Today we continue our reflections on The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul (trans. Geoffrey Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1986).
Jesus vs. religion
Jesus did not start a new religion. He freed us from all religions to live as faithful witnesses to the one true god. By doing so he fulfilled the entire Old Testament witness to that god.
“Here again we must refer to the judgment of the contemporaries of the first Christians. The Greeks and Romans regarded them as atheists and irreligious people…When the emperor, seeing what he viewed as a new religion growing in the empire, magnanimously offered to put Chrestus in the pantheon among other gods, these strange people refused. They were not at all liberal…It was not simply a matter of putting Christ among the gods, or even of causing a superior religion to prevail over inferior pagan religions. It was a matter of destroying religions and an infantile [Olympian] religious spirit” (14).
Today, however, we have the complete subversion of Christ’s purpose by Christians. Today we have a “Christianity that is itself a religion. The best, it might be said, the peak of religious history…A religion marked by all the traits of religion: myths, legends, rites, holy things, beliefs, clergy, etc.” (17).
Jesus vs. morality
Nor should we imagine that we best witness to Jesus by developing a Christian moral code and then conforming to it. Jesus frees us from that way of thinking and living too. “God himself frees us from morality and places us in the only true ethical situation, that of personal choice, of responsibility, of the invention and imagination that we must exercise if we are to find the concrete form of obedience [witness] to our Father” (15).
“The Old Testament commandments…are not in any sense morality. On the one side they are the frontier between what brings life and what brings death…” (15). Jesus is the truth who sets us free to love and so leads us into fullness of life. The purpose of our ethical guidelines is to identify the practical boundaries between life and death. We don’t want to trespass those limits. Within them, though, we are free to develop an inexhaustible variety of witness.
One great beauty of the Old Testament is that it witnesses to Yahweh’s relationship with his people, and of ours with him, over thousands of years and across wide-ranging circumstances. By reading it, we may gain greater clarity about Christ’s Spirit and how we might, today, witness more clearly to him in our daily lives. He may, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enable us to discern and affirm the words he is speaking to us today as his part of the conversation with us.
“When Jesus consciously and deliberately breaks the commandments that have become moral [part of an abstract moral code], when he makes of transgression a kind of constant conduct that his disciples must adopt, and when Paul brutally asks why we should keep commandments that have become merely human commandments [the same], they are aiming not just at the Jewish law but at all morality” (15).
Today, however, we have the complete subversion of Christ’s purpose by Christians. Today we have a “Christianity that has fashioned a morality—and what a morality!—the most strict, the most moralistic, the most debilitating, the one that most reduces adherents to infants and renders them irresponsible, or, if I were to be malicious, I should say the one that makes them happy imbeciles, who are sure of their salvation if they obey this morality, a morality that consists of chastity, absolute obedience (which in unheard-of fashion ends up as the supreme value in Christianity), sacrifice etc.” (17).
Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.