Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The "R" Word

Not just for those of us who left Adventism, but within the ranks of modern Christianity there is a contempt for religion. The enlightened individualistic Spirituality has divorced its spouse, Religion, because of its hypocrisy, greed, falseness and abuse of authority. Religion has earned itself such a bad reputation as to evoke hostility at the mere mention of its name.

Shun religion, embrace spirituality: that is the thrust of many Christians and interestingly enough, her theological enemy, the secular humanist. The Christian's fear of organized worship is happily in step with many secularists' hatred of religion and goals of keeping it "contained."

There seems to be this propulsion towards an internalized, private mystical spirituality that inspires no outward rites--a type of cleaving of the outward physical worship of the body and the inward transcendental worship; as if we can split our body and soul in two. Religion is the bad material, physical expression, while the non-physical is the authentic version of worship.

Yet, religion is simply the exterior demonstration, the communal expression of our hearts and minds. We are made both physical matter and spirit, worship of our God must be found in both body and soul.

Actually, you CAN be religious--even alone, at home by yourself in prayer and Bible study. Do you follow any type of form? Bible study, then prayer? Do you have any rituals involved in your personal worship? Do you habitually kneel or stand? Do you keep a prayer journal? Well, any habitual outward expression of worship is .... religious? So you might be religious and don't know it.

I can hear what you are thinking. It is organized dogma from GROUPS of people that is intrinsically wrong and prone to abuse, not your particular theological interpretations. It is practiced GROUP rituals, not your own physical worship expressions that are to blame for all the world's ills. Well, if you think that, you are not alone. Join the world in its skepticism, its suspicion of groups of people forming together to worship God and following a leader to pray and praise. Scary stuff.

The atheists would agree. Keep religion a private, personal matter. NO ORGANIZED RELIGION!

After all, when it is just Jesus and me, the doctrines remain pure. When it is just Jesus and me I don't have to compromise or submit. Personal individualized spirituality is perfect-- it feels good for there is nobody to disagree with you or hold you accountable--we are just floating little Christian islands. But is that Biblical?

Nope, a Christian individualized version of worship is not all that is needed. The Bible sets up a church community with teachers and pastors and evangelists--there are shepherds and sheep in the Kingdom of God. How can you be both shepherd and sheep when you only accept a personalized spirituality that is independent of organized others? Jesus tells us not just to go into the closet and pray, but to "not forsake the assembly." Worship is both private and communal, physical and spiritual.

I don't think religion is really the bad guy here. We don't hate corporate religious expression. What we actually hate is false Christian authority and we hate the abuse of true authority. False authority lies to us, leads us astray. Many former Adventists know the sting of false authority and how it can twist your mind and actions. Many other Christians have endured abuse under a true Church authority and have been left spiritually crippled for life.

Remember the severe chastising Christ gives to the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23 when he calls them murders, white-washed tombs and hypocrites? Notice Jesus did not attack the system but the abuses of the system! Before taking the religious leaders to task He commands the people in verse three to obey them. The religious community and organization itself was set up by God.

Jesus did not come to condemn and abolish religion but to transform it from one covenant to a better one. He came to set up a kingdom with true authorities, not spiritual autonomy or anarchy. The Bible condemns self-made religion.

Colossians 2:23

These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

His kingdom has done much for the world. The organized Christian religion has introduced orphanages, international laws, marriage of one man and one woman, the university system that we know of today and the largest charitable institutions known to mankind. When Christians organize and unite in both worship and in doing good works, we change the world. And that is just why the Devil is so intent on painting religion out as the bad guy.

Yes, much human atrocities have been done in the name of religion, but even more human atrocities have been done in the name of other human organizations. Sin is a human condition, not just a religious one.

James 1:27 NAS

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this : to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The Bible puts religion in a good light. Stand firm agains the false kingdoms of religion and the abuses within the true kingdom, but remember the kingdom itself is religious in nature. The kingdom is God's bride and He is coming back and will find her spotless and pure. True religion is our way of reuniting or (re-ligamenting) with the Father.