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A Universal Pattern

Summary: An Evolving Faith

A Universal Pattern
Monday, December 30, 2019

Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together. —Colossians 1:17

Anything called “Good News” needs to reveal a universal pattern that can be relied upon, and not just clannish patterns that might be occasionally true. This is probably why Christianity’s break with ethnic Judaism was inevitable, although never intended by either Jesus or Paul, and why by the early second century Christians were already calling themselves “catholics” or “the universals.” They believed God is leading all of history somewhere larger and broader and better for all of humanity. Yet, after Jesus and Paul—except for occasional theologians like Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and Francis of Assisi—the most widely accepted version of Christianity had little to do with the cosmos, creation, nature, or even history. Our beliefs did not generally talk about the future, except in terms of judgment and apocalypse. This is no way to guide history forward. It is certainly no way to give humanity hope, purpose, direction, or joy.

Christianity puts itself in a limited and precarious position when it is tied to any culture-bound Jesus or an expression of faith that does not include the Eternal Christ. Without a universal story line that offers grace and caring for all of creation, Jesus is kept small and seemingly inept. God’s care must be toward all creatures, or God ends up not being very caring at all, making things like water, trees, animals, and history itself accidental, trivial, or disposable. But grace is not a late arrival, appearing only two thousand years ago when Jesus came, or when a few lucky humans read his words in the Bible. God’s grace cannot be a random problem-solver doled out to the few and the virtuous—or it is hardly grace at all! (See Ephesians 2:7-10 if you want the radical meaning of grace summed up in three succinct verses.)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. As the New Testament dramatically puts it, “Before the world was made, we have been chosen in Christ . . . claimed as God’s own, and chosen from the very beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 11) “so that God could bring everything together, in heaven and on earth, as a plan for the fullness of times” (1:10). If all of this is true, we have a theological basis for a very natural religion that includes everybody. The problem was solved from the beginning.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 21, 97-98.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren

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