Then there’s the larger issue of Christianity. Religion is simply the structure we erect in order to frame out and to practice belief. Christianity emerged in response to Christ. Christ predated Christianity; Jesus defeated death before anyone organized a religion in his name.
The point of Christianity is to worship God and continue the plan Jesus set in motion. Jesus put it this way, via his parting words during the Last Supper:
“My prayer is not for (my friends) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father … I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me.” (John 17:20-23).
Christianity as a religion works to the extent that it:
» introduces people to Jesus and facilitates Christ’s mission
» heals the broken relationship between God and humanity
» heals relationships between people
» invites, welcomes, restores, encourages, loves …
Christianity does not work to the extent that it:
» makes religious practice more central than God
» seeks to re-invent God in the image of people
» discourages hard questions and honest dialogue
» is defined more by what it is against than what it is for
» creates divisions between people of faith
» becomes secondary to political agendas
» condemns rather than invites
» excludes where it should open doors …
My wife, the Rev. Rebekah Maul, makes this important distinction. “Unity is not the same as unanimity,” she pointed out in church recently; “we can be one in Christ without all having the same opinion when it comes to every single detail.”
She just finished a stint as Presbytery moderator and observed how some preachers appear to revel in any opportunity to sanction others, to chide, to rebuke and to slap wrists. Others seem to live for the chance to speak against something or other. It’s all so tiresome, and so contrary to the teachings of Jesus regarding our mission to advance the Kingdom of God.
The Tower of Babel story tells how God observed the growing arrogance of people and decided to knock the self-promotion down a few notches. Christianity is often an entire landscape of such towers (even within one denomination), competing against one another and built, stone upon stone, out of an arrogance more interested in advancing personal agendas than introducing people to the Gospel of Jesus.
Nowadays I write and speak about “the life-charged life.” I believe it’s only by becoming a follower of the way of Jesus that we can begin to approach the richness and the vitality of the “life that is truly life,” the quality of life God created and specifically designed us to engage. Let’s not confuse new life in Christ with the Christianized religiosity championed by so many zealots of codified and denominationalized religious law … .
Did I say that out loud?
Seriously, folks. follow Jesus. Place your trust in Christ. Practice your faith in the way your conscience dictates. But please stop telling other people — who also love Jesus — that they are second-tier believers because they might not fit the membership requirements for your garden club or political party.
Jesus didn’t die for your personal preferences. Jesus died so that, “by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” (The Message, John 3:16-17)
Because of love.