James Carville is credited with coining the famous phrase, "The economy, stupid," to keep Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign on message. To keep myself focused, I borrowed the idea and have a sign in my office that says, "The relationship, stupid."
It embarrasses me to say that I think that I have been fairly representative of the American Christian church in that I have lost focus of what the Gospel message is and how it should be represented to the world at large. We have gone off message and become embroiled in matters that have kept us from the pursuit of Christlikeness and the preaching of the Gospel.
In my mind's eye, I imagine the recreation of the situation when the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulterous woman before Christ. It's like this:
I/the church come before Christ dragging some poor soul behind us, throwing the wretch in the dirt before our Lord and saying:
"Teacher, we found this man in the very act of homosexuality, what do You say we do with him?"
"Teacher, we found this woman arguing before the courts on behalf of abortionists, what do You say we do with her?"
"Teacher, we found this one teaching evolution, in the very act, what do You say we do?"
"Teacher, we found this man calling into question the inerrancy of Scripture, what do You say we do with him?"
"Teacher, we found this woman questioning your Deity, what do You say we do with her?"
"Teacher, we found this one passing out literature condemning capitalism and promoting liberal socialism, what do You say we do?"
"Teacher, we found this man looking at pornography on the Internet, what do You say?"
In each case, I imagine Christ's response being exactly what it was towards the scribes and Pharisees and the adulterous woman. He tells us not to judge, because we will be judged with the same judgement that we pass on others. He does not condone sin, but He does not condemn. He came to save. He tells us to love one another. He tells us to love our enemies. He tells us to forgive, because we have been forgiven. These prescriptions that Christ gave us are relational in nature. They involve emotions and feelings (i.e., "I feel judged." "I feel loved." "I feel forgiven," etc.)
The Gospel message is that we can have a relationship with a loving, forgiving and personal GOD. The manifestation of that relationship is that we'll be known by our loving, forgiving, and personal relationships with others.
I actually heard a pastor on the radio quote St. Francis of Assisi as saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words," and then disagreeing with him, saying that he thought words were vital in the preaching of the Gospel. Words are only important in that they convey feelings and emotions in the relationships that we are in. As long as they are loving, forgiving, personal and not hypocritical they can convey the Gospel. But, it's our actions that either justify or condemn us.
The quintessential relationship that defines my walk with Christ is my marriage relationship with my wife. If I cannot be in a loving, forgiving, personal, self-sacrificing relationship with her, who I'm supposed to be closest to, how can I move into ministry beyond her? She then, becomes the object of my affection, the place where I practice my pursuit of Christlikeness. Christ did not come to judge or to condemn, but to save. I must follow Him.
It's the relationship, stupid.