Looked at objectively, Jesus did not die in service to the church. He died because of the church. This should serve as a constant reminder for religious Christians to be ever vigilant about the embedded power and potential corruption that can exist in religious organizations.
Loving churches can be wonderful places. They can help individuals and families grow spiritually, help people in times of need, and foster lifelong relationships. They can be houses of worship and places filled with love. Yet, if we aren’t careful to remember some of the lessons of Jesus in the New Testament, churches can also be abusive places. While many people’s lives have been helped, many others have been traumatized by Christian churches.
In the Bible, Jesus was kind to almost everyone except the religious leaders. This is striking because these were the people who, in theory, were supposed to be on the same team. Nonetheless, Jesus called them (among other things) a brood of vipers, hypocrites, children of hell, blind guides, and blind fools.(44)
Jesus said that love fulfilled the law. The Pharisees and Sadducees earned their livings from the law and were not amused. He asked the teachers of the law: “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”(45) Shouldn’t this be an important message to every church leader today? Christians owe it to their churches to beware of the abuses of power that can come from politics, hierarchy, and pride. As was true in the days of Jesus, a red flag that the balance has tipped from spirituality to religion is when legalistic rules replace love.
In the Bible, Jesus did not join the established religious power structure as a career. Instead, he practiced his faith on the streets as he helped people who were struggling. He showed that divinity without humanity turned into piety. When the unchangeable map of dogma replaces love as a living compass, Christianity can quickly lose its Jesus-centricity. It can create churches led by leaders who value theology and power over love and service.
Even though dogma helped to build the Christian faith in ancient times, it seems to be destroying it in modern times. Using the love that Jesus modeled as a spiritual compass, shouldn’t the church’s role be to transform lives, not to convert people to accept unprovable dogmatic beliefs? Isn’t this what a love-based Christian faith should do? Shouldn’t the goal be to transform individuals, families, and communities through love, connection, and service? With a love-based faith, churches can be both spiritual and religious. By being both, Christians can become more human and divine.
44. Matt. 3:7; 23:15–17
45. Matt. 15:3, NIV