This week's question comes from a writer who asks, "In Christianity, what is the bottom line? If you could only tell me one thing, what would be the one thing you wanted me to get?"
A friend of mine in marketing once told me that the church needs to keep "the main thing the main thing." I think those are wise words, but if you asked ten Christians what the main thing was, you'd get ten different answers. So, just what is the "main thing"?
To discover the bottom line, let us first begin by deciding what it isn't. To begin with, doctrines and theologies are not the bottom lines. Many of the finer points of the teachings of the church are focused on obscure, relatively unimportant, points. The main thing certainly isn't whether or not Jesus is coming back in the clouds next week, next month, or even in the next millennium. Pro-life/pro-choice may be important, but surely they're not the primary focus of the church -- are they? And yet, whole denominations have been created and others divided based on these very issues. Is it really important how God created the heavens and the earth? Is sprinkling water atop the head of someone being baptized really worth fighting about? But the church has fought over these and many other trivial pursuits. All in all, if I have only one thing to share with someone, it isn't going to be most of what the Church teaches is important.
Another thing the bottom line isn't is the ten commandments -- or any other commandment for that matter. It's not that it isn't important how we're supposed to treat God, each other, or all of creation. It is important. We are all called to "be all that we can be," but high morality is advocated by virtually every religious faith on the face of the earth. It's not unique to Christianity and it doesn't seem to be the main thing either.
Probably one of the most cited "main things" in the Christian faith is the doctrine of sin and atonement. The teaching that humanity is sinful (we all do things we ought not) and that Jesus brought forgiveness from God has been a central theme from the earliest church. But if I can only get across one thing to someone, once again, this isn't going to be the bottom line -- as important as it may be.
So, what is the bottom line? I believe the bottom line is pictured best in the metaphors of the Garden of Eden and in the New Heaven-New Earth of Revelation. In Genesis 3.8-9 we read that God was strolling through the garden in the evening after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit and realized they were guilty before God. They were hiding when God calls out, "Where are you?" From that moment on throughout the scriptures we read of how God again and again tries to reconcile with humanity. Finally, in Revelation 21.3-4 we read the story of the grand finale of the heavens and the earth: "And I heard a voice from the throne saying, "See the home of God is with people. He will live with them as their God and they will be God's people, and God will be with them. And he will wipe away their tears and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain because the days of old are gone." What is the bottom line in these pictures? Just this: from the beginning God's greatest desire has always been to simply be in a relationship with us. God, for whatever reason, wants to be a part of our lives! And everything in the Bible, every story, every poem, every prophesy, even the life and death of Jesus Christ, deals with this very issue -- God wants to be a part of us.
So, if that's the main thing, why does the Church spend so much time on the finer points of the law, the commandments, and the doctrines? That's a good question. Perhaps this focus is the reason why the Church in North America is the only Church in the world that is losing members.
In any event, if there is just one thing I can share, just one thing I want everyone to get, it's this: the one thing, the main thing, the bottom line, and the sum total of everything God has revealed to us is God wants to be in relationship with us. That just leaves the question -- do we want to be in relationship with God?