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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's wrong with religion?

Recently I've noticed a pendulum swing in culture (Both Christian and secular) away from "religion". This is, to some extent, an outworking of the impact postmodern thinking has made on us all. Spirituality through the lens of postmodernism becomes very personalized, a kind of buffet of ideas. Just walk down the line and pick what you want.

In the Christian realm, this pendulum swing sometimes works itself out in the form of the Emergent Church. Distancing itself from what's perceived as the traditional "Christian religion", the Emergent Church is focusing on the things that many Christians have admittedly dropped the ball on. Granted, these churches still have more characteristics of religion than some people would like. I have a friend that, for that very reason, has not been to church for years.

Another effect of this pendulum swing in the Christian realm is that "religion" has almost become a taboo word. If you don't believe me, consider how many times you have heard something like this from a Christian: "My faith is a relationship, not a religion". Now, this is not a terrible thing to say. It is true, to a point, but it is misleading. I wholeheartedly agree that the crux of Christianity is an individual and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, in virtue of that relationship, Jesus expects us to do certain things that will inevitably be perceived as religion. Be baptized, take communion, don't give up meeting together. There are a whole host of things the Scripture calls us to that will undoubtedly color us as a religion.

I am not saying you cannot use that "relationship, not a religion" line. We must be thinking through how we present the Gospel to such a postmodern culture, changing the method without changing the message. What I have seen that worries me more are the serious Christians who take that next step and begin having a genuine distaste for religion. Though it has been mishandled at times, I stand with James that there exists (and we should strive for) a "religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father".

So how do we respond to this? I am sorry to say it's not as easy as just distancing ourselves from the word "religion". We can try to redefine, soft-pedal, or side-step the word but eventually an obedient Christ-follower will be called to do something "religious". Jesus instituted practices like baptism and communion in his followers, both which connote an ongoing gathering of the community of believers.

Rather, we must begin pin-pointing what drove the pendulum away from religion in the first place and begin the difficult work of correcting it piece by piece. Was it the bigotry toward the homosexual community? Was it the judgmentalism directed towards a world we are called not to judge? Was it the greed seen in our ranks? What ever it is you have seen, it begins with a grassroots effort where you are, redeeming the word and the idea of religion from where it is now. Perhaps we begin with James' characteristic of pure and undefiled religion, that we "visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and keep oneself unstained from the world".

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