It’s against my relationship to have a religion.
The core of religion (in any faith system) is a focus on rules, regulations and rigorous observation of prescribed behaviors. Sorry, that last one was a bit verbose, but I was looking for another ‘r’ word.
In fact, my good friend Merriam defines religion this way:
re•li•gion \ri-ˈli-jən\ n
1 a : the state of a religious nun in her 20th year of religion
b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural
(2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
Hmmm. Sounds inviting, does it not?
Problem is, what I believe does not fit into this ‘religion’ model without a lot of cramming.
It’s a pretty complex recipe needed to change the teachings of Jesus into a religion. But, have no fear, humans are capable of almost anything; especially if it means taking something beautiful and making it bureaucratic, burdensome and baffling.
Wow, I have got to quit this alliteration thing, it’s driving me nuts and I’m the one doing it.
Here’s the recipe for reducing our resurrection to ritual… seriously, I’m trying to stop:
Jesus ala Religion (AKA: church, Christianity, faith, etc.)
Take one heaping helping of Good News resulting in a relationship with Jesus Christ and then stir in 1 cup of church doctrine debate and a season with church sanctioned Crusades, too taste. Add 3 tbs of institutional church self-preservation and heat over a steady flame for 2,000 years to reduce the dish in its own juices. Remove from heat and let cool. Glaze with a mixture of worship war schisms and health/wealth broth. Slice into well-defined denominational pieces that look exactly the same, but DO NOT let them touch. Use a separate plate or bowl for each piece. Then garnish with a sense of irrelevance and present to no one who is hungry. Only serve this dish to those who have already eaten.
Yes, the incredible story of redemption and reconciliation has been reduced to the rubbish of religion regardless of God’s reasoning to rekindle relationship with His roving ragamuffins… sigh.
Okay, let me back up a little bit. Religion isn’t all bad, but we need to understand religion was given as gift, a tool, a medium of communication or a way of getting somewhere.
But, when we start spotlighting religion, taking up sides and fighting about it, protecting its history at the cost of the present and in spite of our future… religion has lost its way. Rather, we lost ourselves in religion.
Religion is good, no great, if it’s a gift that brings Jesus into someone’s life.
It’s amazing if it’s the tool that opens the door to a realization of our sin and Christ’s provision.
It’s magnificent if it speaks words that draw all men to God.
It’s invaluable if its moves people from places of lostness and brokenness to positions of connectivity and restoration with their God.
Religion is good when it gets us to God. Religion is evil when it becomes our God, no matter what you’re singing or praying about.
Why? Because God gave us religion as a tool, means of communication and way of moving back into relationship with Him.
Imagine going into the garage of someone with a completely restored ‘64 and a half Ford Mustang. With loving and meticulous care they have found all the original parts and they know for sure that this vehicle is true to the original without any error. They protect it in a garage filled with framed pictures of that same model car in dozens of settings.
They have stacks of owners manuals. A laptop opened to www.64andhalf.com. In fact, the more you look around, the less it looks like a garage and the more its looks like a well-kept, well-supplied longue for Mustang enthusiasts.
You notice you are just in time for the weekly gathering. Other Mustang lovers are gathering for their regular time of celebration. That’s when they all get together and the lead Mustang lover (he went to Mustang school) takes out the key and recites the words they love so much: “There was no car like it before, there’s been no car like it since. It’s ‘the’ car. The same yesterday, today and forever.”
Everyone in attendance responds, “Ford, brother!” Then their leader starts up the car there in the garage and they all sit and listen to it idle for 20-30 minutes (ok, sometimes 40) while taking notes in their own service manuals.
Tragic isn’t it. A car like that was made for the open roads, cruising Main St. and carrying the grand marshal of small town parades. Keeping it in a garage is just wrong!
Unfortunately, that’s what we have done with religion. We have exchanged the destination for the ride and built shrines to the way we get their without ever making the trip.
God is interested in restoring relationship with us and religion is only useful if it gets us there!
We see this clearly portrayed in the book of Hebrews:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Heb 10:19-25.
Jesus came as a sacrifice to replace the religious rituals and places of the Old Testament church: The Most Holy Place, The Temple Veil (curtain), even the Great Priest.
For what purpose? That we could ‘draw near to God’… ah, religion that pointed us to relationship. Now those were the good ol’ days.
The end of this passage exaggerates God’s desire for relationship by connecting the fact that drawing near to Him should draw us into relationship with other believers: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Between these two relationships, to God and other believers, are four distinct things in the teaching. They are attitudes that we are to have as we draw near to God, and easily extracted from this is the thought that our human relationships ought to push us in the same direction.
So, these four things are indicative of our relationship with God, and should be enhanced by our church connection and small group relationships.
With a sincere heart. God desires authenticity from us and we should also find it in our human relationships. The word sincere in English comes from a Greek business term. In the days of buying clay pots, there were some shysters who would sell you broken pots that were held together with wax in the cracks. Once a glaze was put on them, you couldn’t tell until you filled them with something and either the pressure or the heat broke the pots apart at their point of waxy weakness. So, back in the day, high-end pottery shops marked their wares with a stamp: sinceros. This literally means ‘without wax.’ Sincerity, or authenticity, in our relationships with both God and man means we don’t pretend to be what we’re not. If we’re a cracked pot, so be it. Literally, just that… be it.
In full assurance of faith. We can have ‘complete certainty’ in who God is and what He says He is going to do. As we draw near to Him, we are called to full dependence on Him being exactly what He claimed to be. Our human relationship should support that as well and not undermine our faith. Christian gatherings should move us in the direction of full assurance.
Having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. In drawing near to God we are reminded that we are now guilt free. The blood of Jesus has made us clean and as we approach Him the approach is absent of regret, condemnation, guilt and fear. Our small groups and church gatherings should celebrate this and not pile up accusations and sins that have already been forgiven.
And having our bodies washed with pure water. Drawing near to God is walking through life with a New Partner. As you journey with your Savior you live differently. A striving toward personal holiness begins to take root in your life, and the groups that you are involved in should move you down that pathway closer to God, not further from Him.
It’s about drawing near, walking with and becoming like our God.
It’s about relationship; our relationship with God and others who follow Him.
We need to make our move to the magnificently majestic miracle mile with the Messiah.
It’s time to reject religion that reduces relationship to ritual and reinstate our rights as the restored and redeemed.
We need to draw near, neglecting the ‘nothing’ promises of a needy netherworld negating naively nocturnal necromancers nor… ok, that one doesn’t even make sense.
We need to appreciate religion for what it can do, but we need to cling to and live in the relationship we’ve been given. First with God, and then with His followers (Mark 12:29-31).
Then we can all truly say, it’s against my relationship to have a religion.