Today’s guest post is by Wayfarer.
Acts 11:26 states, in part, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Yet the first extant manuscripts of the New Testament have a slightly distinct reading, “And the disciples were called Chrestians first in Antioch.
I might think that this is simply a typographical error, substituting eta (η) for iota (ι), but the meaning is quite distinct. A “Χριστιανος”/””Christian” literally meant, “little anointed ones” — or those who presumed to take upon themselves the title of “Χριστος”/Christos. To be “anointed”, both in Hebrew and in Greek at the time, meant to be designated and set apart as a “king.”
In contrast, the term “Χρηστιανος”/”Chrestian” means someone who is “χρηστος”/Chrestos/kind, useful. In the language of the time, a “Chrestos” was usually a designation given to a slave who was exceptional in rendering service to those he or she serves.
In almost all manuscripts referring to followers of Jesus Christ prior to the fourth century, whether in Scripture or in separate works, the reference to what we call Christians today was rendered “Chrestians.” I should note, as well, that in these manuscripts, the title of Jesus Christ is always abbreviated as JC and XC, where the “C” here is really the “S” sound, and the references to Christos is ambiguous as to whether it was “Χριστος” or “χρηστος.”
Why is this important? Why does this inform how “Christians” and Mormons act today?
The first disciples of Jesus, particularly as represented by the James community, did not “worship” Jesus of Nazareth. They understood him as a “teacher of righteousness”–perhaps even “THE Teacher of Righteousness” as taught previously by the Qumran Essene sect. But the idea of “messiah” — “Χριστος” was not really an active understanding of the first believers. Instead, they were concerned with social justice, with caring for one another, and for being authentic in their Jewish practices. They were Jews, and believed that Jesus’ primary mission was to reform their faith and love one another as true disciples.
If the term “kingdom of God” meant anything, it meant that only God was the ruler, and that the rule of God’s law, whether in the torah or as expressed in nature, was the pattern for a life in God.
Jesus became God in the fourth century, and in becoming God, Jesus *Christ” became “Lord”, “Master”, and “King,” patterned after the imperial model of Rome. One of the first things I learned in a Jesuit theology program is that the existence of the Christian church depends entirely upon Constantine, for prior to that time, “Christianity” was a set of diverse sects and beliefs. By making “Christianity” the state religion, Constantine created “Christendom” — the idea that Christianity would become “dominant” — the term “Dominum” both means “Lord” as well as being the root of the word “domination.”
Domination, no matter how benevolent it may be in some rare cases, is not “kindness”. Christos is not “Chrestos”. The image of Christ created in the image of a northern european white male brings to mind the idea of a dominant “master race”–the pattern of western society.
Such a Jesus Christ becomes a pattern for authoritarian rule.
Such a Jesus Christ becomes an object of worship.
Such a Jesus Christ becomes the tool to lend authority to those who claim to be authorized by Jesus to rule and reign.
Such a Jesus Christ becomes the object of Bruce R McConkie’s notion “ye shall obtain.”
Such a Jesus Christ inspires the idea that as those “anointed” in temples, we, too become kings and queens, to rule and reign over others in our kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers, and dominions.
As I consider what we worship in Jesus Christ, I cannot help but wonder if Jesus of Nazareth would recognize what he has become in our vain imagination.
If being “Christian” means indulging in self-righteous dominion over others because they are less righteous than me, I want no part of it.
If being “Christian” means obeying church leaders without question, count me out.
If being “Latter-day Saint” means that I exalt the name “Jesus Christ” as being the only belief that will save me, then I’m doomed.
if being “Christian” means aspiring for exaltation in a celestial kingdom where my wives are baby factories forever and I’m appointed to be God over some “dominion” sitting upon a throne with power and authority, then I must be in hell, because that would be hell for me.
Bertrand Russell explained why he was not a Christian. Although I think his rationale was entirely too “rational” for me, I can understand the sentiment, particularly in a time when the vast majority of Christians and Mormons worship an authoritarian god, with authoritarian hierarchies and seem to lean toward authoritarianism politics.
If that is what it means to be “Christian”, then I am not a Christian. Mormon, perhaps, especially now that such a label is a shibboleth of being an apostate. I hope to be kind. I hope that the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth have a place in my soul to love my enemies, to be kind to those who make it difficult to be Latter-day Saint.
I do not worship Jesus Christ.
I hope to be a kind one, although I find it very difficult. I think that is what Jesus of Nazareth calls me to do.