Archive for June, 2014

Among Christians today, especially from what I can tell in the United States, we love to play the bully. The target, however, is not anyone or any group. The target is a word: religion. We say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. We have websites such as notreligion.org. We even enlist God’s help in our bullying: “God hates religion.” Poor guy! Is this poor word really worthy our derision?

For the most part Christian hate toward religion is justified by a sort of pigeon-holing religion into a set of categories that the Bible does explicitly hate: non-reverent, works-based, going-through-the-motion spiritual activities. In that sense, surely God hates religion, but I think we have more problems with religion than that.

We hate religion. Our non-conformist culture hates anything that seems traditional. Aside from the typical Christian rites of baptism and the eucharist, we target traditional music services, traditional preaching, traditional church programs. Some of these (most of these in some cases), cry out for reformation. They have become expressions of dead, false religion. We should not be quick to exorcise from the church all forms of traditionalism, especially if people exercise true religion in the form of traditional worship. 

Granted, most Christians would agree with the prior statement, such agreement doesn’t eliminate the issues I have with the formula “God hates religion, but loves relationships.” Relationship is a not a direct antonym of religion. Relationship between two people does stress that God wants authenticity, but our comparison may have too steep a price. I wonder if our constant comparison of religion to relationship tickles our individualistic, non-conformist attitudes to the point where we reduce Christianity to a two way “relationship” between a person and God. How easy is it to say, “I don’t need the church or all that ceremony, I don’t need relationships with other believers, I don’t need Bible studies,  I just need God?”

The truth is, God kind of loves religion. He did,after all, set up the ceremonial rites of law for the Israelites and constantly call for obedience to that law saying that it is a wonderful thing that they have the law in the first place (Deut 4:5-8). The prophet Joel calls for repentance through the ceremonial rite of lament. Jesus often attended, participated, and encouraged following religious  ceremony (John 7, Luke 22, Matt 26, Luke 11:42).

Maybe I’m taking too much offense at this point. I know Christians who say, “It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship” don’t really mean all that. In our communicating the truth of Christianity, however, it sends the wrong message. We need to find a better way of communicating the essential nature of a vibrant relationship with God vis-a-vis the dead practice of religion.

Might a suggest another emphasis? Maybe we should say God hates falsehood but loves truth, or, if we want to be hipster about it, God hates fake but loves authentic. I suppose those words could come across as judgmental. I think, however, putting Christianity in those terms gives us the opportunity to say, “I’m the worst of the fakers. God alone is authentic, and if it weren’t for his actions in history, we have no hope of being authentic people.” 

We should be wise to consider the prophet Joel’s command to the people of Israel. Yes, he commands people to observe the ceremony of lament in response to a past tragedy and future judgment, but he also says to the people, “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (2:13) God desires authentic people to follow true religion (that is, according how he has defined true religion, not according to how we define it). Above all, love God with all your heart and do what he says to do. That is what this faker is trying to do by the grace of God alone.


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