Jesus at a progressive church

In American politics for last few decades it’s been ubiquitous to hear the term, “progressive.” It’s spoken with excitement and solemnity among many people, as if the self-appellation is one of prestige. “I’m progressive!” “I’ve always been a progressive.”

Google tells me that “progressive” means, “happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step”; “(of a group, person, or idea) favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.”

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It’s usage and import, as nearly all pagan, political terms, are now being applied copiously to certain groups of those within the Church. It’s cool to be “progressive.” In the usage I’ve seen, it’s shorthand for “cutting edge,” “un-tethered from your parents’ stodgy views,” “in the cool crowd,” “liberated to new ideas,” “woke.” People who are “progressive” are the lone voices in the desert wastelands where all the marginalized and victims reside, calling for justice to be done to all the elitists and privileged. These elitists and privileged hold their views, of course, because they are simply bigoted and racist, guilty of multiform psychological disorders that all end with “-phobic.” Their power is nearly insurmountable. Praise God for the progressive voices who can display the cleansing mirror to those in power and topple the ivory tower of tyranny that exists, especially among white Westerners.

Lydia Sohn, Pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd, United Methodist, wrote a long essay entitled, “A Brief Primer On Progressive Christianity” (source is here). In it, she gives a summary of the roots, as she sees them, of the progressive subgroup of Christians. Toward the end, she says, “At the January 2017 women’s protest, thousands of progressive Christian marched with signs that adapted Kristin Joiner’s signs that went viral. These signs read: In our church, we believe:

Black Lives Matter

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

No Human is Illegal

Science is Real

Love is Love

Kindness is Everything

These statements encapsulate the values of progressive Christianity.”

I assume that most of those who hold these views mean well—that they think they are genuinely fighting for issues that Jesus would fight for. Yet, there is so much one can and should say in response to these core tenets of progressive Christianity as Joiner promulgates. One wonders in what conceivable reality could Jesus of Nazareth be imagined to utter such slogans.

I picture Jesus appearing at these rallies. He keeps incessantly proclaiming the urgent message of repentance to prepare for the in-breaking reign of God as experienced in His ministry (e.g., Mk 1:14-15). I picture him reading those picket signs and Him stopping in shock, shaking His head in incredulity. “I wonder if they listened to me. I wonder if they thought I was being serious. I wonder if they…I wonder…nevermind.”

“Jesus, your problem is, you’re not ‘woke.’ You just don’t get it. Jesus, your message of repentance is so offensive! Kindness is everything, Jesus. Love is love. Do you not get that? How in the world can you stand there and say that only a man and woman should be married? (Mk 10:6-8) Have you actually ever met a gay couple? Why is their love inferior to a heterosexual’s? How can you be so bigoted and archaic? Your message is violence. It encourages suicide. And if you really loved the people you’re preaching to, you’d be very clear that science is real and that a woman can kill whomever she wants in her womb. Jesus…you want to be progressive, right? Surely you care about moving forward with the ‘wokeness’ of culture, right? Surely you don’t support the white, bigoted, dictatorial powers that rule over the world, right?”

The real origins of the attractiveness of progression is in the Enlightenment. It took some time, but eventually, everything that was new was good, everything that was old was passé. This is why they labeled the early 2nd millennium, “The Dark Ages” (which is sheer nonsense). “We all know better, now.” This idea is so ubiquitous in Western thought now that it’s simply taken for granted that forward is good, staying the same is bad. If you want things to stay the same, it demonstrates either (1) you’re a bigot, (2) you’re scared of change, (3) you’re ignorant, (4) you suffer from some other deleterious characteristic trait.

The problem is: Christianity is founded upon historical truths and beliefs that simply cannot change or it is no longer the Christianity of the New Testament. It could not be the Christianity as handed down from the Apostles. If a person cares about that at all (and there are Christians who do not care at all), then it is imperative to stay firm in, at minimum, the basic teachings of the gospel presented in the New Testament.

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New ideas were continually coming into the fledgling Church. Whether Jesus really wasn’t human (1 Jn 4:2; 2Jn 7), or married Christians should stop having sex (1 Cor 7), or Christians should all be vegetarians (Rom 14), or Christians should uphold every Jewish holy day (Gal 4:10), and on and on the new, progressive ideas came. It is no surprise that following the teachings as given by the Apostles became so very important (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1-8). Paul even exhorts Timothy (3:14-15, NET): You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Timothy must “continue” in what he was taught and “continue” in using Scripture for his pastoral duties because there were people (whom Paul called, “evil,” v. 13) who were teaching anything else.

I know, I know. “David’s just a bigot. He just doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t understand the heart of Jesus. David’s Jesus is racist and xenophobic and homophobic; the real Jesus is all about love and compassion and tolerance and acceptance. David’s just not progressive. I used to be like him. I used to be delusional by my whiteness and privilege. I hope he can see the light one day like me and join the fight against injustices like Jesus.”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I just don’t think so. When I read the Gospels and the documents of the early church, I simply can’t recognize their Jesus. I can’t help but think that the Church is running hard down the wrong path, even if their intentions are good.

It reminds of a section from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when we do arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

 I hope we can go back to the Jesus of the Gospels. I miss Him.