptable for any seeker of truth. And certainly for any seeker for the truth of Jesus, for whom Part IV of The Urantia Book can be a life-line of truth and sanity in a false and darkened world, especially when realized as the culmination of the rest of the revelation in the first three parts.