Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Master of Religion Essay by Rev. Jack Anderson


By Reverend Jack Anderson
 
The Bible is the sacred text of all Christians. Although there are differences between the bibles of some Christian denominations, essentially all Bibles are divided into two parts – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament gives the history of the Israelites, God's chosen people. It's filled with myths, stories of love and hate, peace and war, adultery, murder, victory and loss. It also includes stories of Prophets, messengers of God, who came to remind the people of how God expected them to act, but more importantly to foretell the coming of a Messiah who would be a savior to the people. After years of compilation these stories and messages of prophets now make up the Old Testament.
The New Testament is the story of the growth of Christianity, and the coming of the long awaited Messiah. This covers the time shortly before this coming, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, as well as his life and the lessons he taught during his time on earth. The New Testament also recounts his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The rest of the New Testament tells how his followers dealt with his absence, how they carried on his work and spread his message, and waited for the promised "Second Coming" of the Lord.
The New Testament begins with four books called Gospels, which means "Good News". They are (in order as in the bible): Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John . Although all four gospels recount events of Jesus' life, the Gospel according to Mark is unique among these four. It is the shortest of all four gospels; however, one of its most important features is that (according to the Two-Source Hypothesis) it is thought that the gospels of Matthew and Luke took much of their information from Mark. There are large sections from these two gospels that are word-for-word exactly as the same as sections are in Mark. This is significant because Mark was believed to be written first, therefore, it is considered to be a "cornerstone" for which the other gospels were built. Although the book does not officially have an assigned author, and it is officially labeled the "Gospel According to Mark", the author is traditionally thought to be John Mark, a follower of Jesus some time after Jesus' death and resurrection (most likely between A.D. 55 and 70, since this is the date that the book is thought to be written). John Mark traveled with Jesus' apostles Peter as well as worked by his side in Rome. It is because of John Mark's relationship with the apostle Peter that the gospel of Mark is categorized as having apostolic origins, meaning that it was written by either an apostle of Jesus or someone who had a close connection with an apostle. John Mark is also mentioned in some of Paul's epistles, because he traveled with Paul and Barnabas (who was his cousin). Because of his close relationship with these influential figures in Christian history, particularly Peter the apostle, it is no wonder that the gospel of Mark is a narrative, and even a lot like a biography of Jesus, recounting very detailed events of his life and exact lessons that he taught. While working with Peter he must have been privy to all kinds of stories of the man whom he was so devoted to and for whom he and all other Christians sacrificed so much. He, of course, also heard many stories of Jesus' teachings, which he and other apostles, disciples, and missionaries were teaching others. One of those stories of Jesus' message, recounted in the Gospel According to Mark, 12: 28-34, is commonly referred to as "The First Commandment and Greatest Commandment".
In this narrative gospel of Mark, Jesus is preaching when a scribe ventured to ask him which commandment was the first, or in other words, which one was most important to follow. His response to "love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mk. 12:30) and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk. 12:31) is what this passage centers around. At hearing Jesus' response, the scribe who initially questioned him responded by stating that he knew these things were important above all other things, particularly, "burnt offerings and sacrifices required by the law" (Mk. 12:33). The importance that Jesus sees in understanding and abiding by these commandments is emphasized by the author, John Mark, by writing that when Jesus saw that the scribe understood he told him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God".
The location of this passage in the Bible is not surprising because it is surrounded by passages (particularly in chapters 11 and 12) which are similar in that Jesus' authority to teach and beliefs are being challenged by the authority figures in the Jewish faith, particularly those who run the Jewish Temple. It is important to notice that Jesus answered by stating not one, but two commandments, that had been given to Moses and the Israelites many years ago – found in Deuteronomy 6:5, as well as in Leviticus 19:18. These passages are in not only what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, but are in the Torah (the sacred scripture of the Jewish faith), which Jesus would have been very familiar with as a practicing Jew. Equally important, is the fact that these passages are based on the core idea of love. As a result of these two details which cannot be overlooked, I think that the message of "The First and Greatest Commandment" is to establish Jesus as the new lawgiver with the message to love God and to love others. We must know and understand these commandments, as well as apply them to our lives, and it is when we are able to do these things, that we may fully enter into the kingdom of God.
When reflecting on Jesus' answer to the scribe, one must notice that Jesus states two passages from the Old Testament. This may seem insignificant; however, it is highly significant. Also notice that in the surrounding passages, as well as in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the books surrounding the Gospel of Mark, Jesus authority is constantly being questioned and he is being put to the test by Scribes and Pharisees. The Jewish leaders were uncomfortable with Jesus' practices because he did not follow the Mosaic Law, or Covenant (the set of rules and regulations that strictly guided the Jews "religious and community life and acted as their 'constitution", which also includes the Ten Commandments) as strictly as they believed he should. Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath and ate with sinners and lepers, things that the scribes and Pharisees would never dream of doing. In quoting the sacred texts of the Jews, it was established that Jesus was a devoted, and practicing Jew, something the Scribes may have been confused by, because with his teachings Jesus made a statement to the Jews that he was the new covenant, the new lawgiver. The thought of something with more authority than the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament was highly disturbing to the Jewish leaders because they neither knew, nor wanted another way. The Old Testament can also be referred to as the "Law of Fear and Servitude" because it focuses primarily on rules, laws, and punishments. Jesus came to preach a very different message - one of hope and love, which he summed up in two sentences. That is why the New Testament is referred to as the New Law, or the "Law of Love and Liberty". As Sullivan explains, this is why St. Thomas Aquinas considered the New Law to be infused, to come from within. The Old Testament was about outwardly appearance, while the New Testament was about individual intimate relationships. Although Jesus certainly taught the importance of obedience to God, he taught that instead it is better to obey the Lord because of love, not fear of punishment. As a result of that love for the Lord, we are inclined from within ourselves to follow the law of God because we love him (thus, the title "Law of Liberty"). And with that same love, it is only logical that we would treat our neighbors with that same love, as we would want to be treated. Because the New Testament is a reflection on Jesus and his teachings, this passage in Mark is a perfect model of Jesus' different form of teaching, and how he established himself as the new lawgiver, or new covenant to the people with his message to love God and to love others.
As previously mentioned, the surrounding Gospels of Matthew and Luke also include this same passage; however, they differ greatly, as Agnes Norfleet notes in, Between Text and Sermon. In the other gospels, the environment in which Jesus is questioned is very tense, accusatory, and unreceptive. The individuals questioning (more so challenging) Jesus are not questioning in order to receive answers, they are searching for a way to catch Jesus saying something that could be taken in an offensive way to the Jewish faith and tradition, in hopes of convicting him on a charge of blasphemy or another related crime. After hearing Jesus' response his questioners are merely more aggravated and set on his conviction than before. The same passage, but in Mark, is a great contrast! The environment in Mark is pleasant and accepting.
More importantly, the scribe who questions Jesus reflects on the answer he is given and finds that he agrees. When he states he thinks these commandments must be "more important than the burnt offerings and sacrifices required by the law", he expresses understanding because he is able to apply Jesus' message to his own life. Unlike the Jewish leaders in the surrounding books and passages, he is able to see the big picture and look past the "Law of Fear and Punishment" and sees the message of "Love and Liberty" that Jesus preaches. This is exactly what Jesus wants all of his followers to do! He wants his followers to take his message and not merely accept it, but to judge for themselves and if in accord, to apply it to their lives! The importance Jesus places on this, as well as the desire he has for us to understand and act on his love is sealed when he tells the wise scribe, "You are not far from the kingdom of God".
The Gospel of Mark 12:2-34 can be interpreted and debated hundreds of ways, but I believe that the theological message of the passage was to establish Jesus as the new lawgiver, as well as to preach his message: to love God and to love others. Once able do this, his followers would be able to realize that they could live out his message by understanding and applying it to their everyday lives. When his followers could fully live out this "First and Greatest Commandment" they, like the scribe, would be in a place in which they longed to be, and Jesus longs for all of humanity to be, and that is "not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34).
 No discourse on religion in general would be complete without a glimpse into Christianity and Islam.
Historically Jesus & Mohammed are very important religious figures, and still remain important religious figures today. Jesus Christ (also known as Jesus of Nazareth) is the central figure of Christianity. Mohammed is considered to be the founder of Islam. Muslims regard Mohammed as the last and most important profit.
Christian views of Jesus are both diverse and complex. Most Christians believe that Jesus is simultaneously the Son of God and God made incarnate, sent to provide salvation and reconciliation with God by atoning for the sins of humanity. Nontrinitarian Christians adopt various other interpretations regarding the divinity of Jesus. Most Christians believe that Jesus was born from the virgin Mary, than later crucified and buried in a tomb. They also believe that he was resurrected on the third day of death, also know as Easter and ascended into Heaven where he resides with God the Father until the Second Coming. Most Christians also believe that Jesus performed miracles and fulfilled biblical prophecy. In Islam, Jesus is considered one of God's most beloved and important prophets, a bringer of divine scripture, and also the Messiah. Furthermore, the Virgin Birth of Jesus is an article of faith. Muslims, however, do not share the Christian belief in the crucifixion or divinity of Jesus. Islam teaches that Jesus was raised to heaven. Most Muslims believe that Jesus will return to the earth as Messiah in the company of the Mahdi once the earth has become full of sin and injustice.
This information shows just how important Jesus was and still is today. Many people still view Jesus in these same ways.
Mohammed was historically very important to his followers as well, According to Islam Pakistanway (2007)[The main sources of information on Muhammad's life are the Qur'an, and the traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad and quotes attributed to him (the sira and hadith literature). These sources are part of the oral traditions, the compilation of the Qur'an was completed early after the death of Muhammad and while the earliest surviving written sira dates to 150 years after Muhammad, and the compilation and analysis of the hadith literature took place even later. Thus, historians as well as Islamic scholars (Ulema) have attached varying degrees of skepticism to these accounts. Most historians agree that Muhammad lived during the 7th century and adopted various monotheistic traditions in an effort to replace the common polytheistic religions of the Arabian Peninsula, eventually gaining wide acceptance as a prophet.]
Modern historians do not really accept the medieval western conception of Muhammad; they feel that he is an imposter. Academic scholars such as Montgomery Watt, Sprenger, Noldeke, Weil, Muir, Koelle, Grimme and Margoliouth agree that Muhammad was sincere and had a profound belief in himself and his mission as nothing else could explain Muhammad's readiness to endure hardship and persecution during the Meccan period when from the secular point of view there was no prospect of success. There are differing views as to whether he remained sincere later in the Medinian period. Several scholars hold that Muhammad's ideas developed gradually: Some traditions were taken from the Bible and included in the Qur'an in order to have followers from Christianity and Judaism convert to Islam.
The death of both Jesus and Mohammed had significant impact of their followers. The death and resurrection of Jesus are still the most important events in Christian history. This it's self is what formed the entire Christian religion. This showed that God himself has the power over life and death, also showing that he has the ability to give people eternal life. Most Christians accept the New Testament story as an historical account of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is center of their faith. Some liberal Christians do not accept a literal bodily resurrection, seeing the story as richly symbolic and spiritually nourishing myth. Almost all non-Christians do not accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They therefore either deny the resurrection as a form of myth, or agree with liberal Christians that the resurrection was a devoutly held, powerful myth.
As we can see the death of Jesus split his followers. Some people believed the story of his death and resurrection; other passed it off as a myth or never believed he was human at all. Within a few decades after his death, his successors had united all of Arabia under an Islamic empire, which essentially became the successor to the Sassanid, Byzantine, and ultimately Roman empires. Islam today is the faith of 1.3-1.7 billion people all over the globe, and is now the second largest religion after Christianity by the number of adherents.]
The teachings of both Jesus and Mohammed are still carried out today in much the same ways they were before they died. The story of both Jesus and Mohammed is being taught by people all over the world to kids of the next generation. Jesus and Mohammed are both still being worshipped around the world. People still gather together to warship, pray, and listen to the teachings of both Jesus and Mohammed. Special days are set aside for the worship of both Jesus and Mohammed. Called Holidays, Christmas and Easter are days sent a side for Celebration of Jesus birthday and the day of his resurrection. Mohammed's followers have days sent aside as well.
In conclusion this glimpse at Islam and Christianity allow us as students to look at their parallels and make us better for them. Jesus and Mohammed were very important people in religion and still remain very important today. I have several friends who are of the Islamic faith and this prompted me to do this research.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this chance to reset my own basic tenets and re-establishing my belief system. I would not change anything in the course.
 
Bibliography
The International Student Bible for Catholics: New American Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1987.
The Zondervan NIV Bible, Zondervan Publishing, 2008
Norfleet, Agnes W. "Mark 12:28-34." Interpretation: Between Text and Sermon 51, no. 4 (October 1997): 403-406. ATLA
Arikah Encyclopedia (2007) Retrieved June, 2012 from
http://www.arikah.net/encyclopedia/Jesus
Islam Pakistanway (2007) Retrieved June, 2012 from
http://islam.pakistanway.com/ShowTopic.aspx?topicid=230&typeid=24
Life of Christ (2007) Retrieved June, 2012 From
http://www.lifeofchrist.com/life/lifescan/death.asp

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