Friday, 27 January 2012

Is Christianity A Religion?

"Christianity is not a religion - it's a relationship." This catch-phrase sums up how many of us view our commitment to Christ. We regard our devotion to Christ to be a delight, a privilege, a thrill because we sense Him with us guiding, protecting, instructing, and strengthening. Hardly the stuff of dead formal lifeless religion!

But notice what I just did? I qualified the the type of religion that Christianity is not (or at least should not be). What makes Christianity "dynamic" is the interaction of the Holy Spirit with the follower of Christ. He takes the Words of Scripture and powerfully uses them to shape our new lives. He speaks into our spiritual ears just at the right moment. He calms our fears with the unmistakeable presence of Christ. He takes our prayers and delivers them directly to our Heavenly Father and assures us of such a hearing. No mere religion could do any of these gloriously unique aspects of Christianity.

Because we Christians feel so strongly about Christianity's uniqueness to provide the power to know the truth, be made right with God, and give us privileged access to pray directly God, we recoil at Christianity being referred to as a mere "religion". This was the sentiment that a young believer in the USA attempted to convey in a YouTube clip he put together of a poem he wrote about WHY I HATE RELIGION BUT LOVE JESUS. This YouTube clip has gone "viral" with it being viewed by several million people in its first 24 hours.

I wish more young believers would so artistically present their faith in, and love for, Christ. Jeff Bethke is to be commended for his wonderful example to other young believers. He has so many catch-phrases cleverly woven through his poem that Christians have used to share with others why we think Christianity is so uniquely beautiful. "Religion says DO - Jesus says DONE." Amen.

However, his opening claim that Jesus came to abolish "religion" is not only unfounded, it's not right. Jesus came to abolish something (and the Apostle John tells us what this is in his first Epistle 3:8). But it wasn't "religion". Read the opening chapter of the Apostle James' Epistle and you'll see that "religion" is not the problem- it's the wrong kind of religion that's the problem!

Religion is merely the 'ordered' expression of devotion to God. 'Ordered' means that there are 'rules' about how this is done. It also involves guidelines for ceremonies, service, occasions (births, deaths, marriages memorials). Read through the New Testament and you'll notice these guidelines. Thus, Christianity is a religion in this sense that James commends in James 1. But it is not another of the merely man-made religions.

Part of the order of Christianity is that we corporately come together regularly (Hebrews 10:25) and observe an order of service where we worship through singing, prayers, observing certain "ordinances" (such as Holy Communion), giving heed to the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, and encouraging one another through mutual fellowship. Another part of the order of Christianity is that certain leaders are recognised (1Cor. 11:19; 16:18), set apart for their tasks (Acts 13:2; Rom. 1:1), and honoured in their roles (Heb. 13:7, 17). In some Church traditions, leaders may not be appointed on this basis and, as such, these leaders generally do not order their churches according to the heart of Christ for His Church. You can identify these leaders by their lack of care for people and their intense interest in their "career". To be perfectly honest, I don't hang out with these types of leaders, so I don't know many. But I hear about them and sigh. However, I have seen some "wolf" leaders (as we might call them) judged by Christ and dealt with severely. As one of my pastoral mentors, pointed out to me during one of these episodes, "Christ loves His church and jealously guards it. He will destroy anyone who destroys His church." He was of course merely citing First Corinthians 3:17. If Christ would take such strong action, is it reasonable to assume that He doesn't care about how His churches are ordered? That is, when Jeff Bethke says that Jesus came to abolish "religion", I know what he means, but I think he actually means Christ is against "wrong" or "false" religion.

In his video, it seems that Jeff Bethke criticises churches that are concerned about how they are ordered when there are so many people outside of these churches that are suffering and hungry. This commits the all-too-often-made "either / or" reduction. It assumes that if a church is ordered well (including how it is led, where it worships, how it worships) it can not concerned for the unchurched needy. To be sure, it is all too easy for churches to be too concerned about leadership structures and titles, buildings and mortgages, and what takes place in its meetings. When these things become the sole focus, churches die. But this is a false dichotomy. It's not a matter of a church being either well ordered OR concerned for the poor. In fact, most churches I'm aware of are concerned about being well ordered AND showing concern for the poor. Most.

At Legana, we certainly don't want to be focussed on the wrong things or unconcerned about the needy beyond our Church Roll. We take note of what Jeff Bethke and his fellow young generation of believers are saying about their intolerance of heartless, passionless, compromised Christianity that focusses more on its structures, buildings, administrations, performance than on Christ and the people He died for. But the solution is not the abandonment of "religion" - rather, the solution is to make sure that, as James The Just said, our religion is "pure and undefiled" (James 1:27).

Father, help us to be better representatives of Who You are. May we display our love for You with greater passion - greater devotion - greater sincerity. Give us a soft, tender, sensitive heart that responds quickly to Your Spirit's leading, correcting, and whispers. May we become who we are not yet but realise we need to be. We pray that You would enlarge our hearts to care and show that care to those who need it most. Let our hearts be inclined to serve away from the craved spotlight of others' approving looks, and serve well the one You've put before us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Andrew Corbett, 27th January 2012 

No comments:

Post a Comment