14 June 2017

An irreligious religion.

RELIGION ri'lɪ.dʒən noun. Worship of a superhuman controlling power, usually a personal God or impersonal universe.
2. Particular system of belief and worship, as demonstrated through actions and declarations.
3. A supremely important pursuit or interest, followed as if worship.
[Religious ri'lɪ.dʒəs adjective.]

A significant part of authentic Christianity is religion: We worship God, and we do it through actions. For any belief system which doesn’t take any action, which doesn’t result in any changed lives or good deeds (or even bad deeds), isn’t real. Or, as James puts it, it’s dead. Jm 2.26

But for a lot of Evangelicals in the United States, religion’s become a bad word. “Religious” has become mixed up with traditional. More specifically with the more empty, meaningless traditions which attempt to express worship through action, but don’t appear to bring us any closer to God.

Fr’instance. When we were kids, and somebody taught us a rote prayer, they didn’t always explain why we pray rote prayers, or what good they can do, or what use they are. Sometimes they assumed we already knew. Sometimes they gave us a brief but inadequate explanation. Usually they gave me a wrong explanation. Just as often, I’d get no explanation: “Just do it. It’s what we do.” Consequently we did it, but never saw the point. Didn’t feel like it was doing anything for us. Kinda boring, actually.

The proper term for this is dead religion: Actions we don’t really believe in. Works without faith.

If it were explained properly, would it be living religion? Sometimes. My church, I think, did a really good and thorough job of explaining water baptism to me. It’s why I still tell new believers to get baptized as soon as they can, and stop putting it off till it’s “convenient.” But despite their explanations I still don’t think it absolutely vital to dunk people, or especially to tip them backwards into the water so they can get it up their noses. But I digress.

The problem is, Evangelicals drop that adjective “dead” and simply call these works religion. To them, dead religion is what “religion” means. For Christianity isn’t about practices and rituals: It’s about faith in the living God, as defined by Christ Jesus. It’s about grace, where God grants us his kingdom despite our really obvious inadequacies. The rituals, the practices, the charity, the obedience? All that stuff’s optional, they insist, since we’re saved by grace, not works. Ep 2.8-9 And really, since the works so easily turn into works without faith, best to avoid it altogether.

That’s what Evangelicals mean when they sing Darrell Evans’ 2002 song “Fields of Grace.” Third verse:

There’s a place where religion finally dies
There’s a place where I lose my selfish pride
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace

My previous church used to sing this, and a number of ’em would give a big whoop when we sang, “religion finally dies.” Not because they’re disobedient, uncharitable Christians; not at all. Again it’s because they considered religion and dead religion to be one and the same, and they’re so happy to be done with the wasteful hypocrisy. As, I expect, does Evans when he sings this.

But here’s the problem. In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the government officially deleted words from the language. Supposedly to make it more efficient; why have the word “bad” when “ungood” can do the job? But really it was because they astutely figured if we don’t have a word for something, it’s harder to express that idea without it. So if we drop the word “religion” from Christianese… how do we discuss the idea of faith lived out in good works? which words take its place? Do any?

In my experience, no.

“It’s a relationship, not a religion.”

Found this on Pinterest. No, I don’t know who sells it. Don’t buy it. Don’t be that guy.

Thanks to the mixup between religion and dead religion, a lot of Evangelicals insist, “Oh, I’m not religious. Jesus didn’t come to start any new religion. Christianity is a relationship.” We put it on bumper stickers and T-shirts, and spread around the internet memes, and feel so clever for it.

Here’s the problem: Your average pagan doesn’t know this new improved Evangelical definition of “religion.” They only know the one we find in dictionaries. The one I quoted up top: “Particular system of belief and worship, as demonstrated through actions and declarations.”

By that definition, the line “I’m not religious” comes across as a big fat lie. ’Cause they look at our lifestyle. If we go to church with any kind of regularity, pagans consider church to be “organized religion,” and going there—and giving money to it!—is totally religious of us. Plus the prayer, the bible-reading, the bible-quoting, the good deeds, the shunning of various things we consider sinful: “What d’you mean you’re ‘not religious’? You hypocrite. You’re totally religious.”

Well, unless we’re not. If we don’t go to church, don’t pray, don’t bother with bible, don’t really believe anything—basically when we’re pagans like them.

But back the truck up: Why do we do any of the stuff which pagans call “religious”? Why church attendance, prayer, bible, lifestyle adjustments, spiritual beliefs? Simple: Faith without works is dead. And these are the most basic, ground-level works we oughta see in an actual Christian. Christianity without those is dead. The “relationship” we claim to have with Jesus, isn’t one. Relationship without religion is gonna suck.

The reason so many Christians suck at Christianity, or do it entirely wrong, is because we often don’t even bother with the basic stuff. Evangelical churches pound so hard on the “It’s not religion” mantra, we wind up with Christians who conclude, “I don’t have to go to church”—and so they don’t. “I don’t have to know my bible”—and they remain willfully ignorant. “I don’t have to pray,” and they never talk with God, never hear him talk back, and never imagine he could talk back; they think he’s as voiceless as any pagan god.

We’re supposed to be religious. Not just a little. Take a peek at that third definition again: “A supremely important pursuit or interest, followed as if worship.” When Jesus was asked the most important command in the Law—

Mark 12.29-30 KWL
29 Jesus gave this answer: “First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One.
30 You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Lv 19.18
No command is higher than these.”

—that whole “with all your heart, life, purpose, and might” idea does sound supremely important, doesn’t it? If Jesus figured this was the most important command, do you really think it’s nothing more than optional?

You know those people who are “religious” about their baseball team? Or about exercising regularly? Or about keeping up with their favorite shows, or about smoking weed? If we aren’t as hardcore about God as those people and their pursuits, how much faith do we truly have in him?

This command is in fact the foundation of our relationship. If we really have a relationship with God—if we’re not simply admiring him from afar, ’cause we’re big fans—then we’re gonna be religious about it. We’re gonna follow him. We’re gonna want to follow him. Complacency is never gonna be good enough. Figuring we’re good ’cause we believe all the right things, isn’t good enough either. We shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than New Heaven.

When complacency is totally good enough.

Where Christianism comes in is it quickly and easily replaces this devotion with cheap grace: “Why’re you striving so hard to get closer to God? Don’t you realize you already are close to him? He can’t love you any more than he already does. His burden’s supposed to be easy and light, Mt 11.30 and here you are trying to be perfect, as if that’s even possible. Stop trying to save yourself. Relax. We’ve got grace, remember?”

Sounds like good, faith-filled Christianity, doesn’t it? Here’s why it’s subtly devilish.

Arguing, “Why follow Jesus? You’re plenty close enough” is how lazy Christians squeeze just a bit of moral relativism into their bad religion. They figure goodness is too hard, and a waste of time if we’re already saved. All they really need to be be good enough. Good enough for God? No; good enough to look good. Good enough to keep other Christians off our backs. Y’know, hypocrisy.

Their justification is that following God isn’t about earning God’s approval or favor. There, they’re correct. Obedience isn’t about achieving a right standing with God; we already got right standing by trusting God. Ga 3.11 But now that we have right standing, what’re we doing living like we have no standing with God? Didn’t Jesus free us from sin? Ro 6.11-14 Didn’t God grant us his Holy Spirit, meaning we now have the power to fight sin and win? It’s no longer that we can’t resist sin; that striving for perfection is impossible. It’s not anymore!

The only reason Christians don’t try, is only because Christians don’t wanna. They’d rather sin. They’d rather take advantage of our right standing with God, and uses it to justify getting in trouble time and again, expecting (if not demanding) forgiveness and free passes instead of outrage and offense. It ain’t love. More like exploitation.

Any Christian who figures, “Since we’ve got grace, so why stress ourselves about being good?” Ro 6.1 is, to be blunt, a dick. And trying to make us feel bad, even evil, for attempting to follow Jesus, is definitely a dick move.

The reason we’re striving to stay in the light, 1Jn 1.6-7 is so our relationship with God stays a healthy one. Where we don’t take him for granted. Where we remain grateful and appreciative. Whereas if we’re not even trying to walk in the light because “grace” makes everything okay, we’re not actually free from sin. Ro 6.15-18 We have no relationship with God. We’re producing bad fruit, the sort of stuff which means we’re still pursuing our selfish nature and the world around us. Ga 5.21

Dicks don’t inherit God’s kingdom!

But this is what we’re gonna find all over Christianism: People who figure they’re saved, so they needn’t be anything more than “good enough,” and try to whitewash all their hypocrisy and compromise. They don’t love the Lord their God with all their heart, life, purpose, and might. They can’t. They have no religion.

There’s a place where religion finally dies, but there’s nothing but selfish pride at the back of it. They imagine it’s dancing with their Father in fields of grace, but it’s just lawlessness and faithlessness. A form of religion with none of God’s power in it, 2Ti 3.5 for they’ve rejected everything he cares about and stands for. Not just faith without works, or works without faith; neither. Irreligion.

Of course, in the absence of true religion, other things slip in. But I already wrote on that.