Reclaiming the Christ
January 13, 2020 § 5 Comments
For years I have carried a ministry of seeking ways to reconnect liberal Friends to our root tradition. A recurring concern in this ministry has been to reconnect us to the Christ.
Now a lot of Friends are allergic to the word Christ, in most cases, I suspect, because of its connotations in traditional Christianity and its focus on sin and salvation, the cross and atonement, on Jesus’ divinity and the trinity. But traditional Christianity has redefined the Christ into something quite different than what Jesus himself meant, at least in the Synoptic Gospels.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus unambiguously claimed to be the Christ and explained what he meant by this claim in Luke, chapter four. In this passage, he has just been baptized, during which the holy spirit descended upon him. The spirit then drove him into the wilderness, and after forty days he emerged and went home to his home town. There, on the sabbath, in the synagogue, as the “visiting rabbi”, he was invited to read from the prophets. He chose Isaiah 61, verses one and two, which read as follows:
The spirit of Yahweh God is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me [a clear reference to his baptism]; he has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor . . .
Now that word “anointed” is the word “christ” in Greek, “messiah” in Hebrew. He is saying, “the Father has christed me”.
For Jesus, being the Christ meant being anointed in the spirit of God. Being the Christ meant having been called by God and empowered by His spirit to do His work in the world. For him, that work was ministering to the suffering and the condition of the poor.
The Christ is the consciousness of having been called by the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit to do the Spirit’s work in the world.
That is as good a description of Quaker spirituality as any I have ever heard.
Post-script: I am not saying that the Christ is limited to this one understanding. Certainly Friends have come to know the Christ in a variety of ways in their own direct experience, and I take their testimony at face value. For many Friends, in fact, their experience of the Christ accords well with the understanding that “traditional Christianity” has given us, or at least with the Quaker version that we see in the testimony of early Friends, which rests more on the gospel of John and the writings of Paul. I am simply trying to recover the Christ whose ministry we see being born in the gospel of Luke.