Friday, July 13, 2012

Um, but it kind of IS a religion, too...

I'm nearing the end of Ross Douthat's excellent book, "Bad Religion", and it got me thinking about that oft-quoted saying that has emblazoned many a youth group attendee t-shirt, wristband and bumper sticker. You know: "It's a relationship, not a religion"!

If we back track about five years ago, I use to proudly say it. And with relief, too. I grew up part of the strain of Pentecostalism that frowned on makeup, ear-piercing, tank tops and women wearing pants. We couldn't go to the movies (I still don't get that one), and some of the more strict, I mean, holy of the denomination didn't even have TVs in their homes.

Needless to say, when I left that level of Christian confinement, with all it's "legalism" and rules of the truly Saved and Sanctified, I was quite happy to brag how un-religious I had become. I would talk to my co-workers, some nominal Catholics, some agnostic, others Jewish or Buddhist, how I was free of the chains of religiousity. A typical convo would go like this:

Co-worker: So you're Christian, right?

Me: Yup!

C: I use to go to church, but I couldn't deal with all those 'Thou shall not's" and the hypocrisy.

Me: Yeah, I know what you mean. There really are a lot of hypocrites in churches. Pastors who steal money from their flock, musicians who cheat on  their spouses, I've just about heard it all.

C: So you don't go to church, either, huh?

Me: Oh no, I do! I go several times a week and to a small group at another member's house. But my church is different. It's nondenominational...

C: Non... nondenom... what?

Me: Ha, it's nondenominational.  We're not Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian. We're simply Christ-followers, not confined to any one, man-made organization!

C: (Looking somewhat confused) Oh, that's cool, I guess. But you are Christians, right?

Me: Yes.

C: And you follow the Bible?

Me: Yup.

C: And you have a pastor?

Me: Of course! Actually more than one. There's a youth pastor, a music pastor...

C: Uh huh. And you baptize people?

Me: Yes...

C: Take communion?

Me: Yeah, I mean not often, maybe like four times a year, but...

C: Uh huh. Yeah...

Me: But we are different! We aren't religious! It's about the relationship we have with Jesus! It's personal!

C: Yeah, well, perhaps. But it still sounds like a church, run by people, doing some of the same stuff as other churches, just with different labels. And well, I don't care if it's Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts or Seatle's Best, coffee is coffee. And church is church. And religion is religion. Nothing against you or your group. I'm just saying...

 C.S. Lewis

I would usually end up confused. Why couldn't my co-worker *see* how different we were? We weren't religious! We didn't have a bunch of rituals and rules!

Except, well, we did. As pointed out, we used Scriptures as the basis of our teachings (doctrine, or what some would say "rules" from a "rulebook"), had pastors (teachers who disseminated the "rules"), had baptisms and communion ("rituals").

Yes, I was not only raised in religion, but I was, and am, religious.

Now, I'm sure some of my Evangelical readers are thinking, "Uh, maybe YOU are, but not me!" Okay, but to the rest of the world, you are, too. And you kind of seem like you're in denial. Now, for the record, we don't see Jesus or the Apostles coming down on religion or rituals. No, they dismissed or warned against empty rituals and vain repetitions. The emphasis is on the "empty" and "vain". I mean come on folks, Jesus established the Church, instituted a ritual in communion during the Last Supper and laid down rules with that whole speech on telling the world of the Good News and such. As much as you might want to blast the message of Jefferson Bethke,in truth, he, as a member of Mars Hill Church, is religious, too.

So it's not really an either/ or proposition. Yes, I'm religious. But it's my relationship with Christ that prevents it from being empty or vain. The relationship I have with my Savior breathes love and life into my routines of Bible reading and church attendance.

So, in closing, religion is not necessarily bad. Just be like those ridiculously overpriced and still somewhat trendy jeans. Have true religion.


Rebecca said...

Great post!! I agree..:)

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