Part 3 of Unitarian Christian Basics
by Rev. Dr. Ronald Ryan
Certainly, what must be the most controversial aspect of Unitarian Christianity (or Christian Unitarianism), and probably the one that has caused the most ridicule, the most derision, the most condemnation, the most grief, for over 500 years, is the matter of how Unitarian Christians perceive “Salvation.”
“Salvation” is what Christianity is all about! Unitarian Christian views on this subject have caused the most severe condemnation of Unitarian Christians.
In brief, Unitarian Christians have rejected the whole idea of blood sacrifice! To put it bluntly, JESUS DID NOT DIE FOR OUR SINS; NOBODY DIED FOR OUR SINS!
Although there is a sense in which Christian Unitarians can, and do, say that Jesus is Saviour, it is by his LIVING that Jesus is Saviour, not by his dying!
It is, sometimes, that Unitarian Christians get into trouble by declaring that we do not believe in sacrifice of our lives by dying; the easiest thing in the world is to die; even to die for our beliefs. We say that God does not want a dead sacrifice; God wants a living sacrifice. It is by our living, not by our dying that we achieve Salvation.
The whole idea of human sacrifice is repugnant to Christian Unitarians. We perceive it as ancient, primitive superstition. It is illogical. It is an ancient Pagan notion even though the Pagans gave up the practice maybe several thousand years before Christianity began. It was introduced into Christianity about 400 – 500 years after the era of Jesus, designed to induce guilt into uneducated and gullible people. Unitarian Christians do not accept salvation by blood, anybody’s blood!
Christian Unitarians, even from the time of the Ebionites (circa AD 50 – AD 250) and the Nazarines, believe that it is by following the teachings of Jesus and by living according to the ethical standards implicit in the teachings of Jesus that is the means of Salvation. Both the Ebionites and Nazarines were Unitarian groups, actually more aligned with Messianic Judaism than what became, eventually, Christianity. In fact, the adherents of both of these Jewish-Christian sects were considered to be heretics by the early Christian church, and the slaughter of those people, whom the church considered heretics, became the first of the trend that continued for over 1200 years where the church eliminated opposition by simple murder.
Unitarian Christians still believe that our “salvation” is by our character, by the manner in which we live and by the respect, love and compassion that we accord all others.
Even the term, “Salvation,” itself is used differently by Christian Unitarians. Christian Unitarians consider Salvation to be a process that continues throughout a person’s life. This is consistent with the charges of Jesus to “Be Holy!” (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44; 20:7) and to “Be Perfect“ (Matthew 5:48). Although Unitarian Christians acknowledge that “Be perfect” can be translated as “be whole” or “be complete” and are happy with that translation, they emphasize that it does not mean “be perfect, more or less.”
But, we hasten to add, that seeking perfection is not seeking perfectionism! If we argue that Jesus “was perfect”, we must, at the same time, acknowledge that Jesus was human, and it is in our humanity, and within the bounds of our humanity that we can be perfect, just as jesus was “perfect” within the bounds of his humanity..
The whole notion is scary to many people and causes many to reject Unitarianism because of the belief in perfection.
I had this discussion, some little time ago:
He: “You Unitarians think that you can be perfect.!”
Me: “Yes. That is true. So what?”
He: “You think that you can be as good as Jesus.”
Me; “That is true. Indeed, we believe that it is possible to be better than Jesus.” (On reflection, it was probably not a judicious choice of words. But, then, I can err even in my perfection!!!)
He: “But, you cannot be as good as Jesus. Jesus was perfect!”
Me: “Mmmm. So, do you think that I can become angry and be as perfect as Jesus?”
He: “No! You cannot!”
Me: “Jesus became angry, in the temple, for example, although, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why he became angry. How about cursing? Can one be perfect and still curse something?”
He: “Of course not!”
Me: “Jesus cursed the fig tree! Can we be perfect if we quarrel?”
He: “Somebody perfect wouldn’t quarrel!”
Me: “Jesus quarrelled with Peter! Jesus even swore on Peter, calling him the devil!”
My acquaintance and accuser stalked away in anger. Clearly, we have something confused. Whatever Jesus was talking about, it was clearly something other than what we think we mean when we use the terms, to be perfect, perfection, and so on. Moreover, it clearly does not mean perfectionism.
But, before you, my dear reader, stalk away in anger, give me opportunity to talk, again, about Salvation and being perfect. It might not be what you think it has to mean.
In the meantime, consider this matter. There is no doubt that you are just as “good” as I am. No doubt, most of you are much better than I am. If Ron Ryan considers himself, at a minimum, as potentially perfect, surely you can be better than him!!! Some of you have known me since childhood. You know me so well that you are not able to entertain the word “perfect” and the name ”Ron Ryan” at the same time without laughing. So, what can these words mean?
Think about it!