I have this nasty habit of oversimplifying things. So, feel free to let the “it’s not that easy” and “you’re such a simpleton” arguments begin, but I truly do think that all of the problems of the Church can be attributed to one thing.
You fix that one thing and you can save the Church from its continuing slide to irrelevance for increasingly larger portions of society.
Possibly the most frightening and disappointing thing about this “one thing” is that it has been a teaching of the Church for its entire existence. As a matter of fact, it has supposedly been its central teaching.
Yes, I know, that sounds far too trite to work.
And yes, I know, it seems to be a massive simplification of a problem that is far too complex to be overcome with one word.
None of that changes the fact that love is the one thing that Jesus taught matters most.
It also happens to be a solution for most of the problems people point to when they talk about the demise of the Church.
For example, one of the key reasons people from younger generations continue to walk away from the Church is hypocrisy. Not surprisingly, people have very little interest in participating in organizations that say one thing but put another into practice.
More times than not, this critique is speaking of the way people who call themselves Christians and who attend church treat other people – particularly those who are different from them in any way.
Love – real love – the kind Jesus not only taught but lived out is the solution to that problem.
When we can look at the face of someone society might encourage us to see as “other” and see a reflection of God there, when we can consistently extend the same love we feel for God to that person, we will see the problem of hypocrisy fade away.
Loving others – all others – is the “one thing” that can save the Church.
Which works out, because it is also the one primary thing that is supposed to define whether or not we are following Jesus.
What we mess up, over and over again, is living out the reality that words of love are not real until they are put into action.
That is a massive problem for what much of the Church has become.
It’s certainly not true for all of the Church and there are plenty of churches who are putting their words of love into action, but the problem for the Church that is rightfully critiqued by much of society is its relationship with power as it specifically relates to control.
The love that Jesus taught us about is not a conditional love.
It is not predicated on a particular set of behaviors.
The problem the Church faces is that much of its current teachings are founded in its desire to control people’s behavior.
As the Church has grown and gained more power and influence in society, we have seen its need and its resources for enforcing people’s behavior grow.
The Church’s reach is so large and powerful that in the United States we are still fighting a battle for equality when it comes to same-sex marriage – an issue that has primarily been motivated and energized by misuse of scripture.
It is an undeniable fact that much of the Church is focused on enforcing a specific set of behavior on as much of society as possible – even if it hurts people.
And that is not a loving thing to do.
Seriously Church, you had one job – love God, which is pretty much the same thing as loving everyone. (I’m paraphrasing Jesus here, but that’s the gist of Matthew 22:37-39.)
You had one job and you are letting other things, like controlling people’s behavior, get in the way of that one job.
It’s killing you.
It’s time to take Jesus at his word and make the first thing first – at all times.
If they aren’t hurting other people, stop worrying about controlling people’s behavior.
It turns out that Jesus knew what he was talking about. You can force someone to behave a certain way through laws and shame, but you are only going to ultimately impact who they are by being in relationship with them. A relationship that begins with love.
So, Church – stop telling people you love them and start showing them.
If you do start showing everyone the love of God, you might just find out that while you are busy trying to save their lives, you’ll end up saving yours.