Christian religion is some times thought of as a list of prohibitions. Sure there is language about salvation, heaven, eternal peace, but when you ask people who never went to a Christian worship service growing up or those who walked away from it they will typically highlight the restrictive language in the Bible as well as the hypocrites in the pews. Yes, there is restrictive language in the Bible, and congregations around the world are full of hypocrites.
I get just as frustrated as the next person about hypocrisy (especially my own). That said I don’t know if there is a way this side of heaven to remove hypocrisy from the Church. Each of us is answerable for our actions and words. All of us fall into the category of hypocrite once in a while. The trick is to realize it, confess it, and learn from it. Just make sure that as you explore the Christian faith or listen to your Christian relative or friend that you don’t unfairly judge them as the only hypocrites on the planet. I have found just as many hypocrites in hardware stores, coffee shops, and sports bars as I do at a church.
I sympathize with those who seek to make faith an intelligible choice in our age by down playing the restrictive language in scripture. Their hope is to contain the disagreeable portions to a specific age or culture that did not know better. You can try to do this all you want, but it does not eliminate what is written in text.
Christian teachers spanning across numerous generations viewed restrictive language in scripture as necessary correctives that reveal to us our inability to overcome our brokenness (sin would be the commonly used word). We cannot make ourselves right with God or one another by our own efforts and plans. This seems like a teaching that should have lasting value. However, we live in an age that believes that wrong can be right (depending on circumstance) and nothing is impossible to overcome (we just haven’t come up with the solution).To such an age the idea of prohibitions feels intolerant, lacking in compassion, and in worst case scenarios bigoted hate speech.
In many ways our Western culture does not resonate with the word “need” unless it is focused on the latest iPhone, Call of Duty game, island drink, our favorite team to win or a vacation. Since we don’t understand “need” we struggle with the reality of an insurmountable divide between us and others; including God. Pastors have tried to convey this message, but our listeners tend to be the faithful and not the folks whom we pray to reach (and in some cases the faithful are not always moved).
Why is the message not being heard? Do we need better programs? An improved praise band or more theologically grounded hymns? What if we served better coffee or met in a bar?
The answer is simplistic and yet to attempt it challenges us to our core being. The answer is love. If you joined a group and from the very beginning felt like you were loved would you listen to what they had to say about life, and matters eternal? Of course you would, much more so than if you felt they were trying to sell you something to help their budget, increase their numbers, and build a larger structure. The Church is people, and the only way for people to be the Church is to love one another as God first loved us.
What do I need? I need to love you as Christ loves you. This is my prayer and focus. May you be challenged to love as well.