Friday, November 30, 2012

religion vs relationship

ed. note:  sorry i haven't been very attentive to the blog this week.  i know that there are many of you who check it daily, and i usually try to make every effort to be daily with new materials, but with the thanksgiving holiday combined with the passing of our beloved family dog, i haven't felt much like doing any more than absolutely necessary.  thank you for your words of sympathy and compassion which we have been so blessed to receive. 

last night at our church as we continued our journey through the not a fan study, we had a great conversation about the supposed dichotomy between religion and relationship.  this is a huge cultural epidemic, and while you may think you haven't heard of it, i'm fairly certain that you have.  it is rampant in our culture, and, by result, in our christian subculture.  let me explain.

you have heard it said in our culture, if you've been paying attention, that people are choosing to be "spiritual, not religious."  the underlying statement there is that spirituality is good and to be embraced, while religiosity is bad and smacks of institutionalism.  this kind of thinking has become absolutely paramount in our culture, and one of many contributing factors to the decline of denominationalism and church attendance in general.  so, the christian subculture responded.  this has been going on for a long time. i remember a flavor of my adolescent faith journey, being told repeatedly that God was interested in a relationship, not my religion. 

this has become a huge current within Christianity.  take a look at this video, which has well over 22 million views.  i have seen this guy promoting his views on national television, and he is simply the vehicle for a message that has found its way into so many churches.  the message goes like this:  you don't need religion; religion is just rules and empty ritual.  what you need is Jesus.  what you need is love. 


let me be a voice crying out in the wilderness that this is utterly ridiculous, looks nothing like the faith of Christ's first followers, and is, at its core, just a pandering to the culture. 

Christianity, not virginia, is for lovers.  to be clear, the religion is not about laws.  when jesus was asked by the jews to try and explain which laws of their faith were most important, Jesus very clearly stated that all of the law could be summed up in one simple command: love God with all of who you are.  then he added a quick post script: love your neighbor as yourself.  there it is.  that's it.  love. 

and so it becomes so tempting to stop right there and just preach that message, and just tell our culture of convenience that faith can be convenient, too.  all you need is love.  just like the beatles said. 

but here's the problem.  love is not all you need.  you need something else, too.  call it discipline.  call it commitment.  call it religion.  call it whatever you want, but without you will not be able to have that relationship you are so desperately trying to boil it all down to.

think of an engaged couple.  they are in love.  they are head over heels with one another.  they want to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment with one another.  they will do crazy things for love.  it compels them.  but then they will stand up in front of God and their families and friends one day and they will say things like, "i promise to keep serving you even when i don't feel like it.  even when the money is tight.  even when you are sick and have nothing to offer me.  even when life stinks and i would much rather just run from it all, i promise to be there for you, to honor you, to serve you and to love you." 

that, my friends, is a commitment.  and although it is just words at that point, it has a chance to be a way of life.  and in fact, it will most certainly be tested over time.  without the commitment; without the discipline; without the ritual and routine and religion, we rely solely on emotions, which will ebb and flow, like the sea. 

it is absolutely true that Christianity is for lovers.  it is absolutely true that Jesus wants you to trade in your worldview of rules and empty rituals for a relationship with him.  but he wants you to understand that he says, "if you love, you will obey my commands."  the love we so deeply want to "sell" to our culture is not easy.  it is that kind of "for better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health" kind of love that is seriously hard work.  but it is love.  it is love that compelled Christ to die.  it is love that washes away our guilt.  it is love that gives us abundant life.  it is love that compels us to be religious about how we choose to respond.  it is love that causes a bunch of ragtag ragamuffins to get together each week and say grand things about this God, and organize their resources so that they can best show this good news to their neighbors, and call the whole thing "church."  it is love that allows those same people to admit that they get it wrong way more than they get it right.  it is love that moves them to keep trying.  it is love that is it at the core of christianity. it is love that is the seed at that core.  religion is the tree that grows from that seed.  not to set up rules and barriers and restrictions, but to provide shade, life, and nourishment.