It can be tempting to approach religion the way one might approach a salad bar: “Wow—look at all this variety! I’ll take some of this…and a few of those…but definitely none ofthose! Beets bother me.” As we head down the line we carefully craft a plate that reflects our likes and dislikes.
Much the same often happens as people approach the Christian faith. “Wow—look at all this variety! I’ll take some of…and a few of those…but definitely none of that!” As with the salad bar, as we shop for churches or as we skim our Christian magazines we carefully craft a religious experience that reflects our likes and dislikes as best we can. (Yes, I’ll have a little more sense of community, maybe a bit more criticism of the liberal left…but I’ll stay away from anything that might get me involved with poor people. That sort of thing always bothers me.)
If our Christianity is fundamentally a religion, then we’ve probably got a lot of room to pick and choose. That would make it like politics, and we’ve always felt pretty comfortable deciding whether we want to support the liberal left and condemn the Tea Party, or vice versa. We just pick our bumper stickers and off we go. If we’re simply talking religion, then we’re free to pick and choose the kind of emphasis that feels right to us. (I’ll take a little less of that contemporary stuff, but give me a little more of those traditional values. I like those.)
Perhaps that’s why the Bible has always emphasized that Christianity, at it’s core, is not about a religion, it’s about a person. In the book of Acts, the early believers didn’t travel the known world arguing about doctrines or core values. As they scattered around the Roman Empire they talked about a person. Jesus Christ did this, said that, etc. That leaves a lot less wiggle room when it comes to the spiritual salad bar from which we’d like to pick and choose. After all, Jesus Christ actually did say different things: “No one comes to the father except by me.” And he did do some outlandish things: he often picked fights with religious people, but he somehow seemed to know a lot of the homeless folks by first name.
We can argue about religion, just like we can argue about politics. But when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, things are a lot simpler. He is what he is: full of grace and truth.
As we approach our celebration of Holy Week I’ve found myself thinking more about the “Real Jesus”—the maverick rabbi who seemed to cause so much unrest. What would our churches be like if the doctrines we define or the programs we develop were simply a thin lattice through which we looked at an unchanging savior? If we saw that real Jesus behind every line item in our church budgets, or peeking out of every sermon to which we listen?