From as far back as I can remember in my walk with God, there hasn’t been much emphasis on sound doctrine or being “right.” In my Sunday school classes, I was taught how to reflect God’s character by treating others as more important than myself and to live sacrificially. When I came to college, the sermons on Sunday mornings were attuned to living in the day to day and gave advice in how to handle the difficulties life brings. The college group I’ve been a part of for the last four years usually carries teachings similar to the ones I received in Sunday school during high school. We’re taught, basically, to love others like Christ loved us. That was a big (if not the biggest) commandment from Jesus and was also the way people would identify us as His disciples (John 13:34-35).
Late Sunday night, however, I decided to listen to a sermon from a local pastor here in Eugene. After listening to it, I’d have to say I was more frustrated than inspired. Probably 80-90% of the message was about identifying and resisting “false” teachers, which does actually bear some importance. But what frustrated me most was how being right was treated with more importance than being real. This divisive attitude is not supported by Jesus at all. In fact, He says, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand,” (Matthew 12:25). When we say we’re right and you’re wrong and demand that you never return to our church, we’re hindering the global church, God’s kingdom, from standing.
It almost seems like an act of corporate idolatry; where, as a church, we place our desire to be “right,” “sound,” and “on God’s side” on God’s throne in our hearts instead letting Jesus sit there. Christianity, true Christianity, is all about the cross, Christ crucified, and our sins being forgiven. It’s about humility, admitting our flaws, our imperfections, our misunderstandings, our questions, and the possibility that we just might be wrong. It was never about saying we’re right and embracing arrogance as the weapon of “truth,” but instead the weapon of unconditional love. It’s all about Jesus’ love and it always has been.
This is a major undertone throughout the mainstream of Christianity that I find rising and pushing out any teaching that disagrees with it. It’s to the point where pastors argue against pastors about who’s right and who’s wrong and label each other “heretics” or “false teachers.” I’m sure they and pastors like them have their justifications for what they say about each other, but that’s not what bugs me. What does bug me is that the mainstream of Christianity, headed by the major-leaguer pastors who tend to argue more than preach, has slipped away from the teachings of Jesus. At the very least, we’ve altered our main focus.
Jesus says to love one another and change the world. We have started to love ourselves and all those who agree with us and let the world live on its own. There is no doubt in my mind that I’ve committed the same errors as the mainstream; I am just as messed up as the next guy. But at the very least, I’m willing to acknowledge what true Christianity is and what it is not. It is not, nor has ever been, any kind of man-made doctrines and beliefs or any kind of systematic theology. It isn’t about proving how right you are and wrong I am or vise versa; it’s about Jesus. It’s about the cross and what He did that fateful day nearly two thousand years ago by putting death in its grave. And it’s about what we do with what He’s given us.
Mohandas Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I’ve heard this quite often on U of O’s campus and sometimes I’ve wondered why, but in truth, it’s perfectly clear; because the way that Jesus loved in the Bible is not the way we love in our world today. We tend to pick sides and make ourselves believe that we’re right and everyone else is wrong, including historical figures like Gandhi. But I think we stray from fulfilling God’s commandments when we practice judgment; He alone sees what we can’t see: the heart. We can judge and distinguish between right and wrong behavior and maybe even between right and wrong thinking, but to label someone a “false” teacher and kick them out of the church, is that our duty?
What happens when we’re bent on being right and kicking out anyone who disagrees with us is that we lessen the number of people being transformed by Jesus. There have been moments where I’ve had a sinful idea in my mind, a thought that contradicted the truth of Jesus, but no matter what, those ideas have been removed because of the grace that I’ve been shown. It’s not just a grace that gets us out of jail; it’s a grace that corrects us. Those who get kicked out because of their “false” beliefs may never receive that correction, assuming they actually have “false” ideas. How do we keep the false ideas out of our churches, then, if we shouldn’t kick people out? Here’s a humble suggestion: Trust in your pastors to lead you and guide you according to God’s truth, the Law that has been written on our hearts. He has promised repeatedly that He will never leave us nor forsake us, so why do we feel obligated to take matters into our own hands and root out the “rotten,” “false,” “heretical” people from our church? Didn’t Jesus give a parable wherein the owner of a field allowed the weeds to grow with the wheat lest the wheat be uprooted, too (Matthew 13:24-30)?
I only write so adamantly about these things because I don’t believe organized religion is the answer to true living. I believe Jesus, more than anything else, wants us to be relational – even with the people we think are wrong. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self does not mean that you have to submit to their beliefs or agree with everything they say. It means that no matter how much we differ from the world, we must not falter in showing the love of Christ. It’s by our love of each other that the world will know we belong to Jesus, not by our systematic theologies and sound doctrines and “right” beliefs.