The midwayers tell us that the gospel of Jesus was not the central message of the Christian religion. Jesus tried to impart his religion to the apostles and other followers. What we got from them was a religion about the person of Jesus. What happened? Why did the simple truth of God as our father and men as brothers become a religion about Jesus himself? The revelators, particularly the midwayers, tell us quite a bit about this.
Peter and the apostles who launched the new religion overlooked Jesus’ statement that he was proposing a religion which was:
“…not a religion in the present day meaning of that word.” [Paper 155:5.12, page 1730.0]
The apostles were all Jews, and they had been raised within the Jewish ceremonial system, which was embedded in the scriptures and carried almost the force of law. Even though they had seen Jesus disregarding aspects of this system, they themselves were substantially obedient to it. For them, a religion was something which imposed strong requirements of a ceremonial nature. Certainly it was about being respectful of and obedient to God, but this attitude was to be expressed in specific forms of worship which the Jews had inherited from the days of Moses. In their minds, religion consisted of not just belief in God but in the forms and ceremonies prescribed by the religious authorities to express this belief. If a religion did not have these characteristics it was not a religion. Jesus’ simple spiritual approach was beyond their ability to master. Is it surprising then that they were not able to comprehend Jesus’ simple appeal to the spirit, and sought to impose something more like Judaism on the converts they made?
A Collective Focus
For the Jews, religion was a national belief. They firmly believed that they were God’s chosen people, and they would be rewarded for obedience to His demands by receiving special favours as a people. They would also be punished by God if they failed to obey His demands. They saw the Babylonian captivity as an instance of that. They would be elevated above other peoples, and would be looked after materially and politically by God as long as they fulfilled His requirements. As long as they remained strictly monotheistic, obeyed the commandments, undertook the correct ceremonies and refrained from sin, then they would prosper as a dominant nation. And they took this seriously.
Many devout souls were baptized by John for the good of Israel. They feared lest some sin of ignorance on their part might delay the coming of the Messiah. [Paper 136:2.1, page 1511.0]
They were genuinely afraid that some unknown and unintended sin may be impeding national progress, and they sought purification as a patriotic duty.
The apostles having been nurtured in such an ideology naturally carried elements of it into the new religion they were developing. The emphasis which Jesus gave to the significance of the individual did not come easily to them. Their association with Jesus had gone some way to purging them of these views, but it was deeply imbedded in their attitude. They had been imbued from birth with the traditional Jewish viewpoint which taught that the authority of the priests and scribes gave the true interpretation of their traditions. The ceremonies and rituals prescribed by these authorities seemed inseparable from religious belief.
Authority was important to all devout Jews. Anyone teaching new or unorthodox views was accepted only if he could demonstrate that he had the authority to propound those views. The prophets who had been largely responsible for elevating Judaism from a primitive tribal superstition to one which worshiped the Lord God of Israel had mostly been killed for their pains—even though they were later revered. In their time, because they preached without authority, they were not regarded as legitimate. Jesus faced the same problem, and was often asked by whose authority he taught.
So although Jesus had tried to teach them that all ceremonies and rituals are irrelevant to true religion, that the simple appeal to the spirit is the sum and substance of true religion, it seemed quite natural to them to continue to uphold many of the traditional practices while simultaneously professing the unorthodox beliefs resulting from their association with Jesus.
Even after this demonstration of pouring out the spirit upon all flesh, the apostles at first endeavored to impose the requirements of Judaism upon their converts. [Paper 194:3.9, page 2064.1]
Even gentile converts had to adhere to the requirements of Judaism. The “new religion” was still a sub-cult of Judaism.
If a religion does not have rituals, ceremonies, forms of service and so on, it was not regarded as a religion. And it still isn’t. Although the requirement to adhere to the rituals of Judaism were soon dropped, the notion of needing to observe some form of ceremony was retained. People of those days simply could not recognise a belief in God as a religion unless it also embodied forms and ceremonies, and this carried over into Christianity.
Confusion of the Apostles
The apostles were thoroughly confused about what Jesus message was designed to achieve. Their expectations about the coming of the Jewish Messiah led them to envisage that there would be a time when an earthly nation state would be brought into being, with the messiah at its head as king, prophet and priest who would inaugurate a new age wherein the Jewish nation would lead the world into the worship of God. Thus when Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of Heaven they imagined a situation where Jesus himself would be the head of an earthly kingdom in which they would have places of honour. They more or less overlooked, or at least misunderstood Jesus insistence that “the kingdom of heaven is not of this world” and that “the kingdom is within you”. Jesus had told them that after his time with His Father he would return to earth, and they expected this to happen pretty soon after Pentacost. It was as if they thought that the Kingdom of Heaven would be established here on earth under Jesus—the Son of God. Having seen Jesus rise from the dead, and having experienced the power of Pentacost, they were ready to take on the task of converting the people of the world and preparing them to welcome Jesus when he returned to become king. As a result they misunderstood Jesus’ teaching, and focussed almost exclusively upon the person of Jesus. When you think about it this seems natural enough. The apostles had spent a lot of time with Jesus, and they were well aware of what a magnificent specimen of manhood he was. And having seen him perform miracles and then come back to life after the crucifixion and then experienced the coming of the Spirit of Truth, they were very impressed with his power. They loved Jesus for his personal qualities and they were impressed by his power. At the same time they were confused about his teaching. It is thus hardly surprising that that they focussed on what they knew and understood—namely the person of Jesus himself. Jesus had hoped to induce them to focus on the Father, not on himself as the Son. But after all, he had lived such a splendid life among them, been their friend as well as their teacher, and had led them all to make such progress in their spiritual lives that he had come to dominate their thoughts. And as what he had been trying to teach them about was such a huge leap for their minds to make– well—they went with what they knew.
Paul of Tarsus
And so the apostles, particularly Peter, their new leader, began to establish the new religion about Jesus. But the midwayers tell us that it was Paul who really determined the pattern of what became Christianity—the religion about Jesus. Paul had not known Jesus in the flesh. He had begun by persecuting the followers of Jesus, and experienced Jesus only after an extraordinary experience on the road to Damascus. We are not told much about it, but it so impressed Paul that he spent the rest of his life teaching and modifying what eventually became Christianity.
Peter and the apostles who had lived with Jesus began the reinterpretation of Jesus’ teaching, but it was Paul who turned these reinterpretations into Christianity. Paul was a Jew, but he was also a Roman citizen, and he carried the gospel of the risen Christ to the gentiles. In doing so he took the old Jewish notion of sacrifice to a Father of wrath and vengeance and blended it with the invention that Jesus’ death on the cross was a sacrifice to appease Him in order to redeem sinful humanity from God’s justice. This became Christianity’s Atonement Doctrine, a position so contrary to the Father’s attitude that Christians have been confused ever since. Bear in mind that Paul had never spent time personally with Jesus (though he must have interacted with him in prayer), so that he was not as aware as the original apostles of Jesus’ personal revelation of the Father. So Jewish notions of God’s justice may have dominated his attitude to Jesus. Whatever the case, and even though his message was a bit astray, he converted a lot of gentiles—he put bums on seats you might say. The midwayers say it well:
These teachings originated in a praiseworthy effort to make the gospel of the kingdom more acceptable to disbelieving Jews. Though these efforts failed as far as winning the Jews was concerned, they did not fail to confuse and alienate many honest souls in all subsequent generations. [Paper 149:2.3, page 1670.4]
It may be worthwhile reminding you of what a Divine Counselor had to say about the atonement doctrine:
The erroneous supposition that the righteousness of God was irreconcilable with the selfless love of the heavenly Father, presupposed absence of unity in the nature of Deity and led directly to the elaboration of the atonement doctrine, which is a philosophic assault upon both the unity and the free-willness of God. [Paper 2:6.5, page 41.3]
Jewish notions of divine wrath and justice combined with their traditions of sacrifice led Paul to propose that God sacrificed His Son to justify human guilt at having disobeyed God and fallen into sin. Christianity adopted this error and developed a much diminished vision of God’s true attitude.
In teaching gentiles, Paul had to deal with all sorts of strange ideas, including the peculiarities of the mystery cults, and by what the midwayers call “theologic trading” he managed to induce many cults to become believers in Christ. In the process he adapted many of Jesus’ teachings to the point where Jesus himself would scarcely recognise them.
It is interesting to note that Paul grew up in a region where Mithraism was commonly practised, and much of the symbolism of Christianity is derived from this mystery cult, as is the transfer of the date of Jesus’ birth from summer to mid-winter. Apparently the annual rebirth of Mithras took place in mid-winter, and Paul took this date for the birth of Christ in exchange for the Mithraists adopting belief in Christ.
I don’t know how accurately Paul’s letters in the new testament have been translated, but they give a good impression of Paul’s reasoning. He works out a powerful message about Jesus, but the simple spiritual appeal is weakened by complicated theologic reasoning. And he encumbered Christianity with much of the morality of Judaism, the emphasis on sin which played almost no part in Jesus message. The Christ which was Paul’s focus took on some of the characteristics of the Jewish idea of God, who rewarded obedience and punished sinners in both this world and the next. And he disavowed the attitude to women demonstrated by Jesus, openly regarding them as of less importance than men, and even suggesting that men would be better off celibate—like him. How he expected the human race to propagate itself is not known!
Paul the Evangelist
Paul was going for an effective message. He saw his job as being to draw as many people as possible into the Christian orbit. He himself clearly had a profound personal experience of God. No-one who reads his letter to the Romans could doubt this. He says:
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, …Nor height nor depth, nor any other creature,shalll be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Romans 8:38-39 King James Bible.
This is about as personal as it gets.
But in trying to adapt Jesus’ message to these aims, he was obliged to make all sorts of twists and turns which complicated the message, and led theologians to “strain out gnats and swallow camels”. The extraordinarily creative inventions of the early theologians about Arianism and subsequent “heresies” give some indication of how difficult it later became to accommodate these early departures from Jesus’ teaching.
But we should not be too hard on Paul. The religion he came up with did after all give rise to western civilization, and he cannot be blamed for the fact that some of his letters of encouragement and advice to groups of believers became part of a “sacred” text.
And we should not overlook the fact that all revelation must come to terms with the culture and mores into which it is introduced. A Melchizedek points out:
You who today enjoy the advantages of the art of printing little understand how difficult it was to perpetuate truth during these earlier times; how easy it was to lose sight of a new doctrine from one generation to another. There was always a tendency for the new doctrine to become absorbed into the older body of religious teaching and magical practice. A new revelation is always contaminated by the older evolutionary beliefs. [Paper 93:7.4, page 1022.2]
And the midwayers say:
Always does the socialized religion of a new revelation pay the price of compromise with the established forms and usages of the preceding religion which it seeks to salvage. [Paper 144:7.1, page 1626.2]
Jesus often scolded the apostles for interpreting his teaching in the light of their existing pre-conceptions, but it was inevitable that they would do just that. And Paul was no exception. Everyone has to choose between being sincerely ineffectual or risking corruption to be effective. And this applies today just as much as it did in Paul’s day.
The Bestowal Message
We need to remember that Michael of Nebadon undertook his incarnation as Jesus, not just for Urantia but for all the inhabited planets of the local universe, the 3.8 million planets currently inhabited as well as those not yet inhabited. Some of what he said to the apostles was beyond their ability to comprehend, and he knew it. He had to bear in mind that all the planets of Nebadon were his audience, not just Urantia and his apostles. In some instances, he just could not allow the ignorance of the apostles to restrict the scope of his message. Jesus had no wish to focus men’s attention on his person; he wanted men to concentrate their attention on the Father. But being the extraordinary man that he was, his followers mistook him as the central theme.
To sum up, then, Jesus was attempting to transform the intellectual religions of those days into the true religion of the spirit, with the family model of the Universal Father of love tending His sons of the spirit. He was not able to make that transformation immediately because those entrusted with disseminating the gospel he taught were not able to grasp its essential simplicity. Because of their own preconceptions they developed a modified version of the message they received from Jesus, and went on to erect Christianity—a religion about Jesus as the Christ. Although this was a mighty achievement, it leaves Jesus’ work as yet only half done.
And perhaps this is one way to look at the work of the next epochal revelation—the Urantia Book. It is to complete the work of Jesus who was unable to finish it during his incarnation.