GETTING TOGETHER AS CHRISTIAN DEISTS

Christian Deism is basically a personal religion that is practiced by individuals. It does not require Christian deists to be members of any religious organization. The worship of God is essentially a private matter.

However, this essay is written in response to e-mail which I have received from readers who asked how they can meet other Christian deists in their communities. These readers suggest that it would be helpful to establish local groups to provide a visible presence for Christian deism in the community to:

1. Offer individuals a place where they can inquire about Christian deism as a personal religion;

2. Provide a religious education program for adults and children; and

3. Provide mutual support and social fellowship for Christian deists.

In response to the requests that I have received, I have promised to make some suggestions for those who choose to establish some kind of Christian Deist group in a local community. I agree that some kind of local Christian Deist group could be helpful to many Christian deists, and could offer the general public an opportunity to be aware that there is a Christian Deist alternative to trinitarian churches.

For persons interested in organizing a local Christian Deist group, I would like to suggest several matters to be considered.

SUGGESTION ONE: NAME OF THE GROUP

Should a Christian Deist group call itself a "church"? The New Testament Greek word "ekklesia," which is translated by the English word "church," simply means an "assembly of persons." Unfortunately, the word "church" has acquired a connotative meaning as a special place for public worship. Christian deists believe that worship of God is a personal and private matter. Christian deists do not believe in public worship. Jesus warns that public worship can lead to a hypocritical show of self-righteousness (Matthew 6:1-6). And Jesus taught that true worship requires no special place (John 4:20-24).

I would suggest that a local group of Christian deists call themselves a "fellowship" rather than a "church". Since the essence of Christian deism is love for each other, the word "fellowship" seems to suggest a group that provides mutual support and caring for its members. I would suggest the name: "Christian Deist Fellowship."

SUGGESTION TWO: LAY LEADERSHIP

The Christian deist movement began in opposition to trinitarian doctrines which churches had developed after the time of Jesus. Early Christian deist writers recognized that trinitarian clergy often used their professional positions in the churches to impose their views and control over the lay members of the churches. These professional ministers opposed the deist belief that all persons have natural knowledge of God's "truth," and these professional ministers sought to protect their role in the church by assuming that clergy were superior to lay persons in understanding and interpreting scriptures. In response to this attitude of superiority on the part of these trinitarian ministers, Christian deist writers generally viewed such ministers as obstacles to a lay person's freedom to read and interpret the teachings of Jesus in the light of the individual's own reasoning.

Early Christian deists saw the organizational hierarchy of the trinitarian church as the means used by the professional clergy to enforce their "authority" over the lay membership of the church and to require adherence to so-called "orthodox" trinitarian doctrines.

Church history shows that the Christian movement began with informal gatherings of followers of Jesus, but eventually these groups acquired leaders who assumed special authority over the other members. The primary leader in a local church became known as the "bishop." Eventually the bishop of the church at Rome tried to assert his rule over churches in other cities. This led to a split between churches in the "west," which accepted the bishop at Rome as leader, and the churches in the "east" which refused to accept the bishop at Rome as leader. The "western" church eventually became known as the "Roman Catholic Church" out of which the Protestant Christian churches came in the sixteenth century.

The reason I am referring to this history of the trinitarian church is to point out the danger of having professional clergy in a religious organization. Such professional leaders tend to assume their "superiority" over other members of the organization and tend to impose their views on other members. In my view, if Christian deists organize local groups, it is important that such groups be led by lay persons who recognize that no member is superior to another.

SUGGESTION THREE: PLACE TO MEET

Early Christians met in small groups in private homes. This could be the place where a local group of Christian Deists could gather. I would suggest that the meeting place be called simply a "meeting house" to avoid the connotative meaning of the word "church" as a place of public worship. If the group outgrew the private home setting, the group could rent or buy a meeting place. If the group meets in a place other than a private home, I would suggest that the place still be called a "meeting house." Some groups, such as Quakers, have found that buying a house provides a satisfactory meeting place.

SUGGESTION FOUR: PURPOSES OF MEETING

What are the purposes of getting together as Christian deists? And what can Christian deists do at meetings? Of course, there are a number of different purposes that may be accomplished at meetings, and there are a number of different activities that may accomplish these purposes. Here are some of them:

1. Social fellowship

People enjoy being with other people who share the same basic philosophy or beliefs that guide them in their everyday living. Social fellowship is an important part of any religious group. Christian deists, who feel uncomfortable with the ideas and beliefs espoused by persons in other religious organizations, seek relationships with other Christian deists who share the "worldview" of Christian deism.

Christian deists can gather in a home-like atmosphere and enjoy some refreshments and visiting while gathering for a meeting.

2. Affirmation of beliefs

After the time of fellowship, the meeting could begin with an affirmation of the basic beliefs of Christian deists. The affirmation begins with a statement that God is our creator, and continues with the personal commitment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a statement of the creed of Christian deists. The following could be recited by the group:

"God is my Creator. I shall love God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind, and I shall love my neighbor as myself." (Based on Matthew 22:37-39.)

3. Time for meditation

The affirmation of beliefs could be followed by a time of quiet meditation. The word "meditation" may make you think of a monk, sitting cross-legged on a mountain, having an esoteric experience beyond the capability of ordinary persons. Actually, meditation is quite simple and can be done by anyone.

The word "meditate" simply means "to think about." A person's concentration of thoughts can be enhanced if a person sits in a quiet place and closes his or her eyes to shut out the distractions of surrounding sights. When you do this, the first thing that you realize is the fact of your own existence. Most of our attention each day is concentrated on "doing" and we ignore the remarkable fact of our "being," or existence. By shutting out the sights and sounds around us, as much as possible, we are confronted with the fact of our "being" alive.

Our recognition of "being" helps us to appreciate life as a gift that we have received through no action or decision of our own. Jesus said that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and "it is the spirit that gives life" (John 6:63). As we become aware of the life, or spirit, that is within us, we become aware that there are no boundaries to our spirit and there is nothing that separates us from the Source of all life, God. In meditation, we become more aware of being part of something that is greater than, and transcends, the circumstances of our daily life. Our appreciation for life, in ourselves and in others, increases as our awareness of "being" expands through meditation.

Our increased awareness of ourselves and others, can lead a person to think about his or her relationships with others. A person can use a time of meditation to examine how he or she is living in relation to others. Love for others is the principle that should guide our relationships with others. It is important for Christian deists to review their own words, thoughts, and actions on a regular basis to recognize any way they have caused another to suffer or to recognize any failure to try to relieve suffering when possible. Where failures to love are recognized, the individual can silently confess such failures and pray for God's forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are central in the practice of Christian deism and can be a part of the time for meditation.

4. Time for sharing joys and concerns

The meeting should provide a time when individuals can share their joys and concerns. Their joys may be about a birth, marriage, graduation, honor, or some other good experience. Their concerns may be about an illness, death, world event, or other matter of concern. This time of sharing helps the members to understand and support each other. A ceremony of lighting of a candle by the individual can be a way to give recognition to the joy or concern expressed.

5. Religious education

The principles and practices of Christian deism, based on the teachings of Jesus, should occupy a part of the meeting. There are many ways of doing this. One way would be to have a member read one of my essays, and then encourage comments and discussion regarding the topic of the essay.

(Under "Lessons for Meetings," below, I am listing some basic topics which are covered by some of my essays. I apologize if I appear presumptuous in suggesting that my essays be used as "readings" at Christian Deist meetings, but I intended these essays to provide an overall view of Christian deism from historical and theological perspectives, and I do not know of other current writers who are explaining how Christian deism can be practiced today. Hopefully, there will be many more Christian deist writers in the near future.)

Another way to provide religious education at a meeting would be to have one teaching of Jesus (one or a few verses) printed and distributed to all members at one week's meeting for each person to think about during the week, and to be discussed by the group at the following week's meeting. By giving one week's focus on one particular teaching, it is likely that a number of persons will gain some insight during the week to share with others. Members could be invited to discuss some experience they had that helped them understand the teaching.

If there are children at the meeting, perhaps they can have a separate story time and other activities to help them develop a healthy self-image as loving and responsible individuals having respect for God and all people.

6. Music and singing

When Jesus and his disciples were together, they sang a hymn. Music can have a place in a meeting of Christian deists. Perhaps a member can play a musical instrument and sing a song appropriate for the meeting. Recorded music can be used also. Hymns and other songs, sung by the group, can carry messages of joy, hope, love, and peace. Hymns that express Christian deist beliefs and values should be selected. Hymns based on trinitarian doctrines should be avoided.

7. Other activities

There are many other activities that may be part of a meeting of Christian deists. Poems and stories can encourage and enlighten members as they seek to live each day by love for God and love for neighbor. Individuals could bring poems or other brief inspirational writings to read at the meeting.

8. General comment

Meetings should be characterized by simplicity and sincerity. Some planning is required but the activities do not have to be complicated or elaborate. The meetings should help members grow in their personal practice of the principles of Christian deism. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere should prevail.

SUGGESTION FIVE: LESSONS FOR MEETINGS

My essays may be used as "lessons" to be read by a reader at a Christian Deist meeting:

Lesson 1. Understanding Ourselves

Purpose: To understand the importance of our own view of life.

Read Essay: "What Am I?"

Lesson 2. Natural Religion

Purpose: To understand the basic premises of natural religion.

Read Essay: "What is Natural Theology"

Lesson 3. God's Natural Laws

Purpose: To understand the two natural laws governing humankind.

Read Essay: "The Natural Religion of Jesus"

Lesson 4. Love Your Neighbor

Purpose: To understand what it means to love your neighbor, and why causing human suffering or being indifferent to human suffering is a "failure to love" others and is called "sin."

Read Essay: "Love Your Neighbor"

Lesson 5. Love for God

Purpose: To understand what it means to love God, and why the failure to use our God-given abilities for good purposes is a "failure to love" God and is called "sin."

Read Essay: "How Can You Love God?"

Lesson 6. The Kingdom of God

Purpose: To understand what the "Kingdom of God" is, and that God's laws governing humankind are known naturally by everyone.

Read Essay: "The Kingdom of God"

Lesson 7. Repentance and Forgiveness

Purpose: To understand the necessity of repentance and forgiveness as ongoing processes in life.

Read Essay: "Repentance and Forgiveness"

Lesson 8. The Gospel of Jesus

Purpose: To understand the gospel (good news) message of Jesus, "The Kingdom of God is at hand," and how Jesus' gospel is different from the message preached by Paul of Tarsus.

Read Essay: "What is the Gospel?"

Lesson 9. The Theology of Paul of Tarsus

Purpose: To understand how Paul of Tarsus created his own message which is contrary to the beliefs of Jesus.

Read Essay: "The Theology of Paul"

Lesson 10. Trinitarian Theology

Purpose: To understand how Church councils developed trinitarian theology which is taught in trinitarian churches today. (Christian Deists do not accept trinitarian theology.)

Read Essay: "What's in a Creed"

Lesson 11. The Humanity of Jesus

Purpose: To understand Jesus as a human being whose view of the "Kingdom of God" includes everyone who lives by love for God and neighbor, and how Jesus' beliefs led to his crucifixion.

Read Essay: "A Man Named Jesus"

Lesson 12. Christian Deism (Part 1)

Purpose: To understand the basic beliefs of Christian deists.

Read Essay: "What is a Christian Deist?"

Lesson 13. Christian Deism (Part 2)

Purpose: To understand how one Christian deist defines his own beliefs.

Read Essay: "Creed of a Christian Deist"

Lesson 14. Christian Deism (Part 3)

Purpose: To understand how one Christian deist views the the crucifixion and survival of Jesus.

Read Essay: "The Cross and the Empty Tomb"

Lesson 15. Christian Deism (Part 4)

Purpose: To understand the history of Christian Deism, and how Christian deists rejected the trinitarian doctrines of original sin, the divinity of Jesus, the substitutionary theory of atonement, supernatural revelation, and alleged miracles.

Read Essay: "History of Christian Deism"

Lesson 16. Christian Deism (Part 5)

Purpose: To understand Christian deism as expressed by a leading Christian deist in 1730.

Read Essay: "Matthew Tindal, Christian Deist"

Lesson 17. Christian Deism (Part 6)

Purpose: To understand how Christian deism differs from cultural religions.

Read Essay: "Deism and Cultural Religions"

Lesson 18. The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 1)

Purpose: To understand how an individual may practice Christian deism in everyday life.

Read Essay: "Christian Deism as a Personal Religion"

Lesson 19. The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 2)

Purpose: To understand how a Christian deist may approach Bible study and prayer.

Read Essay: "A Christian Deist's View of Bible Study and Prayer"

Lesson 20. The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 3)

Purpose: To understand the meaning of worship, and why Christian deists do not have professional ministers or "churches" for public worship.

Read Essay: "The Christian Deists: Christians Without Churches"

Lesson 21. The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 4)

Purpose: To understand that the basic premises of "deism" are found in the teachings of Jesus, and the practice of Christian Deism is based on these premises.

Read Essay: "Deist and Christian Deist"

Lesson 22 The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 5)

Purpose: To understand the meaning of Christmas and Easter.

Read Essay: "Christmas and Easter"

Lesson 23 The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 6)

Purpose: To understand the books known as the four gospels in the New Testament.

Read Essay: "Understanding the Four Gospels"

Lesson 24 The Practice of Christian Deism (Part 7)

Purpose: To understand more ways to practice Christian Deism every day.

Read Essay: "Practicing Christian Deism"

SUGGESTION SIX: FINANCING A CHRISTIAN DEIST FELLOWSHIP

Inevitably there will be some expense of money to support the activities of a Christian Deist Fellowship. Such expenses may be for literature, refreshments, and possibly rent and utilities. Such expenses should be paid from voluntary and anonymous donations from the members of the Fellowship. How finances are handled is important because we see some religious groups and religious leaders using unscrupulous or intimidating ways of dealing with money.

I would suggest that Christian deists make most of their personal donations of money to humanitarian causes (I personally like the Ronald McDonald House for cancer patients and their families) but some donations of money will be required to pay the expenses of having a Christian Deist Fellowship. Hopefully, these costs will be kept to a minimum, and all donations made privately. Cash donations can be placed privately in a box, and donations by check can be deposited directly into the Fellowship's bank account by the donor who is given bank deposit slips. No one else should know how much a person donates to the Fellowship. This is what Jesus meant when he said that "alms" should be given "in secret" (Matthew 6:3-4). There is no place for high pressure fund raising in a Christian Deist Fellowship. All financial giving by Christian deists should come voluntarily out of love for God and "neighbor."

SUGGESTION SEVEN: HOW TO GET STARTED

If you are interested in organizing a Christian Deist Fellowship, you will need to locate other Christian deists in your community. You could run a newspaper ad that suggests that persons read my web page, "The Human Jesus and Christian Deism," and contact you if they are interested in a local group of Christian Deists. You could advertise an organizational meeting and provide copies of my Christian deist essays which you are free to print from your computer and duplicate. You may print copies and distribute them, if they are given without charge or provided on a non-profit basis.

I receive emails from individuals seeking to know other Christian Deists in their city or state. If you would like for me to notify you of any such inquiries from individuals in your city or state, you may send me your name, city/state/country, and email address. I will notify you of any inquiry from your area if the individual wishes me to do so.

I will only provide first names and email addresses to the individuals who wish to communicate with other Christian Deists in their own communities. After email communication and, perhaps, telephone conversations, the individuals can decide whether to meet in person. Since I will not know the individuals personally, I believe that first names and email addresses are all that I should provide.

If you have any other ideas about how to organize a local Christian Deist Fellowship, please let me know.

CHRISTIAN DEISTS IN YOUR AREA

In Suggestion Seven, above, I offered to maintain a list of Christian Deists who would like to know other Christian Deists in their community. Christian deists can get acquainted through e-mail, and if there is interest in forming a local group of Christian deists, this may be the beginning.

If you would like to have email contact with other Christian Deists in your community, you may write to me, Brother John, and I will notify you regarding other Christian Deists who are in your community. If you write to me, my email address is: brojohnATaustin.rr.com You must substitute @ for the AT in the email address.

Brother John

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