Here is the great tragedy of the church: it has distorted God’s message for humanity to be all about behavior. The “astoundingly good news” (that’s what gospel means) is NOT that we can now be well behaved. In fact, Jesus never talked about being well behaved but about how lavishly God loves you.
God doesn’t want us focused on behavior but on relationship. Between you and God, you and the Divine.
The thing is that people really like power… and really like control…and really like money. To focus people on behavior is a good way to control them, have power over them, and get money from them.
Something happened about 15 minutes after Jesus left: people went right back to fighting over who’s in charge and who gets to decide what others can and can’t do. Soon they were figuring out who would pay for these massive Cathedrals, which make the religious leaders as important as the Emperor.
The very earliest church, which we see in Acts, was just a gathering together of believers to celebrate what Jesus had done for them. But very quickly, church authorities established the church as a system, modeled in form after the Roman Empire. The priest gets a procession down the center aisle with bells and smells, just like the emperor.
Do you see how the message already got distorted?
And just like the emperor who had a tight rein on his subjects, the priests also had to rein in their subjects. If the priests could list and enforce rules, they could be in charge… just like the emperor. Naturally, everyone from the priests on down sinned – missed the mark in some way – daily. But if you get to be the one to rank sins, you can put others’ sins (that don’t tempt you) at the top, and yours (if you even had any…) at the bottom…oh, nevermind—they’re so small, just leave them off the list.
To threaten exclusion is certainly effective to discourage dissension, but it plays on fear. It’s effective to gain compliance, but it is terrifying to those poor people underneath. Jesus never led by fear—except possibly to correct the religious leaders who wielded power and control and terrorized others.
This is NOT Jesus’ design for the church. This is NOT the astoundingly good news of the gospel. This is NOT the heart of God.
God is NOT a Bully
A few years ago, a nearby church had a series: “A Call to Obedience.” Their primary understanding of God’s call to Christians was a call to obedience. This is entirely false. We are not called to obedience. We are called to relationship.
Micah 6:8 makes it clear what God requires of us… do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
Jesus makes it clear what we are suppose to do… love God, love others.
Love, service, kindness, justice all flow from relationship. Hate, judgment, bullying all flow from attempts to control, which is fractured relationship.
And relationship is the entire point.