"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Hating Religion; Loving Jesus

with one comment

We had a guest preacher today, from Toronto way, who gave us a good Word about the call of God’s people. He started with this video, titled, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.”

The video is quite powerful; although I’m always initially leery of claims that talk about having found true faith, if only through critiquing what we have today.

His opening assertion, that religion is responsible for starting many wars, is one without much historic foundation even while being a very popular assertion. When I returned a book titled, “Does Christianity Cause War” to the library last month, the librarian pointed at it and said, “Of course it does, why do you need a book to tell you that?” There have certainly been wars started in God’s name, just as we have suicide bombers today claiming they are serving the will of Allah. These are people, choosing to use God’s name to support their own question for violence, which is a frankly blasphemous action. There is also no doubt that for many centuries in Christendom, the church supported the state’s expansionist desires by placing a religious stamp of approval on even overt evil. That too was the action of man invoking God to justify their own desires. So when the poet in the video talks about ‘religion’ I have a very clear image of what he is talking about, and it is not everyone who belongs to an organized church.

It’s also important to keep in perspective that Jesus did not condemn religion; rather, he condemned the practitioners who had converted a gift from God into a tool of enslavement. His principle target throughout the New Testament was the mass of purity regulations that were tools of bondage, and the temple had become a means of control, and the religious leaders who perpetuated that enslavement.

Even in the clearing of the money changers from the temple (Matthew 21), the act is to redeem the temple and to refocus it on right worship – in that instance the healing of the sick. The destruction of the temple was foretold by Jesus, but the correction was to his disciple’s enthrallment to the impressive buildings and stones (Matthew 24). There’s no doubt that Jesus came to proclaim a different form of worship, one that resided in the heart and not in a building, but there is no outright attack on the temple itself.

It is also very much in vogue today to say that one is not ‘religious’ but rather ‘spiritual’. I never really understand what that means, unless it is some form of agnostic faith. [late edit: this article talks about the spiritual vs religious dynamic in a way that I agree with totally: Spiritual not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me]

All that said, it is a powerful video about one man’s search for redemption, and very moving.  It has sparked me to reflect on our calling, so this is some musing on that question, rather than a critique of what is a compelling message.

The other aspect that is not touched on is the distinction between the Body of Christ, which is the company of all believers (a grouping that transcends denomination and borders), and religious establishments. My unity with all other believers comes by reason of common faith, and not because we share a street address, ethnicity or denomination name. This is the mystical gift that is the church militant here on earth. It is linked in time and space with the church triumphant and the church expectant – the past, future and present together. What is confusing is when we start to equate that mystical concept with the human-generated structures and business processes in which our communities operate. That’s when religion starts to become a problem.

This is an area when the community of all faithful people have not been very good at educating the greater culture on what it is we are when we gather. I recall doing a funeral for a gentleman who had suddenly died, and since I had baptized one of the grandchildren (their last contact with the church), I was called for the funeral. As I usually do with people I don’t know, I met with the immediate family for several hours to talk about the man who had died, and to let them tell stories. This is a great time of healing, but practically allows me to plan a service that reflects the person being remembered…there is nothing worse than going to a funeral and realizing that the pastor had no idea who was being buried (I’ve seen that far too often).

While we were talking, I started to explain the reason for the meeting was me not knowing their loved one. In the midst of explaining, one of the family members said, “We know it must be tough to work with a group of sinners like us!” I said, no not at all, this is just so I can get to know your loved one, and besides, the one thing that my faith has taught me is that I am the greatest sinner of all. They all looked shocked which is a good reflection of the public perception of communities of faith (or maybe just hearing a person with a collar admit that he messes up regularly). As the poet said, those communities are hospitals for the broken, not showcases for the perfect.

A second encounter was with an engineer I worked with, who one day said to me, “I don’t go to church because there are too many sinners there.” I responded, “Yes there are, and we all know it, that’s why we’re in church!” Which left her looking equally shocked.  Too often the public impression of our faith communities is that we come together to celebrate our perfection – which is probably a telling reflection of how often our faith communities fail to live up to their calling!

I wonder when I watch videos like this one, how much of what is being reacted to is the public mythology surrounding religion as opposed to the mystical religion itself. As one of my sisters remarked today, perhaps the issue is not so much ‘religion’ as it is setting out a careful definition of what we really mean when we use the word.

The reality is that the church in every age is coloured by the culture, and the challenge is to seek out a path of faithfulness to live in the world, without becoming a part of the world. When we miss that target is when the poet’s words start to become true, for we replace that seeking of faithfulness with a blessed assurance that we have the answers all in this place and at this time. This search for perfection in the religion is one of the greatest sins undertaken, for it is contrary to Christ’s words…as he told us that this world will continue to be a painful place to live, full of death and sickness and grief, and will continue to be that way until the remaking of creation. Too often we hear that some community has found “the” way, when the reality is that I go to church because it is the only way I can go on living within my acute awareness of my own deep and utter brokeness.

May we all be blessed in Christ in our weakness.


Written by sameo416

November 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I couldn’t agree more, my friend. Three thoughts.

    First, when I was on my sabbatical in 2007 with the Anabaptist Network, I was rather discouraged at how the people idealised Mennonite churches (which they had never seen, as there is only one in England and it’s all made up of non-ethnic Mennonites!) and contrasted them sharply with the all-too-human evangelical churches many of them had suffered in. Until I realised that, I had intended to spend my sabbatical studying ‘generic Anabaptism’ rather than Mennonite history, but that’s when I decided that ‘generic Anabaptism’ does not really exist – it’s always earthed in a sinful and imperfect community. So I started reading Mennonite history!

    Second, as Billy Graham used to say, ‘If you find a perfect church, don’t join it, because you’ll spoil it!’

    Third, with you all the way, as you know, on the distinction between the mystical body of Christ and the imperfect institutions we call our ‘faith traditions’!!!

    Thanks for posting these thoughts.

    Tim Chesterton

    November 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

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