What if the church cared more about the path of Jesus than beliefs about Jesus?
That's a tough question, isn't it?
Because we've been led to understand that beliefs about Jesus are what faith is all about. When somebody says, "Do you believe in Jesus?" what they're really asking is something like, "Do you believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin? That all the miracles recorded in the Bible are factual? That Jesus died as a propitiation for your sins, that he rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father? Do you believe that Jesus will return one day--and if so, what brand of eschatology do you hold to?" People want to use creeds or other denominational faith statements as a litmus test to determine who's in and who's out of the club. But Jesus never intended it to be that way.
Jesus makes faith very simple, insisting we come to him with the faith of a child. "Believe in me," he says--intending no doctrinal statements at all, but simply asking his children to trust him.
That's the kind of thing that'll make you want to storm out of the sanctuary, slamming the door so that everyone else listening to the sermon can know just how angry it makes you. Because it just might rattle your cage to hear that Jesus cares far more about you trusting him than he cares about your theology.
Theology is easy. Trusting God is hard. Anybody can learn theology through books and the internet. Trusting God only comes when you're willing to jump into God's arms like a child surprising a poor parent in a swimming pool. "Catch me, Daddy!" my kid screamed--and it was only then that I turned and saw them already in the air, heading for me. It's that kind of childlike faith, knowing without a shred of doubt that Daddy is going to catch them, that Jesus wants from his followers. And you can't get that from a theology book.
Yeah--theology is so much easier. That's why the Church has so often preferred theology, over following the path of Jesus. All you have to do is agree with the right propositional statements, and you're in! Of course, when it's all about theology, love can go right out the window. The results have been things like the Inquisition--you remember, when the church enforced its good theology by torturing people until they either rattled off the right doctrines or died resisting. Theology happens when arrogant people try to figure God out, like fleas trying to figure out the dog they're on---no---like fleas trying to figure out the celluar makeup of dogs. Theology is an exercise in the impossible.
Am I saying that we shouldn't engage in theology? No--I am cautioning that we should do so with a lot of humility And I'm saying that we shouldn't let all the things that we KNOW ABOUT GOD overshadow the way we KNOW GOD. And we shouldn't use theology as a litmus test to determine who's in and who's out. Jesus never said, "They'll know you're my disciples because you're a premillenialist, or because you use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to understand matters of religion." No, he said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).”
It's this love for one another that will show the world that you're on the path of Jesus--not the things you say you belive. It's this love that'll make you get up and walk out of the sanctuary--not in protest--but so that you can go out and embrace the world.