Everyone says they bear the true gospel. Mormons say it. (They call it the Restored Gospel.) Pentecostals say it. (They call it the Full Gospel.) Holy Rollers say it. (They call it The Foursquare Gospel.)
And so on.
What they’re all saying when they make this claim is “We believe in the gospel that the first apostles believed in!” (For example, Mormons claim that after the last apostle died, there was a Great Apostasy—the gospel was lost and the priesthood power withdrawn from the faithful.)
Everyone wants to be like The First Christians.
The whole effort’s wrongheaded, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not even sure the First Christians were Christians. I think they thought they were Jews—Torah-observant Jews. The only difference between them and their fellow Jews was their devotion to Jesus, who was very adamant about observing the Torah. The early church was based in Jerusalem and headed up by James, the brother of Jesus, who wouldn’t let you in the club unless you got circumcised. Without anesthesia. Ouch. How’s that for being born again?
I believe that what is promoted as apostolic doctrine by most churches is not what the apostles taught. For example, what mainline Christians believe as “gospel” is the dogma introduced by Paul, which he called “my gospel”—I think to distinguish it from the pro-Torah “gospel” pushed by James and the apostles in Jerusalem.
Paul was the one who invented the whole “salvation by grace through faith” idea, not Jesus.
The First Christians weren’t about grace. They were about strict observance.
Problem is, strict observance sucks as a Rule of Life. Whether or not you believe in God, it’s best to give yourself grace. Allow screw ups. Have a fried egg sandwich now and then—with bacon. Realize that when you try to learn something new, you’re going to suck at it at first. Stop being your worst critic. Rules—enough with all the rules! Everyone who has found peace by following rules, raise your hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Stop trying to be like the first-century church. They were just as lost as we are. If you want to have religion in your life, let your religion evolve—improve. Stop looking backward. Let’s keep learning and growing, throwing away the rules that don’t get us anywhere.
That’s my gospel.
John Draper is the author of the novel, A Danger to God Himself.