For too long the church has pointed people towards rules and regulations rather that life and joy
How different would our lives be if we started from a place of embracing everything — including ourselves — as good? I’ve spent my life in church circles and have rarely been taught of the goodness inherent in all of creation. Instead, all too often I came away thinking that many things in life — usually the fun things — were bad or to be avoided.
Let’s take sex. Most people’s perception of the church and sex is that the church is more or less anti-sex. And I think that’s a tragedy. If God is God and sex is part of the world created by this Being, sex surely should be celebrated and encouraged?
It’s not that there isn’t a place for thinking about boundaries, but instead of celebrating something wonderful, the church has come across as a rule obsessed killjoy. This is terrible.
Sex is just one example. In so many ways, the church has become known for what it is against rather than what it’s for. Church should be about encouraging people to live life to the full. Or, in Jesus’s words, abundant living.
Abundant life, not rules and regulations
How have we ended so far from the life-giving words of Christ? It’s not that there is no place for rules or laws or teaching about right and wrong; it’s just that the framework for that teaching has to be life-enhancing. Too many people have come away from churches feeling that the church is more interested in meaningless, archaic regulations than helping people actually live life fully alive.
I think the church should be involved in the moral conversations of our age, but it has to be in ways that are life-giving, life-affirming, positive, and humble. And by humble I mean open to listening, learning and, yes, changing.
Times change. The Bible isn’t a collection of timeless truth for every person at every point in history. It contains teaching written for particular people at a particular time that needs careful, thoughtful interpretation before applying it to the circumstances we live in today. The church should be open to this rather than just quoting verses at people and telling them to obey them.
Trying to find another way
One of the reasons I’m involved with the faith community I’m with in Sheffield is to try and find a way to do this. We’re far from perfect, but we are trying our best to keep our focus on simply helping people find joy and fulfilment in life. We want people to discover their talents and gifts and be encouraged to maximise them. We want to support people through tough times and keep guiding them towards life and hope. And sure, sometimes that can mean pointing out poor choices, but the overwhelming focus we want to have is positive, affirming, and encouraging.
Too many people come away from church not only feeling that countless things in life are wrong or bad, they also come away feeling the same about themselves. We’re all miserable sinners, we’re told. But my Bible starts with a God making people in ‘our image’. Each and every one of us has inherent goodness at the core of our being. The church has taught original sin when it should have taught original goodness.
It’s time to get our eyes back onto the truth at all of creation is good and to be enjoyed. That is the foundational truth. There maybe be boundaries to think about, but we need to start from the place of seeing the goodness in everything.
The same goes for us too. We are all good. We are all, to borrow from the words of the Old Testament psalmist, fearfully and wonderfully made. If our rules and our teaching about right and wrong aren’t being built upon this foundation, they are going to lead us away from life rather than towards it.