I read the story of a man who bought a painting for around $170 at a second hand shop. He did not care for the painting but really liked the frame. It sat in his attic for some time. It was only later that he noticed the name Cezanne and the year 1854 in the corner. If authentic, this painting would be valued at over $68 million dollars. He only wanted the picture for the frame, when the picture itself was worth millions.
Pictures need frames. They protect pictures from warping and losing their beauty. But the value is not in the frame. The value is in the picture.
Christians have the greatest painting that every existed. It is a picture of Jesus- God become human being and saving all of humankind from themselves. It is a picture of grace and mercy. The early church wrestled with what this story was and how to talk about it.
The early church and Christians throughout the ages understood that the painting needed a frame. It needed structure so that it did not warp and become a misshaped version of itself. This structure the Bible, worship practices, theology, and Christian practices. In today’s vernacular we call this “religion.”
Somewhere along the way we fell in love with the frame. We started to prioritize the frame over the painting. We lost sight of the beauty of the picture. Stopped looking at an experiencing Jesus and started living the frame. Like the man who bought the painting for its frame, we lost the value of what we had.
What is the answer? The popular one today is to get rid of the frame. Become “spiritual but not religious.” I have heard so many people say that they feel closer to God on a run or in their own study than they do in church. They want to take away the structure so that it does not distract from the picture.
I agree with the sentiment. I too want to see Jesus become the center. But the problem with dropping the structure of religion is the same as a picture without a frame. The picture will get warped and lose its true beauty and in the end cannot be shown to others so that they can appreciate that beauty.
What we need to do in the church is rediscover the picture and rebuild the frame.
We need to focus on Jesus and on the salvation story. We need to read it, preach it, and think about it so that we can fall in love with Jesus again.
We need to look at our religious systems and reevaluate them. We need to understand why we do what we do and be open to rewriting those traditions. We need to do our religion in a way that helps us connect with God. That is actually why they were created. They need to function that way again.
So don’t reject religion. The picture needs the frame. Rediscover how it can help you connect with God.