I had just finished teaching a fantastic lesson about Judas Iscariot.. Some in the young adult Sunday school class even had tears in their eyes. Paula, you must be a great teacher, I thought to myself. Then Tom raised his hand. He was sitting near the back of the class. Good, someone has a question. I noticed he had a bit of smirk on his face.
“Paula, did you ever consider that maybe Judas Iscariot was one of the good guys?”
“Tom, are you serious? Why would anyone think Judas was a good guy? That makes about as much sense as thinking Hitler was a good guy.”
Tom cringed as if I had aimed a gun at him, but he stuck to his guns. His defense: “In my college Bible course the professor said that Judas was helping Jesus out. You know, getting the prophesies fulfilled, making sure the religious leaders could find him when the crowds weren’t around to stop the arrest. We even had to read a book by a British scholar suggesting this. Those Brits are smart, so it must be true.”
I knew this was the gnostic belief, but I had not expected someone to bring up this perspective of Judas Iscariot in MY Sunday school class. It was 1975 and The Da Vinci Code was not published until 2003. I disagreed with Tom and the gnostics, but how much did this little spat matter in the big scheme of things? Should I have reported Tom to the church elders? Should he have been shunned? Since this debate in 1975 I have known several friends who think the gnostics had a good point. Are these folks really Christians? They go to church on Sunday.
I’ve studied a far amount of theology, but today I can’t even remember what all the words mean. How many of these words can you define, let alone believe: preterism, isogesis, inerrant, hypostatic union, kenosis, transubstantiation, propitiation? How about x-nihilo? No, x-nihilo isn’t a label for an atheist. Which theological keys must we know to open the door to the kingdom? Here’s a clue. You only need one key to open a door.
This question of what really mattered to basic Christianity was especially troublesome for a ladies’ Bible study I taught. We came from various churches, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic… After several months we decided it would be helpful to identify our common beliefs. Could we agree to disagree on some things? Fortunately all of us were polite southern ladies. If we didn’t like you we never told you to your face. We just gossiped about you.
As we sifted through the theological issues the foundational issues began to settle to the ground floor – the absolute essentials one had to believe in order to be a Christian. We agreed this foundation was truly the key to the kingdom. It goes like this: God loves you so much that even though you do bad things sometimes, he sent his own son to die in your place, to pay for your sins. All you have to do is receive God’s gift of forgiveness, and God will give you eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Years ago I was privileged to hear a famous theologian, Manford Gutzke, describe how he moved from being an atheist to a believer in Jesus Christ. “One night while I was walking on a country road, I just looked up into the heavens and spoke to God. ‘I believe now that You are there, and I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son and that He died for me,’ I said. ‘I know I need Your salvation. Help me.’ And suddenly I was able to believe.” http://www.thebibleforyou.org/Booklets/files/BP357.pdf
On the day I heard Gutzke speak he was an old man. It had been many years since he used the key. He told us plainly that night he looked up at the stars he only believed Jesus loved him and died for him, but he did not even believe in the virgin birth until later. There were many details of theology which he came to understand in the years following that night.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalms 8:3,4
Last I saw on Facebook Tom is still an active member of that church in South Carolina. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.