The more writing I do, the more significant I find grammar and punctuation to be. Words matter. And so do the tiny things like punctuation–those small dots or squiggly lines or curved symbols. Get that wrong and it could change the entire course of history.
I just read a review of a book I ordered by Dr. Robin Meyers (a UCC pastor in Oklahoma City) called “Saving Jesus From the Church.” The title is intriguing–it certainly caught my eye. But his premise and propositions are even more so. He writes for the purpose of restoring a fundamental meaning of Jesus that has been lost for centuries by Christians who continue to insist that the most important issue with Jesus is believing that he is the divine son of God. Jesus has become no more and no less than the divine ticket for our salvation–confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and you will be saved from eternal death to eternal life. But is that all there is to Jesus?
In fact, history shows that it wasn’t until the 3rd and 4th centuries that the Christian church, by means of Church Councils, began to put a primary emphasis on clearly delineating the nature of Jesus as a nonnegotiable statement of belief. In two of these famous doctrinal statements which are regularly recited in many Christian churches today–the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds–there is a major omission. It’s evidenced by punctuation.
Here’s the way the Apostles’ Creed describes the doctrine of Jesus: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.”
Notice how the entire life of Jesus is summarized: “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” It’s hard to believe, but all 33 years of Jesus’ life are passed over in this doctrinal statement! Everything Jesus did, everything Jesus taught, all of Jesus’ wisdom passed over by punctuation.
Meyers comments on this with the statement, “The world’s greatest life is reduced to a comma” (p.207).
What Meyers is reminding us is that there is far more to Jesus than simply being a ticket to heaven. There are too many Christians who want Jesus to only be the Answer when instead they should make him the Assignment. Why such blatant narrowmindedness? Is it because deep inside we’re afraid that if we don’t confess the right belief we’ll miss out on heaven? Is it because we think that repeating the correct formula guarantees our entrance to the next life? Is it because we actually believe that, as one evangelical pastor said, “If we don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus we have no compelling reason or motivation to follow him?” Why such exclusive focus on a doctrinal statement?
Actually, the truth about this mono-focus could be as Meyers puts it: “Christianity as only a belief system requires nothing but acquiescence. Christianity as a way of life, as a path to follow, requires a second birth, the conquest of ego, and new eyes with which to see the world. It is no wonder that we have preferred to be saved” (p.15).
Wouldn’t it be tragic if such a tiny bit of punctuation like a comma would actually have kept millions of people through the ages of history from living like Jesus, from seeing Jesus as our ultimate model and example, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the one who introduced a God whose ways lead to true life and radical transformation?
Robin Meyers makes this observation: “Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don’t need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.”
Now that’s the kind of world I want to live in! That’s the kind of world I want Jesus to empower me to help shape right here, right now! That’s the kind of world Jesus came to express, encourage, and excite in a way that simply can’t be embodied in one tiny comma. Let’s not let that comma shape our history! After all, Love is simply too big and too important to be reduced to a little punctuation mark on a small page in the dark recesses of church history.