Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In Defense of Religion

In my post yesterday, I made an unsupported claim that the concept of religion, specifically Christianity, seems to have fallen out of public favor. This should not surprise me, as people have taken many wretched actions in the name of Christianity, ranging from war to intolerance to hypocrisy to a lot of other bad stuff. Though I feel these sins are not fairly balanced in the public eye by the immeasurable good done in the name of Christianity, it is still easy to understand why people do not care much for it.

What causes me more concern is the lack of respect that people who claim to follow Jesus Christ maintain for the religion of Christianity. Often have I heard a peer claim that he or she does not have a religion but rather a relationship.

This statement always leaves me wondering when the two became mutually exclusive.

This emphasis on a relationship with God deserves great merit. My friend used to wear a shirt that proclaimed on the front that "Life is all about" and on the back "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." I always thought this shirt was funny because it was exceedingly cheesy. Plus, the fella was rather goofy and wore the shirt in good humor. Nonetheless, the shirt is correct. God's description of his relationship with us carries too much intimate diction for us to believe that the end of life lies in cold, works-based religion.

Once again, the reasons for deriding religion, even for a Christian, are not difficult to understand. We often have had to attend church out of peer pressure or guilt. A very real temptation exists to read and even memorize creeds and Scripture without them taking any root in our hearts. Church is boring and we "don't get anything out of it." Youth group simply is a place of ridicule and ostracization. I receive enough of that at school, thank you very much.

For all these reasons, I gave up going to church shortly after Jesus became Lord of my life. I had Jesus Christ. I did not need his church or his people.

Excuse my potty-mouth but this thinking is hogwash. Religion supports a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As is so often the case, the issue here is not external. Sure, the church has its problems. However, my guilty attendance, my indifferent heart, my boredom with the Word of God, my insecurities are not the church's fault. These issues are internal. Thus, the major "problems" associatd with religion lie within me and not with religion at all. Ironically, it is this religion with its historical creeds, its biblical teaching, its true worship, and its fierce accountability that equip me to deal more rightly with these internal sins.

This "give me Jesus without religion/church" attitude is a relatively recent phenomenon. The book of Acts implies that faith without church community would be absurd. It is a given that believers are active members of a church body. I fear that our modern-day rebellion against religion emerges from the current attitude which rejects all authority, rejects any notion of submission, rejects the idea that anyone or anything knows what's best for us. So often those I hear proclaiming relationship without religion are the ones spurning the Christian ethic described and modeled by Christ.

Perhaps we flee religion because we prefer our ways to those of Christ, and we do not want anyone to tell us otherwise.

The church, the modern-day poster-child of Christian "religion," is a beautiful thing. It is simultaneously an organization with guidelines and rules while also being a source of grace and love. Jesus founds his church upon the apostle Peter, and Paul spends epistle after epistle writing about church organization and responsibility. Jesus calls the church his intimate bride and Paul weeps when leaving the church at Ephesus for the final time.

Contrary to our over-simplified view of spiritual matters, organized religion does not stand as a hindrance to a loving relationship with Father. The two work together for our God and for the glory of God.

Relationship not religion, the world says.

Relationship with religion, I say.


Jeff said...

aight, i'm going to nitpick you here...
you started out talking about church, and then you started talking about religion.
i see your point and understand what you're talking about, but i don't necessarily think those words are interchangeable.
church to me = community of believers and i agree that the idea of having a faith without attending some sort of church is an issue.
but, religion could mean any of 1000 different things. are you talking about theology or what? or are you talking about church? it's a little confusing.

Bradley said...

Jeff's very valid concerns put aside, I'd like to offer a hearty "Amen" to Mr. Humphries' arguments. Who'd have thunk these perspectives would come from Ben three years ago?

Anonymous said...

Though I in no way consider dictionaries to be benchmarks for speech, they are nonetheless handy in gaining a concise common definition.

Religion: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

Thus, a Christian religion would be inextricably linked to "the church," because it is in the church that the beliefs, practices, and especially the institutions are passed down. Ben's implicit connection might have been hasty, but it wasn't ill-formed. Find someone who rebels against institutional Christianity and they're not likely to be big on the idea of "church."

Though, a little clarification of terms always helps.

Oakley said...

As always, good thoughts on the issue of personal relationship w/o "the Church". From the people that i've talked to, this notion of shying away from the Church seems to be because too many in the Church have wielded their beliefs as various weapons of condemnation and judgement. I think everyone goes through a period when they are new to Christ where they only want that personal relationship. I would love to hear what other people think on exactly how a relationship with Christ matures and changes and also how this relates to how you evangelize. It would be unwise to ignore the fact that certain truths for people in different places of their relationship aren't yet appropriate for people in a different spiritual place. The Church is a place where we should all be able to gather and glorify in everyone's differing walks with God and learn.

AJ said...

Good post Ben. This is extremely true in this day where almost everyone professes to "believe in God" or have a "personal relationship" with Jesus. The profession that a person makes is worth absolutely nothing, it is only those who do the will of the Father as Matthew 7 states that many will say they believed in Jesus. The church is full of unregenerate people today who have no interest in theology (the teaching of living to God) or doctrine (I assume thats what you mean by religion), they really don't care at all what the Bible teaches about how to live and what God requires of us, they would rather keep this world and all its filth while believing a lie.

I like when you said "organized religion does not stand as a hindrance to a loving relationship with the Father". This is true of every true Christian, and the issue of a relationship is that God deals with us as His children (Heb 12) and He will discipline us. Every trial and tribulation should be counted a great joy because it is to make you more like Jesus. David says in Psalm 119 many times that he loves and meditates on Gods statutes and laws day and night. Matthew 13:44 could not say it any better, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." If this is not true of a professor, then "religion" to them is, well, just religion, and their "faith" is nothing more than a presumption.

Anyways, I could go on forever...

Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ,


Anonymous said...

ha, I will experiment my thought, your post get me some good ideas, it's really amazing, thanks.

- Joe