5 – A Religion of Good Works

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What follows is Chapter Five of my New Book, “A Purer Christianity…” It is available on Amazon in both print and for the Kindle. 

A Religion of Good Works

In contrast to Paul’s teachings on faith, Jesus’ church would appear to be one based on good works. If one takes a close look at the Q Document (the relevant text is given below in Chapter 5) he or she will note one thing, most of the supernatural aspects of the New Testament are gone as well as much of the theology. For the supernatural aspects we have Christ’s temptation by Satan, references to the casting out of the demon, and references to healing people. Gone are most all of the miracles.

As for the theology, the obvious aspect that is missing is an account of the Crucifixion. The lack of importance placed on the Crucifixion in the Q Document eliminates any ideas about the Forgiveness and Redemption of Man’s sins due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. The cross is referenced, but in a different context. Luke14:27, a passage I have mentioned before, but will quote again says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” This is open to interpretation. It would seem to be a prediction of Jesus’ death, but no context is given. It would appear though his disciples’ are expected to experience similar fates, and this may go back to Cynic-Stoic ideologies. If that is so, then Jesus’ death would not be unique.

Evidence for the existence of the Trinity is lacking as well. Indeed, the only part of the Q Document that refers to Jesus as the Son of God is in his temptation when Satan refers to him such. Finally, the way the phrase “Holy Spirit” is used it can be taken to mean it is a feeling, perhaps a form of enlightenment or divine inspiration, and not a being.

Evidence that Jesus is the Messiah seems unclear.. John the Baptist sends messengers to him asking, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ But the answer to that question is not straightforward. Jesus merely speaks of those he has healed, raising the dead, and preaching. It is as if he wants John to decide for himself. He refers to God as his Father in some passages, but he also refers to God as the Father of men in general. After all the Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father who art in Heaven…” He makes it clear that he was sent by God in several passages, for example in Matthew 12:28 , “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Another passage, which makes it appear Jesus was sent by God is Luke 10:22, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’”

The interpretation of Jesus as the “Son of God” is a difficult one to make based on the Q Document. As already noted, he is only referred to as the “Son of God” by Satan. Nowhere in the Q Document does Jesus call himself that, and no mortal calls him the “Son of God” either. This is further complicated by his use of “Father” for God in reference to ordinary people. The example of the Lord’s Prayer is referenced above, but another example is Matthew 6:32 “For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Another example is Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.” Therefore, when Jesus calls God his Father, it could be nothing special as in a sense everyone can call God their Father. Instead of “Son of God” Jesus prefers to call himself the “Son of Man” in the Q Document, or at least it would seem that way.

The whole issue of Jesus being the Son of Man makes for an interesting topic. He compares the Son of Man to Jonah, and says the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Most often when Jesus speaks of the “Son of Man” it is in the third person, as if the “Son of Man” were a being different from himself. Such is the case with Matthew 6:22, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” Another such passage is Luke 12:40, “You also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” However, in Luke 7:34 Jesus says, “The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” And in Luke 12:8 Jesus says, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God;” In those passages it would appear when he is speaking of the “Son of Man” he is referring to himself. It is therefore not clear if Jesus is the “Son of Man,” or if Jesus is merely his harbinger.

What we see in the Q Document is a very simple religion, one that has room for the Devil, God, demons, and angels, the Holy Spirit, and an enigmatic figure called the “Son of Man.” Rites that appear in the Q Document too are simple. There is baptism and prayer. The Last Supper which Holy Communion is based on does not appear. The bulk of the Q Document is lessons on how to treat one’s fellow man with an emphasis on faith, and Jesus’ words, and Jesus’ ministry. It would seem clear Jesus has been sent by God, but this is no different than the many Old Testament Prophets that were also sent by God.. There is no room in the Q Document though for the Trinity, or the Forgiveness and Redemption of Sins due to the Crucifixion. The way to salvation would seem to be worship of God, obedience to him, faith in him, a life free of sin, and most of all, good works.

We are told in the Q Document we should, “worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve,” and “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Of the Holy Spirit it is said, “and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven.(Luke 3:22)” This is the only reference to the Holy Spirit having a physical form in the Q Document. It is important to note that the Q Document Scholar John S. Kloppenborg in Excavating Q marks this passage as “Doubtful.” Most Q scholars do not even bother with the passage. For the most part the Holy Spirit would appear to be some form of enlightenment, a sense of holiness. Jesus was said to be, “full of the Holy Spirit.” Another place it is said Jesus, “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” In still another place it is said, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” In Matthew 12:32 it said, “And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” .Finally, Jesus tells his Disciples, “do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” It would therefore seem that the Holy Spirit is some sort of experience, some state of mind, perhaps divine inspiration, and not a being like God or the angels.

A good deal of the Q Document deals with spreading Jesus’ message. He sends the Disciples out to preach his message. He tells people to heed his message. His message is primarily about good works, and I feel this was Jesus’ primary aim. As far as the rest of his message, it does not deviate much from the Judaism of the Prophets. He talked of the end times, obedience to God, the Kingdom of God, and other such topics. But much of the Q Document is sayings in regards to behavior such as the Golden Rule, or parables teaching some lesson in life.

Looking at the lessons Jesus teaches in the Q Document it is clear one is to be kind to his or her fellow man. This made clear in Luke 6:27-31:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
Passages 6:32-28 further elaborate on this theme. What is clear is one is to treat others as you expect to be treated, and to give to others. You are to expect nothing in return. Towards the end of the passage it says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

This passage, and its corresponding one in the Gospel of Matthew I feel are the core of Jesus’ “good news.” So much of the New Testament is the words of other people. The words of the Apostles, the words of Paul, and of many whose names we do not even know. Scholars even suspect much of what is credited to Jesus in the Gospels was not said by him. Few Biblical scholars dispute the words of the Q Document whether they believe it is the original gospel or not as those of Jesus.

It is my belief that Jesus’ intent was not necessarily to found a new religion, but instead to simply preach lessons of kindness to modify the Judaism of his day. He was a reformer, not an innovator. His intent was to reform Judaism, to turn it into a religion of love and kindness, not to innovate and found a new religion. And why not? We know that good works are good for the soul.

Science has shown that doing good works is a reward in and of itself. In a story for WebMD author Stephen Post talked about research that shows helping others improves one’s health. According to Post, researchers in recent years have been studying what they call “helper’s high.” Helper’s high is the high one feels after one had been kind to someone else.

In the article he talks about research that shows helping others can actually prevent illness, and extend one’s life. In a study following a group of women for 30 years researchers found that 52% of those that did not volunteer experienced a major illness while only 36% of those that volunteered experienced a major illness. Another study found that helping others lengthened one’s life more than exercise. Being altruistic affects the brain is what some studies have found. When one is helping others, doing a good deed, the parts of the brain associated with joy become more active. At the same time researchers found that simply writing a check to a charity does not have the same effect. One must actively do something to help another person such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, or simply helping someone carry his or her groceries to his or her car.

Other studies on the brain have found that when people help others that that the hormone oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is a chemical that is usually released in expecting women to that serves to bond young mothers with their babies, and in other circumstances aids in building relationships thus building friendships. Oxytocin is further believed to lower blood pressure and stop the production of stress hormones (retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/science-good-deeds on December 26, 2014).

It has also been found doing for others helps manage pain. According to a study in Pain Management Nursing those suffering chronic pain reduced their pain ratings from 6 to 4 simply by volunteering to lead discussion groups, or dropping in on other pain sufferers. Another study showed that those that did 100 hours or more annually were 28 percent less likely to die from any cause than their less-philanthropic counterparts. (retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/health/Health-Benefits-of-Doing-Good on December 26, 2014).

Giving like physically doing other good works also has its benefits. Studies have shown that giving to others makes people happier overall. Giving even shows similar brain activity as when someone is experiencing pleasure or getting a reward. These same areas of the brain are activated when someone is high on cocaine or viewing a piece of art. Giving helps fight depression, gives a drug free high, and has health benefits such as better circulation, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of premature death. (retrieved from http://www.drfranklipman.com/5-health-benefits-of-giving-to-others/ on December 28, 2014 and from: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/10-012.pdf on December 26, 2014)

Finally, giving promotes cooperation and social connection. Giving makes folks feel closer to each other. Those that give are more likely to have positive social interactions. And those that give as well as receive report being more optimistic and that they feel better overall about their lives (retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you on December 26, 2014).

Giving to others and doing good works can have a snowball effect. Doing a good deed, or even the just offering to help someone can result in others giving it forward. In the news not long ago there was a story about a young college girl who had lost her wallet and a homeless man who offered all the money he had left, £3, so she could catch a cab home. She refused the money and found another way home. She was so touched by his act of kindness though she decided to do something to help his situation. She tried to locate him and in doing so, she found he was known for such acts of kindness. It was nothing for him to offer the loan of his scarf to someone that was cold at the bus stop. In the process of raising money for him she raised £40,000. Not only was she able to put the man that tried to help her in an apartment, but now she is able to help many other homeless people as well (retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/18/student-homeless-man-robbie-dominique-harrison-bentzen_n_6344330.html on December 24, 2014).

Helping others can give one joy, extend one’s life, reduce stress, and reduce depression and anxiety. It can create friendships, and create stronger bonds among those that are already friends. Those that do not do good works do not live as long, and suffer more depression and anxiety. Is it any wonder then that Jesus advocated doing for others? As he says in Luke 6:8, “give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

In addition to doing good works, Jesus tells people to avoid certain behavior. Primary amongst these is the hoarding of wealth. A prime example of this is the Parable of the Rich Man, Luke 12:16-21:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Another passage against greed is Luke 16:13:

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Jesus goes farther though than just warn about greed in the Q Document, he advocates giving up all of one’s personal wealth. In Luke 12:33-34 he says:

Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Faith is another central theme of Christ’s teachings in the Q Document. This however is almost always in the negative. Jesus does not tell people to have faith, but not to be like those that have no faith. An example of this is Matthew 6:30:

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
A similar thought is expressed in Matthew 17:20:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”
Finally, the Jesus of the Q Document felt certain people were blessed. This is expressed in the Beatitudes of the Q Document:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 5:3)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5: 6)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12)

This theme of doing good works is very strong in the Q Document. The ideal follower of the Jesus of the Q Document would be one that seeks salvation not through the forgiveness and remission of sins offered by Christ on the cross, but through actions of his or her own based on the teachings of Jesus. Those actions according to the Jesus of the Q Gospel would include:

a. Heeding Jesus’ words.
b. Treating others as one wants to be treated.
c. Being loving, merciful, forgiving, kind, non-judgmental.
d. Living a life of poverty.
e. Spreading Jesus’ message.
f. Avoiding sin.
g. Worshiping and obeying God, the Father.
h. Being willing to suffer and die a martyr’s death.

For all of this one will be rewarded, “…good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38)”.

A bad follower of Jesus would be one that does the following:

a. Not heed Jesus’ words.
b. Treat others badly.
c. Show no mercy, be vindictive, be judging.
d. Seek to hoard wealth (Jesus is very clear this is not to be done in the Q Document) .
e. Commit sins.
f. Blaspheme the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
g. Be unwilling to die for one’s beliefs.

The religion of the Q Document is one of love and peace. It is to a degree focused on the end times. One must have things in order for the Son of Man is coming soon. One can be prepared for the end by doing three sets of things, being kind to one’s fellow man, heeding Jesus’ message, and worshiping and obeying God. It is a very simple religion.

In addition to lacking much of what modern Christianity has for theology, it also lacks many of ancient Judaism’s features. The Judaism of Jesus’ time demanded regular sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. No mention of such sacrifices is made in the Q Document.. One’s way to salvation seems to not to be the sacrifice to God of a lamb, or the sacrifice of a Messiah upon a cross, but the sacrifice of one’s self. The way to salvation according to the Q Document is in giving to others, treating others as one wishes to be treated, forgiving those who wrong us, living a life on only what one needs to survive, dedicating oneself to God, spreading Jesus’ message, and a willingness to be persecuted for one’s beliefs. If you do all these things the Holy Spirit will guide you, and you will be rewarded.

In my personal opinion this is a much more refreshing approach than that of the current Christian denominations. To me it is a purer form of Christianity. I think too many people take advantage of the idea that Jesus died for their sins. They use the excuse of Forgiveness and Remission of Sins to continue to commit grievous wrongs. In America there are those that currently espouse Christianity, but hoard wealth, refuse to help those that are disadvantaged, try to pit man against man, and are quick to attack those that criticize them for doing so. Is it any wonder? They have been told all they have to do is place faith in God. There is no need for them to actively do anything, they just need to have faith. If they can do that, they will be forgiven. This runs counter to the Q Document. While one is to have faith that the Father will provide for them, he or she still has to be loving, kind, giving, non-judgmental, obedient to God, and willing to live in poverty to be saved. If one cannot do these things, then one will not reap the rewards of the Kingdom of God.

Had the New Testament consisted only of the Q Document and potentially the Gospel of Thomas from the beginning would there have been the countless wars in the name of Christianity, would the Spanish Inquisition have taken place, would “heretics” been tortured and killed, would witches have been burned? In America, we are often critical of radical Muslim groups like ISIS, but only a few centuries ago Christianity could be as extreme. Three hundred and twenty-three years ago twenty people were executed as witches in Salem, Massachusetts. And less than one hundred and eighty years ago Mormons were driven by force out of the State of Missouri and then the State of Illinois. Even today the Christian Right seeks to impose their beliefs on everyone and deny basic rights of individuals to love whom they wish.. Groups like ISIS have no patent on religious extremism. We in the United States of America have been just as extreme. Would a religion of peace, love, kindness, and forgiveness been able to do such things?

I do not think so, and in the rare instances it may, I think folks would have a great deal of trouble justifying the violence in the name of God. How many wars have been fought in the name of Buddhism? Buddhism has a message of peace not unlike the religion of the Q Document, and it has had no wars to convert the non-believer, no inquisitions to weed out the heretic. I think we would be better off with a purer form of Christianity, one that’s way to salvation is by being a kind individual. It is hard to justify violence when one is told to “love thine enemies.”

Throughout this book, I must admit, I am being a bad Christian by my own definition. I am being very judgmental, and perhaps unforgiving of modern Christianity. But I cannot think of any other way to convince people there is a better way. That perhaps what we have been spoon fed for centuries is not the Christianity that Jesus intended. That the faith Jesus taught was one of love and kindness, of loving one’s enemies, giving more to those that would steal from us, of turning the other check. And Jesus himself was judgmental of those that hoard wealth so perhaps there is some justification of my position.

I do think that the teachings of Jesus are all about love and kindness. I think ideas on personal salvation, a very selfish thing in and of itself has overwhelmed the idea of doing for others. It is clear the Jesus of the Q Document felt that we should put others before ourselves. One must give to others, love others, forgive others, not judge others … There is a balance in the Q Document between seeing to one’s own salvation and being kind to others. It is very much a religion of good works.