Lately I've been enjoying Authentic Christianity by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, which deals namely in the books of Acts where we find the beginnings of the modern Christian church and established religion under Jesus's umbrella. This morning, I ran across this passage and thought it interesting:
"We must get rid of this notion that the church is a national institution or any other form of human institution. She is not a club or a society where people meet together and do certain things. I never like to hear people referring to a building as a church. 'I'm going down to the church,' they say. But the church does not consist of a building; it consists of people, living souls with the Lord in their midst. We must get rid of this external notion, this idea of just paying a kind of formal visit upon God and then forgetting all about Him. That is religion, the very antithesis of the Christian faith."
I thought this was kind of interesting, in light of a recent video by a member of Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church, who'd made a statement about why he hated religion but loved Jesus. In an article by Christian Post, the maker of the video, Jefferson Bethke, said this: "My heart behind the video and the lyrics really has to do with just reading the Scripture and seeing a staunch juxtaposition that Jesus would always do in regards to highlighting people who are only about the external not the internal." Notice the use of the word 'external' in both quoted passages.
This rather modern notion, that Jesus was misunderstood and radical in the face of an institutionalized religion, is becoming very popular among young people. Think a sort of third wave Christianity--not Pharisaical, but not so radical and biblically literal that it prompts its followers to go out and do something about their faith, beyond making videos about loving Jesus. And while the video may give us warm fuzzies and cause us to go on a spiritual high for a few hours, ripping apart the Bible to find the Jesus described by the humble Bethke, such questioning might make us forget that Jesus was very 'religious.' He was, after all, a Jew, and observed all the feasts and practices expected of him as such. He introduced a new way of approaching God, true, but not because the old ways, prescribed by God Himself in the first place, were wrong. Yes, some of the tenets of the Judeo-Christian faith had been taken out of context by pious individuals, but Jesus came to set everyone straight and get them on the same page, and also to preach about grace and salvation through His blood. He wasn't necessarily uprooting the old ways, but integrating His very near presence into a new line of thought, a line that allowed for salvation in His blood where before it had only been through the paltry blood of perfect lambs and other beasts, and confessions made with all the holy sorrow of true contriteness.
What I think Lloyd-Jones was driving at in the passage above is Christianity becomes tricky when we put honor on ourselves for a successful plan or church growth or ministerial opportunity or what have you. Christianity ceases to become a faith when we're responsible for anything about it! Who do we think we are, anyway? We are the perpetrators of nothing; God is the Mover of all things. We are responsible only for how we walk in faith with Him, and not the building up or tearing down of His Bride, the church. Jesus loved the church; He didn't want to see it fall prey to high and mighty ideas or human, selfish pride. While it's natural for us to look at the word religion and get all manner of straightjacket connotations, this isn't what Jesus preached, and it isn't what He wants us to think. Yes, question your faith, and yes, dig down for yourself and investigate things you don't understand, but don't be fooled by the bad rap 'religion' has gotten. Religion is no bad thing; what sets Christianity apart from other religions, ones which probably do deserve the bad rap, is that it's relationship, rather than ritual, based. We are alive and producing works of faith because we have confessed to a God Who loves us, not because we did a bunch of things right. Lloyd-Jones is saying that a church can become about the building and the trappings and furnishings, and not about the God Who gives His people the breath and ability to get up in the morning and go to that church.
So if by religion we mean acts that we can execute on our own, outside of the will and fathership of God, a list of rules and rituals for us to perform before we are *enlightened* in the Lord, then sure, religion is a bad word with which to describe Christianity. But going back to the Bible will show any believer patient enough to read that Jesus was not against religion, and Christianity as a religion does not strip any of the wonder or radical faith away. Christianity, as a religion, asks us to surrender all and give God the glory; religion as a mere word asks us to take it upon ourselves to play God.
Religion is like the comfort of a mother's hand when you're sick, but also the discipline of a father's judgment when you disobey. Strip one of these aspects away, and the balance tips for the worse. Both components must be present; we can't be all radical and frothing at the mouth for the sake of a Jesus Who established a religion in Himself, gently guiding followers into a faith that used religion and then putting Himself in the center of that religion. But on the other hand, we can't be all about rituals and programs, and the stuff that brings us praise, because that isn't what God is about. Christianity as a religion works; but Christianity as a religion, and not Christianity, or Christianity without the religion, flops in light of biblical readings.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones may have given me a headache this morning, but I'm no worse off for it, so I won't complain!