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Friday, June 29, 2007

New Thought: To Be or Not to Be - Christian...

"Is New Thought Christian?" This seems to be a frequent and popular question in New Thought, and a hotly contested one among our own. The question that I have is Why? Why is this a debated issue and why is it important?

*Disclaimer before I go on* While using the term "New Thought" in this post I am mostly referring to Religious Science. Being that Unity historically is more biblically based and "Christian" identified. However, the issues I'm attempting to address may be relevant to the Unity movement.

The most common answer to the "Christian Question" within New Thought is "Yes and No" Yes, in that we are followers of the Christ Principles, No in that we are not burdened with dogmatic creeds or other limitations. Much of New Thought has attempted to separate its identity from the standard labels and race-consciousness associated with Christianity. Indeed a separation from the race-consciousness and general perception of Christianity is a very good idea. However, this has occurred at the cost of a true knowledge/Gnosis of our theological roots. And that should be of great concern.

Most of the ministers and general practitioners of New Thought that I have engaged with on this issue bring up the same concern. That is, if we align ourselves with the term "Christianity" it will automatically alienate our roots in other great world religions and traditions. Afterall, we believe in the golden thread of truth that runs through all faith traditions. Is it not the great gift of our theology - the ability to "stand for something and against nothing." Therefore, we believe in and honor all paths to God.

Yes - that is exactly true! Which is exactly why a true, deep theological understanding of Christianity and our connection to it is so important. For if we stay clear of the term due to the modern and current interpretations, most of which make us fairly uncomfortable, then we are doing a disservice to the deeper meaning of Christianity that New Thought is uniquely poised to express in the world. So much so , that one could argue that with out our expression - it would be lost to history forever.

Consider for a moment that all of our most important founding writers within New Thought both have and express a deep embodiment and understanding of this unique and powerful expression of Christianity. These writers understood, as we must do today, that embracing our Christian roots does not exclude our connection to eastern and other spiritual wisdom. In fact, it does just the opposite! Embracing our authentic form of Christianity - theologically empowers us us to embrace all paths to God. This is why and how our founding writers were able to so clearly speak of terms like "Christ Consciousness"

How? Because Christianity at its core is not about religion or creeds, nor is it about a man. It is fundamentally about a new way of Being.

Jesus represents a New Way of Being (with God).
Paul Tillich


...no religion as such produces the New Being. No religion matters - only a new state of things.
Paul Tillich, The New Being - p. 16


Christianity is more than a religion; it is the message of a New Creation. Christianity as a Religion is not important.
Paul Tillich, The New Being - p. 16

What do you think? is this perspective of Christianity important in defining New Thought?

9 comments:

  1. Hello
    Glad to have access to your blog.

    You offer provocative thoughts for us to ponder.

    I happen to agree with you. In fact, I have always wondered why so many of my/our colleagues press so harshly to avoid or disavow our history and essence of Christianity. Especially, those of us who respect Dr. Holmes so much and recognize his great respect for Jesus the Christ.

    It did always amuse me when congregants would stiffen or cringe on the occasions where I would refer to--and heaven forbid--quote JC.

    Grist for the proverbial mill--with your Mr. Tillich as the miller.

    InJoy,
    Rev. Duchess Dale
    San Diego, CA

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  2. First, thank you for the blog!

    The question, "Are we Christian?" has been since almost from the beginning. Years ago I came across notes from the 1954 Ministers Convocation in Santa Barbara, and the question was debated then. At the time Holmes said he agreed with the minister who opined, "We are Christian and more." That makes perfect sense to me, but I suspect that idea would not be accepted by "Christianity" today. The Christian umbella has grown smaller and smaller through the years. There are Christians today who argue Catholics are not Chrisitan, even thgouh they started the whole thing!

    I might also note that the original church charters granted our earliest churches all started with the words, "Chrisitan Greetings." Someone though we are Christian, but given the way Christianity defines itself today, I don't believe we qualify.

    Bottom line: We are trans-denominational and trans-religion. "Christian and more" - "Buddhist and more" - "Moslem and more", etc. We include and transend ALL faith traditions, and find ourselves in alignment with the mystics of all religions, and the mystics of philosophy. in that sense, we are no more Christian than we are Hindu - yet we are informed by both.

    Again, thanks for your good work.

    Richest blessings,
    Rev. Roger Aldi
    Burbank, CA

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  3. Roger -
    Thanks for your post. I agree with your assessment, and yet within it is where I see part of the problem.

    I agree that we are "Christian and more..." which is a definition that is right in alignment with how P. Tillich and many Christian mystics before him would define Christianity - that is as a mystical teaching that reaches beyond its own boundaries set by its symbols and creeds. And in fact the act of allowing Christianity to be confined by its symbols and creeds is itself an act of idolatry that mocks the true meaning of Christianity.

    I believe that Holmes, Filmore and our other great founding writers understood this and had little to no issue with using the term "Christianity." In the opening of "How to Use the Science of Mind" Holmes calls Religious Science "practical and applied Christianity"

    I certainly agree with you that the umbrella of Christianity today has indeed grown smaller and more limited - however, I also believe that is exactly why the collective "we" of New Thought - needs to stay in the game and consider ourselves a part of the family. The history of Christianity has been filled with various sects and groups with differing perspectives and views - but it is that diversity that makes it so rich and valuable.

    The great liberal preacher Henry Emerson Fosdick of Riverside Church in New York - was a loud and active voice in this debate in the 1920's - most famous for his sermon "Shall The Fundamentalists Win?" The answer to his question is Yes - if and only if those of us who offer a wider view, including New Thought, Paul Tillich, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg and others, remove ourselves from the conversation.

    Unfortunately I think that this is exactly what New Thought has done in the last 50 years or so. And while we see Fundamentalism on the rise - so to is the hunger and thirst for a new kind of Christianity - this hunger arises from within by those who feel trapped by their dogmatic and limiting traditions.

    The question for New Thought's future is - will we have anything to offer them to eat or drink. Holmes answered that question with the opening poem of the Science of Mind "Peace Unto Thee Stranger" - now it is our opportunity to set the table and open our doors. We can't do it if we ignore or deny our roots.

    Respectfully,
    Rev. D.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Janet White11:50 AM

    I'm a Religious Scientist in the buckle of the Bible Belt and have written the world's first metaphysical approach to job-finding, called "Secrets of the Hidden Job Market: Change Your Thinking to Get the Job of Your Dreams"

    I have been doing a a lot of public speaking and at least 95% of my audience is Christian.

    As I teach them about the Law and basic principles of manifestation, I say, "I am fed by the teachings of Jesus," and then start quoting the Master Teacher.

    If they interpret that to mean I'm Christian, well...it's all good. And so it is!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Christianity is the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you define yourself as a Christian it is because you follow Christ's teachings and believe that Christ is who he claimed to be - God incarnate, the savior of mankind from sin, and the one who resurrects all the dead from their graves. To embrace this, you must believe background teachings, like sin/wrong deeds have an eternal consequence - that of keeping you out of God's presence. Christ bridges the gap between mankind and God. This is what Christ taught. If you reject these simple things, you are not a Christian.

    I think it is ok to define a religion as "using Christ's moral teachings". Alot of religions coordinate with these. But to say you are "Christian" is very specific and different from just teaching Christ's morality.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dear Anonymous -

    Thanks for posting your thoughts - we welcome all points of view.

    It is true that by the definition of "being a follower of Christ teachings and accepting him as God incarnate, who revealed a way of (being) salvation from sin (mistakes) and gave new and everlasting life" - the New Thought movement is indeed Christian.

    However, the background teaching that you propose one "must believe" is in my opinion not as essential as you claim. Throughout the history of Christianity there have been different and varying ideas about the stories and meaning of those stories - leading to a wide variety of Doctrinal beliefs. Definitions of sin, eternal consequences, heaven, hell, purgatory, age of baptism... on and on and on.

    Some might say we do reject these ideas, and therefore according to your view - we are not Christian. I would not necessarily say that New Thought rejects these ideas - but rather does have some different ideas about them. For which I would propose that we are still Christian.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello, David,

    I grew up in what would be termed "fundamentalist Christianity." Here's the scoop: If you do not claim Jesus Christ as your savior, you are not saved. If you have not been baptized with water in his name, you are not saved. If you are not baptized with fire by the Holy Spirit, you are not saved. If you believe any other way, you are not saved. Period. But you'll notice I didn't mention anything about being a Christian. That name was applied by outsiders to the movement that St. Paul created, not to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, in the beginning it was meant as an insult. Gradually, it became accepted by the church itself and the rest is history.

    I know you know that "Christ" is a title, not a name. It is the English rendering of the Greek rendering of the Hebrew "messiah." It simply means "anointed." I believe New Thought folks are as anointed as anyone can be, don't you?

    So what's in a title anyway? It's all in the practice and the highest practice in New Thought is compassion: doing the least harm and the most good.

    If we be wrong, we be sincerely wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous8:21 AM

    I just had a new thought but it escaped me.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous5:03 AM

    This is a wonderful site! I currently consider myself ChristoPagan only because I haven't found a more fitting tag. However, I think that thanks to you I'm about to undergo a new title to better identify my beliefs. Thank you for this site!!!

    ReplyDelete

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