Monday, January 23, 2012

Religious, Religion, Church and Jesus

My brother sent me a link the other day to a YouTube video of a poem titled Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.

In order to discuss this issue with any clarity, we need to set some definitions, create some boundary conditions, as we used to say in Math class. These are topics which often cause a lot of irrational, hostile and belligerent discussions.
At first glance at the topic of this video I was offended. First of all I don't want anyone attacking my church. Then I watched it. I watched it twice.
A lot of people won't even listen to this video because of the title. They are instantly offended and think it is anti-Christian.
So let's get some definitions out of the way. I'll start with the easy one: Jesus. Jesus, often given His title of Christ as a surname, refers to the Messiah Jesus Christ of the Bible's New Testament. According to Wikipedia (go donate now!) "Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93-94 AD, includes two references to Jesus in Books 18 and 20." So let's agree that Jesus, called the Christ, existed in the early AD years, and that's who we refer to.
In my case, Jesus is more than just a name, more than just an historical person, He is the incarnate God Almighty, YHWH come to earth. He died for my sins and offered me eternal life with Him, an offer I eagerly accepted as a teen and grew to understand more fully as an adult. But for our discussion, we don't even need to have that much understanding of who He is. I might put a comment in on that later.
Religion is defined ( as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." For our purposes, this will suffice, though it's a bit pedantic. It's all that stuff them folks get together to talk about on church day. How about that?
Religious is a seemingly innocuous word simply meaning the characteristics of a particular religion. Without a noun attached this word has little purpose. A religious cause, a religious war, a religious town, a religious person - now the subtle connotations evoke visceral feelings. More on this one in the discussion.
What is Church? That's a little tougher. I grew up as a Catholic, raised by a mother who was raised Baptist and became Catholic as an adult. After her divorce the Catholic CHURCH tossed her aside (so she felt) and she became a Lutheran. After my first divorce I became a Methodist, because it was an easy choice for me and they still love Jesus. After my second divorce I became a Baptist, not because of the denomination but because of the people in the specific church itself. Many of the individuals, through their kindness and tender care saved me by helping me get through a really bad time.
I later found out that my Mother was broken-hearted, but she felt much better after meeting so many of the fine people who were part of the Baptist church I belonged to.
But these are denominations. Is that what we mean by CHURCH? Do we mean denominations? Or do we mean, as I often use the term, the entire population of good-hearted, god-fearing, Jesus-loving Christian believers, regardless of denomination?
Perhaps it would be more appropriate to define these terms as used by the poet, Jefferson, in the link. So I'll do my best. Jesus is the same person to Jefferson as He is to me. When Jefferson refers to religion, he means it as the definition indicates, as a set of beliefs shared by a group of people, excluding him. The term religious is used negatively by Jefferson; I think of it that way also when I think of the Crusades as a religious war. When Jefferson refers to Church, I'm still a little baffled. He says he loves his Bible, love the church and loves Jesus, yet at other times indicates that the church religion is simply bad news. I think he mixes the use of the word. I'll try to clarify when I discuss the video.
That's a lot of text to jump in and say that Jefferson's video/poem doesn't offend me after listening to it. The title of the video will put people off and people will skip the video because of it. As my mother would say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
It did make me think, but Jefferson didn't change my mind about religion or Jesus. Raised a Catholic, I've always had a problem with the authoritative stance of the Catholic hierarchy. I'm cautious of many religious leaders who proclaim they know the secret to entering heaven or, as many likely advertise today, the secret to health, wealth and happiness as a Christian on Earth. There is no secret, people! There's this little book you can get almost anywhere, in almost any language, which explains the Christ-centered point of view and it spells it all out.
People are sinners. You doubt it? Check your thoughts. Think about what you thought when that guy cut you off in traffic.
From a Christian perspective (which is my perspective):

1. God loves us (anyway)

2. God became a man, Jesus, and He died to pay the price for our inevitable sins

3. Because of that payment God can offer the gift of eternal life to every man, woman and child on Earth, which is why He did it

4. Eternal life is a gift, but you need to accept it, and that's simple. 

A) Admit you're a sinner. It's not like God doesn't know and you're telling Him a big secret. He KNOWS. You want to know how MUCH He knows, then watch the amazing movie "The Passion of the Christ" and realize the torture was dialed back for the movie.

B) Believe Jesus died for your sins, rose from the dead and that He paid the price for all the sins of mankind, including that time you thought those bad thoughts about your brother.

C) Confess - admit, acknowledge - that Jesus, the Christ, is your Lord, God and Savior.

In his video poem Jefferson acknowledges that he loves Jesus, and I know the reason why he does. He loves Him for the same reason I do.
And we hate religion for the same reasons, because religion drives a wedge between Jesus and individuals. Religion was invented by man to enslave man. A relationship with Jesus gives freedom. One of the ministers in my past used to tell how people would come up to him and say "If I accept Jesus as my Savior, then all my sins are forgiven? Heck, I'll accept Him and sin all I want!" (Funny, that I've had the same thing said to me, isn't it?) His reply is classic. "If you really accept Jesus, you'll find yourself sinning more than you want."

He says religion is man-centered, but Jesus is God-centered. Again, I'd agree, except that Jesus is God. Jesus brought us what we need to heal our relationship with our Heavenly Father, God incarnate. He also brought us a lot of good information on how to heal relationships with the other people on our common planet. 

Jefferson says he loves the Bible. Well, I don't love my Bible, but I trust it and accept that it is a good historical document (with more authentication than any other ancient document) AND I accept that it is God's way to give me insight into who He truly is, or as much as I can understand of that. Funny thing is that the people who are most vociferous in condemning the Bible have never read it. Besides all that, it is full of good, strong stories with fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. No wonder why in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn the mother insists the children learn to read only two books - Shakespeare and the Bible.

Jefferson also says, in the same statement, that he loves his church. I'm guessing he means the group of people he worships with on a regular basis, not The Church, as in the hierarchical man-made structure. I'd agree with him on that one. Don't knock my Church, because it is world-wide and full of good-hearted, strong people who would die for each other. End time prophecy says we'll be doing that soon.
How about you?

It isn't the building in which you're sitting.
It isn't the song you're singing.
It IS who is your Eternal King?

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