I had lunch recently with a good friend that I hadn’t seen in a few months. He and his family are burned-out on church, deeply wounded by all of crap that goes on in the name of Christianity. Of Church. Did I say he was ex-clergy? We had a great conversation, and it was good to see him again. As he left, he said “it was really good to see you, I enjoyed lunch with you, even though you are a Christian. At least you aren’t religious...” The first half of his statement was tongue-in-cheek. The last half was deadly earnest and hit like a spiritual tsunami. Because this is how untold BILLIONS perceive the Church of Jesus. How they see Jesus.
As hard, formulaic, unbending religion. Inflexible, stern, and unwilling to lovingly lead us to healthy change.
In many ways we have become the very institution that Jesus came to destroy.
My first thought is what strange world have we crash landed on, and why do so many around us suddenly look like Apes? And can we scrape together enough food and water to make the journey home, and how many might we take back with us before it’s too late?
I’ve thought about this, and my friend is right about one thing. I no longer do “religion”. I don’t like what it has done to those I love, my friends, and so many I see around me. But I have to be honest when I look in the mirror, I see both a victim and a perpetrator. I pursued this Siren myself, and ended up on the rocks.
And I’ve discovered that it’s a very subtle addiction. It becomes a comfortable thing, very natural for us, and we take to it all too readily. We must be on-guard. For when you are thirsty, and not watchful, the right flavor of Cool-Aid will pass your lips before you know it. And you’ll suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of the fight, actually working against all that Jesus came to do. That’s not a good long-range plan.
John Eldredge, in “Beautiful Outlaw”, begins to identify the poison of Religion this way;
“If you were reading the Gospels without bias or assumption, you would have no trouble whatsoever coming to believe that religion is the enemy- or in the hands of the enemy. Jesus’ opponents are all people we would consider to be highly invested in doing religion right. They certainly considered themselves so.”
Yes, Jesus enemies were those who had determined to “do religion” right. They wanted to be good followers of “the Law”. The only problem is that if you are honest, you will fail. You will work very hard, too hard, only to be condemned in the process. The Law kills. Here’s a secret. It’s designed to work that way. To bring us to our end. It’s Russian roulette with a pretty pearl-handled pistol, all of its chambers loaded. The end is certain, the deck stacked.
The first step is to put the gun down, and give up. Surrender. People all over this land, all over this world, are walking away from religion. Many think they’re walking away from God. I know I did. Little do they know they’re actually taking several giant steps closer to Him. God is suddenly much nearer.
Back to Beautiful Outlaw, two paragraphs later;
Consider this one piece of evidence: millions of people who have spent years attending church, and yet they don’t don’t know God. Their heads are filled with stuffing about Jesus, but they do not experience him as the boys (disciples) did at the beach.
Jesus himself called true religion caring for widows and orphans. Not showing up with freshly scrubbed faces, in our finest clothes and winning an attendance pin. He called those of us who do that, who want to put our righteousness on display, white-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones. Basically, we stink on the inside. And we place heavy burdens on others, while we are unwilling to lift a finger to help. We take those who are escaping, and make them twice the sons of hell that we are.
Yes, Billy, there are still Pharisees among us. But we have met the enemy, and he is us.
He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this:
‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying,
‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“Religion gives the impression of having Christ, while inoculating us from the real thing”. It is the vaccine against what C.S. Lewis called “the Good Infection”. Religion keeps you safe, protects you from the wild, unpredictable, and dangerously free life of Jesus. It protects you from ever really knowing Him.
I think that’s why He preferred to sit with thieves, and drunks, and whores. He called them “the least of these my brothers”. They knew who they were, were done playing games, and had come out of hiding.
They basically had flunked out of Religion 101.
And suddenly they could see.