“Was Jesus a real-life guy?”

The question sounds familiar. It’s the same thing my son asks me around Christmastime when we take the long way around the mall just to wave at Santa Clause. “Was Santa a real-life guy?”

He asks me this about Santa because we’ve had the conversation a lot–Santa Clause is a happy memory that people celebrate–a real-life guy that did good things for others. We don’t want our boys depending on holly jolly impersonators when the holiday season arrives every year, so we try to be clear about the truth, but it seems we’ve fallen short in other ways.

Museum of Saints

Just like Christmas without Christ becomes a relic of a saintly man (Santa), a Christian church without Christ is the same. We’ve come to a point where many of our churches are empty, even when they’re filled with people. They feel like the Hagia Sophia after the fall of Constantinople–empty tombs of relics, tall, beautiful buildings full of tapestries and gold. We’re the statues, the stained glass, the candelabras. We’ve become perfect, shining silver and smoking incense, but with no heart to speak of.

It feels like instead of building relationships with our brothers and sisters, we’re instead making each other into relics. If your shine isn’t quite right, I can help with that. If your tattoos, haircut, day job, or Sabbath activities don’t quite seem up to snuff, I’ll go ahead and polish you up. If I still can’t get you to look right, I’ll put you in the back where no one will see. No one will pay attention here. The church will still look perfect and that’s what matters.

Love Actually

The verses which are largely used (some would say overused) for wedding ceremonies to describe love are tucked into the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. The overused portion “love is patient, love is kind…” is beautiful and important, of course, but the beginning of the chapter speaks volumes about a loving relationship, and a loving church.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

So, if your church building looks like a church and has people in it that are singing all the right songs, turning their Bibles to the right verses, and taking up offering and telling children stories it must be a church, right? Who are we doing this church thing for?

The Bible says we must believe and have everlasting life (John 3:16). That is, believe in GOD.

The Bible says we must obey if we love Him (John 14:15). That is, obey GOD.

The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).

Is that last bit negotiable or open to translation? Does God not clearly explain what love is in the scripture? He does in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 

If you have found a way to point out the sins of others in a loving way, I’m skeptical. If you do not first have a relationship with your brothers and sisters before imposing your ideals on them, it is not out of love. It comes off as boastful, rude, unkind. If you are speaking ill of someone behind their back, you’re making them into an object to look at and to polish instead of a human being deserving of compassion and relationship. This is like having a loveless, empty marriage, but still wearing the expensive diamond ring for show.

We’re building a church full of relics without any relationship, and we in turn become dangerously close to making Jesus Himself a relic–nothing more than a crucifix on a wall. Let’s return to relationships–with each other, and with Jesus.