Some people might say that Jesus was a religious man who started a new religion, called Christianity. A closer reading of the Gospels indicates that such a comment is wrong on both counts. Jesus was neither religious nor did he intend to start a new religion.
First of all, look at Jesus' lifestyle. We do see an early interest in studying the Scriptures, but when he reached adulthood his occupation was carpentry, hardly a religious vocation. When he was ready to launch his public ministry, he did not attend a seminary or any priestly school. He identified with sinners by being baptized by John the Baptist. His first sermon in a Nazareth synagogue was angrily rejected by the religious elite, because he chose to illustrate God's love by choosing a woman of Sidon and a man from Syria, not members of the chosen race. Using a Samaritan to illustrate the meaning of a good neighbor was also a negative for the orthodox. When Jesus chose to openly converse with a Samaritan woman of questionable morality and offer her "living water," he broke a whole set of religious rules. When it came to bringing healing to many in need, he often deliberately chose the Sabbath Day, in violation of the religious code, to show that acts of love supersede all religious rules. Jesus' life on earth ended very much because of religious opposition. Jesus was not religious.
However, some will ask, did Jesus not start the Christian religion? He did say he would build his church on Peter's confession, that "Jesus Christ is Lord," so that his followers would be led into lives of love, truly being salt and light in this needy world. The church was not to be a religious institution. It was to be a redeemed family committed to the single command of cultivating a love for God that will overflow to loving all people. Jesus came to address the world's biggest problem, our failure to live in harmony with one another. Forgiveness and mutual affirmation are the ways of God's reconciling and peace-making love. Learning to love is the church's calling and this teaching is not synonymous with religion.
It was said of the early church, "How they love one another." They were not perfect, but they did understand their mission to be a family of love that would include all people of all races, giving men, women and slaves full equality of worth.
This divine design for the church called for worship ... love for God; fellowship ... love for sisters and brothers; and mission ... love for all people. There were no references made to rituals, rules, regulations, creeds, candles, clergy costumes or titles ("The most holy, reverent, father", etc.) Sometimes it seems that all of trappings that we have added to the church have obscured and blurred its mission.
This is not to say that pastors don't need good training or that assemblies don't need adequate facilities. But we need to do away with worldly excesses that cripple the ministry of love which Jesus has given us.
Maybe a good question to ask before every church committee or congregational meeting might be something like this: "What can we decide today that will share God's love with those in need?" And everyone says, "Let's do it!"
The Rev. Randy Klassen is retired from the Evangelical Covenant Church. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.