darren_thumbBy Darren Atherton

On the Saturday night of the YaYA conference in Gloucester the group participated in a “Jesus Party.” The idea was simple. Many people of various theological leanings, though primarily Christian, gathered in one place to celebrate a shared appreciation for Jesus, our beloved teacher, even our Savior. The purpose of this gathering was not to focus on the intellectual hang ups we may or may not have, but to join in a single fellowship of individuals that have had a similar spiritual experience. I was personally moved by this event with its relaxed simplicity and its degree of success. After everyone had returned home I thought, why couldn’t this kind of event be arranged where I live? There are more than a few handfuls of churches, there a lot of people who share a love for Jesus  –  and even if they only like Jesus they could still join in. So why not?

The other night I discussed the idea with a young pastor I’ve known for many years, and after presenting it in what I thought to be a sincere, clear, and enthusiastic fashion, I was dismayed to see him return an uneasy expression. While he hesitated to even commend the effort, he told me that his participation in, especially his support of, such a gathering, would run contrary to his concept of the gospel and its associated church. He agreed that there is indeed a union of the faithful from all traditions in Christ, but he nevertheless felt a Jesus Party to be a compromise of some nature. He pictured attending it and feeling little aside from the need to debate with others. I told him that healthy debate wouldn’t be an uninvited guest, but the point of the event was not so much to glorify or justify our respective beliefs, but rather to rejoice in a shared experience of God. This description wasn’t met with much less scepticism.

jesus_partyLater that night I felt compelled to re-read Ernest Fremont Tittle’s wonderful 1928 book, The Religion of the Spirit, and I couldn’t get past the first page. On it the author writes,

“The mere recognition of the fact that there are religions of authority and the religion of the spirit is one of those flashes of spiritual insight for which we can never be sufficiently grateful.

Although I agree with Tittle, that we cannot be sufficiently grateful for the ability to make such a distinction, I had to wonder whether I was even moderately grateful for the little spiritual insight I possess. We can occasionally think something is so apparent and obvious that we overlook the possibility of others seeing it a different way. I was so shocked at my friend the Pastor’s negative reaction to the concept of a Jesus Party, because I had simply assumed the truth at the heart of the effort to be a matter of course. I figured it was a concept he would readily accept and support as an individual who follows Jesus.

Someone familiar with the gospels might recall Jesus being repeatedly amazed or astounded at the disbelief of his listeners. A student of the Urantia Book might call to mind some strong responses from Jesus to the misunderstandings of his apostles, many a “How long shall I bear with you?” One reason Jesus often felt this way was due to his having had such a profoundly real experience, and such a wholehearted human acceptance of, a God that he personally knew  – the same God all of us are coming to know. We are taught within the Papers that the religionist can take salvation for granted so long as the focus is turned to toward the unselfish urge to love (188:4.9).  We read that Jesus never stooped to argue about the Fatherhood of God or the brotherhood of man, because he was too busy living both (196:1.5). As Urantia Book readers we can easily observe that we have some very different opinions regarding the teachings of the book. But that didn’t stop us from sharing an experience of true fellowship with people who do not study these same teachings. It didn’t hold us back from enjoying one another on a very fundamental level. Even more than a week after the conference I am still coming down from the spiritual ‘high’ it triggered, and I’m becoming ever more certain that it affected a much more enduring, unemotional change within me as well. But the experience the lot of us readers had in Gloucester was real, it was spiritual, and this enhanced experience of truth led me to the predicament Jesus so often encountered – amazement at the lack of insight others possess. Not to judge my friend the Pastor, who I know to be a dedicated servant to his community, but it appears that the ‘flash of spiritual insight’ Tittle described is a flash this Pastor has yet to experience. And it truly is amazing. It’s amazing that so many individuals dedicated to the welfare of humanity are still hindered, theologically or otherwise, from supporting such a spiritually simplistic event as a “Jesus Party.”

In spite of the obstacles worked around to make it happen, and God willing, you’ll be reading an article about another “Jesus Party” later this summer! (And if you have any suggestions or ideas for me, please send them my way – dtatherton@gmail.com)