Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
- James 1:27
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
- Matthew 16:15-20
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
- John 14:5-7
I used a phrase in yesterday’s post that might have offended some people, “Churchie stuff,” actually Huckleberry used the phrase. As opposed to apologizing (I am sorry that you are offended.), I will differentiate a few terms. Jedidiah could probably do a much better job.
Fritz Ridenour wrote a marvelous book in 1971, How to be a Christian without being Religious. It was eye-opening for me, having been born-again not that long at the time. I wish I still had my copy. In the book, Ridenour discusses the legalistic way of the Pharisee of old having found its way into the church of today and the thinking of most church goers. Could we continue to be a Christian without the religious rituals? Could we continue to be Christians without all the rules? Sure, many rules within church polity are based on things established in the Bible, but so many are not.
Martin Luther debated in Leipzig 500 years ago in June and July. It is funny that we celebrated the birth of the Protestant Reformation on the anniversary of the 95 Theses, but the reformed church really got its start in 1519 when Luther would not back down from the emissaries of Rome and Luther gained acceptance from the royal family in Germany, although tenuous. Albeit, the snowball that began to roll down hill started with the 95 Theses. Among Luther’s arguments over this time period was that Luther had read the Scriptures and there was no mention of a pope, or even the concept thereof. In the Leipzig debates, Luther said the same thing about purgatory. Although he had not fully developed the concept, Sola Scriptura was formulating in his mind, with help from the Holy Spirit. In other words, let’s stick to the Scriptures and don’t add any anything extra that is dreamed up by man.
The point of bringing up Luther’s arguments is that in his way he was saying bits of what Ridenour would say roughly 450 years later. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water, but let us get rid of the non-essential religious stuff. In spite of the efforts of Luther and Ridenour, we still have a lot of non-essential religious stuff in almost every church and denomination. It reminds me of what Jesus said about divorce (Matthew 19:1-12). Our Heavenly Father would prefer no concept of divorce, but He realized that humans were thick-headed and at times hard-hearted. The same could be said for religion and ‘church,’ for that matter.
This is a set of rules, rituals, ceremony, order of worship, etc. to place the body of believers in a worshipful atmosphere. Is there any right or wrong religion? I don’t know about “right” religion. Sometimes it’s what you are used to, what kind of music you like, what style of worship sets you in a state that is closer to God.
For me, I am an old fuddy-duddy. I prefer a Fanny Crosby or Isaac Watts (A. W. Tozer’s favorite) hymn on occasion, not every Sunday. I get nervous and uneasy if we go a month without a golden oldie that I know. I don’t mind a contemporary song to mix things up, but when the clapping gets too loud to hear the words, I have a problem with that. Worship music may be emotionally uplifting, but if that uplifting direction is not toward Jesus, forget it.
“Wrong” religion is widespread and running amok. In fact, running amok may be a form of worship for some and it might seem fun, but it would set few people in a worshipful mood. Really wrong religion is anything that takes the focus away from Jesus or violates the Biblical teachings (not referring to the second half of Exodus and Leviticus at this point). But outside that, if you want ear-splitting loud modern music, knock yourself out. I will pass on that. My ears could not stand it. If you want a multi-campus church where the pastor’s image and audio is transmitted to all campuses at the same time, something seems wrong with that, but to each their own. Actually, my son was going to a church like that. At one point, he discovered that the preacher wasn’t at any of the churches for a short time. He simply replayed old sermons, and it took the collective congregations a couple of months to realize he was taking Sundays off, allegedly. They kept thinking that he was at a different campus. Did they finally realize what was going on when someone remembered that he’d preached on that topic once before? Was it a test to see if anyone had been listening?
The Scripture from James above says it well. Let’s help those less fortunate than ourselves – with or without ‘religion,’ and let’s not get polluted by the world – which really hits the nail on the head, and where a lot of “wrong religion” gets its start.
Now let’s get to the Scripture from Matthew. Most people think that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter to establish Peter as the Rock, the foundation of the church. Peter was loud and he had no filter when he started talking, but Jesus established Himself as the Rock. Peter had just said that Jesus was the Messiah. It was then ‘Jesus as Messiah’ that was the foundation of the ‘church.’ This passage of Scripture in no way establishes Peter as the first pope.
Look up references to ‘church’ in the book of Acts. They refer to the believers, not a building. We have gotten so hung up on a building that we have transferred the meaning to an inanimate object that can be worshipped, a graven image, if you will. Two problems there. One, some people worship the lovely surroundings – the building itself. Two, some people worship the fact that they are members of the organization that the building represents. Thus, membership in the church is their ‘salvation.’ Some of those ‘members’ may not believe that Jesus ever existed, but they think that they are saved through their membership. The true believers are a small subset of that total membership. As for the others, a defense on Judgment Day of ‘I was a member of ____’ will receive a response of ‘Depart. I do not know you.’
Yet, Jesus wants us to have communion with other Christians. The ‘church’ – that collection of believers – provides an opportunity for that. We can each encourage each other.
But as for “Churchie stuff,” is there any reason to call something a ‘Narthex?’ It seems so pretentious. Our church calls it the Welcome Center. I am to blame, but I really prefer Narthex (note fuddy duddy above). There was once a counter in the corner of the Narthex, one of those counters that is designed to be manned, to have someone standing behind the counter. Leading the Evangelism team, the team decided to put the counter to use. We manned the counter after each service and I suggested a sign to say ‘Welcome Center’ – for the counter, not the whole room. The Welcome Center counter personnel were there to answer all visitor’s questions. We created a huge notebook, so that a novice behind the counter would have almost every conceivable answer – about the church, not Jesus (unfortunately). After leaving the Evangelism team a few years later, no one manned the counter anymore. The counter was eventually torn down to have more room for more tables so that people could drink coffee.
Will Jedidiah return in future posts? I am sure he will. He may tackle more Churchie stuff (a term used by Huckleberry, not Jed), and we may introduce another cowboy to ask questions about that religious stuff. But Jedidiah will always try to turn the focus from the trivial (that some outsiders fixate upon) back to Jesus. I think Jedidiah’s conversations might be funny, but also instructive. We need to rid ourselves of our own pretentiousness and focus on Jesus. And so few church members know the answers to Huckleberry’s Churchie stuff questions. We should also understand what is trivial and what is Truth and the Way.
The Scripture from John says that Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life. He wants a personal relationship with you. That does not require a religion. That does not require a church. A church family is almost a absolute necessity when you consider how we have to survive in a fallen world. But the key is just a relationship between you and the Creator of the Universe.
If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, I will be seeing you and we can talk. If not here in this world, I will see you in the next.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.