Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
The Beatles once told us that “all you need is love.” And, for many Christians that have experienced the more dogmatic and often-hypocritical parts of the history of the church during the past twenty years, a return to that simple truth is a breath of fresh air.
Didn’t Jesus tell us that His most important new command was to “Love one another” (John 13:34)? Don’t all the rules, traditions, form, and structure of the traditional church just get in the way of that?
Well, sort of.
When those traditions replace Scripture, when those rules supersede our mission, when the form and structure of church are so rigid that we craft a steel-girded box to try and cram God into…then, yes.
But the framework of religion doesn’t always get in the way.
In fact, looking to the life of Jesus, we can see that He actually cherished His religion. As a rabbi, He memorized the Old Testament. He went to synagogue, celebrated the Jewish holy days. He founded the Church, created church discipline, and told His followers to baptize and teach (Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:15-20, respectively).
He loved His religion enough to seek out what was wrong with it and specifically reserve His harshest language for its leaders, the Pharisees.
So often Christians have been so jaded by a rule-centric church (and understandably so…more on that in a moment) that our response is to throw the baby out with the bathwater and disregard rules altogether in exchange for what they feel is a more pure, love-centered Christianity.
And from a more general perspective, I can see that love is all you need. But what does it look like…specifically? Why, if rules muddy our message, did Jesus tell us that if we love Him, we will follow His rules? (John 14:15,21,23-24)
Christianity should not be all about rules. It should be all about love…but when we love, when we pour out the love God has poured into us, it should translate into something. We should structure our lives around the truths we have been given.
I see many Christians today as accurately seeing the need to distance themselves from some of the things the church has erred in. There are definite areas which should be pruned, should be burned as straw, within our movement. And if what we see defining “religion” is the hypocritical, moral elitism that fuels much of the Western world’s stereotype of the church, then I believe religion is hurtful to what our lives should actually be.
But if what we see as defining “religion” is a movement of God through His people, put in action by such things as caring for widows and orphans, and seeking to live pure lives (James 1:27), then religion is what it looks like when believers come together to seek to live out the mission Jesus left with us when He ascended and the Holy Spirit filled His people.
The most important thing for us to remember is to stay humble. Some of the people that profess to be the biggest advocates for a life of just loving like Jesus did are also the quickest to judge people trying to do the exact same thing by upholding the framework of the church. On the other side, some of the people striving to most completely abide by the church’s beliefs are the last to love as Jesus told us to. But if we approach this issue, from either side, with humility and a willingness to learn, then we can come together and grow as the people of God.
I am the first to admit that the things talked about here should be approached humbly and carefully. I suppose, as an author, that I fall into the category of teacher. This message of humility rings even more true for me, if I am to believe the words spoken in James 3:1 (“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. “). Therefore let it be fully known, here and now, that I do not in any way claim my view to be the perfect one.
I do, however, offer this viewpoint as an alternative to what seems to be a well-intentioned “return” of sorts to a simpler Jesus, a Jesus that simply loves. And while good on the surface, with much room for the importance of grace and a passionate appeal for believers to live out their love, I feel it falls short. If we hope to fully represent that Jesus, to act out the love of God we feel should so passionately pour through our lives, then we are doing our God a disservice if we fail to serve and worship Him (through our experience), to know and believe Him (through our theology), and to obey and pursue Him (through our mission).
We are broken, we are failures, we are doomed without God. But we shouldn’t be content to rest in that place, content that God will cover the rest or content to rejoice that our sins are covered. We should seek to live lives as forgiven and changed creatures, always bettering ourselves, always enhancing our knowledge of God, always willing to learn from the people He has put in our lives and the church He has so lovingly cared for throughout the centuries.
We need to remember how much Jesus loves His Church, loves our church, and love ourselves as part of it.