There’s a cure for the “hardening of the oughteries” – the grace of God.
To adapt the title of the old country music hit, “I’ve been in every church, man”!
It sure seems like it. I grew up in the liturgical church, grew in my faith in a conservative Bible church, trained for ministry in the liberal mainline church and found power in the charismatic churches. Every tradition has brought blessing in my life. And, I must also report, every tradition has doled out its fair dose of shame.
Liberal churches might tell you, “you ought to be more accepting.” Conservative churches might tell you, “you ought to have more conviction.” Liturgical churches might tell you, “you ought to have more order.” Charismatic churches might tell you, “you ought to have more freedom.”
With all the “ought to’s,” as my spiritual father Dudley Hall says, it’s enough to give you “hardening of the oughteries”!
Why did people flock to Jesus? I have come to one, simple conclusion: He wasn’t at all like the other religious leaders of His day. He was a Rabbi, a “religious” Leader and Healer, but He didn’t make people feel worse about themselves. There was something so approachable about Jesus that even the worst “sinners” felt safe to approach Him. He said some very narrow things—pointing to one way, one truth, and one life in Himself. Yet no one ever felt shamed or condemned by His demeanor. (Unless it was the tyrannical, super-legalists who oppressed the people in the name of God.)
People have always longed for eternal truth, mystery, and power, but they have been willing to forfeit their spiritual search for the sake of avoiding shame. For the first time, in Jesus Christ, truth, mystery, and power became available without shame. When the truth is presented in perfect grace, myriads will flock to behold it. Jesus Christ was full of grace and full of truth. He wasn’t 50% truth and 50% grace. He wasn’t sometimes gracious and sometimes truthful. He was 100% grace and 100% truth, all the time.
If the message of the Gospel is in any way clouded by a message of shame, then people will avoid church at all costs. If, however, there is a church that proclaims eternal truth and mystery in the context of utter love and acceptance, that church will find the world at its door. Jesus didn’t bring a religious message of what people “ought to” do. Jesus came with a message of salvation for those who could never fulfill enough “ought to’s” to merit Heaven. Jesus did what you ought to have done, but couldn’t. And that’s the Gospel!