I can never remember a time when church wasn’t a part of my life. As a little girl, my maternal grandmother would take me faithfully to church every Sunday, decked out in my straw hat (with a flower on top!) and my white gloves and white shoes. What is it about wearing white in a church? I would try not to squirm. I would try to listen. But most of it didn’t make much sense. And, truth be known, there is still a lot that doesn’t make much sense to me today. Are you with me on this?
It seems to me that we are trying desperately to hold on to the dogmas and creeds that have ruled the church for centuries, from the time of its earliest beginnings in the 1st Century ce.
As a consequence, we are ensuring that the church becomes less and less relevant in the lives of most people, certainly here in our North American context.
Here are five dogmas preached by the church that turn people away, people who are spiritual seekers, but who cannot abide the oppressive strictures of an institution badly in need of reform.
DOGMA #1 That Jesus, the Nazarene, is the Saviour of the world and no one gets to God but through him
This, of course, immediately eliminates about 7 billion people from the circle of God’s love and grace. Time to re-think the ministry of Jesus and try to figure out what he was actually trying to do in this world. It’s a ministry worth studying and emulating, but one doesn’t have to be a Christian to do that. There are plenty of devout, compassionate people who are Muslim or Sikh or Jew. (Which Jesus was, by the way).
DOGMA #2 The Bible is the inerrant Word of God
The Bible is a human document, touched by thousands of hands, reflecting the spiritual experiences of ancient peoples in their quest to encounter the Divine. It is poetry, biased history (one would think that there are no other people who matter in the ancient world except Jews), rules and laws for a tribal people. Yes, it has wisdom that is worthy of note, but when I read an excerpt from the Bible that says “then they (the Israelites) slaughtered by the edge of the sword all in the city of Jericho, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys” I am not much impressed by the actions of a God who commanded all of this. That is what the text says, as the inerrant Word of God.
DOGMA #3 Jesus is coming again soon, so look busy!
Many passages in the New Testament are written in such a manner that the return of Jesus is presumed imminent. Many Christians have interpreted this to mean that they must be in a constant state of preparedness for the “rapture” that is to come. This, of course, gets them off the hook in terms of worrying about the environment or the injustices of the world. After all, they are part of the circle of those who are saved and need not concern themselves with the travails of this sinful and wicked world. They need only be busy converting everyone to Christianity so that when destruction does come the new converts will also be saved.
DOGMA #4 Only men get to walk in “the shoes of the fisherman” and offer worship leadership
The Roman Catholic Church, as well as many conservative religious denominations, cling to this early dogma of the church. Having a woman in the pulpit would surely arouse lustful thoughts in the hearts of men and, besides, Jesus was a male and only males can follow in his footsteps in terms of leadership in the church. Could this be more about power and control than about a doctrine postulated by God?
DOGMA #5 God is male
God, as a general rule, is referred to as a male in church liturgy. This, of course, reflects the patriarchal society that existed when the Bible was being written. The church picked up on that quite quickly and God took on all the attributes of the male gender. God, a male, walked with Adam and Eve in the garden for heaven’s sake. I wonder whether he was wearing a fig leaf? Many woman do not find themselves represented in their churches and feel even less affinity to a male God. Time to let this one go and free men from having to emulate a warlike, powerful, swashbuckling God.
Want to read more? I recommend “A History of God” written by Karen Armstrong and “Honest to Jesus” written by Robert Funk.
(Rev) Linda Hunter