Last time I talked about Steve Jobs, about the process of death and resurrection and how in order to live a full, free live in tune with the way of Jesus, that we need to learn how to embrace the process of death and resurrection in order to truly live.
Today I want to take that discussion on. Because if this process of death and resurrection is true for us in our own individual faith journey, then it is certainly true for us as a church – a community of believers worldwide, and individual churches – and even possibly true of religion and maybe Christianity itself.
I’ve never been a fan of religion. To me it always seemed like a moral version of politics. The Oxford definition of religion is:
“the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power , especially a personal God or gods; a particular system of faith and worship ; a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion”
Contrast that with the unofficial definition of it in the picture above:
‘An organised system or institution of belief based upon the traditions of men instead of the pursuit of friendship with God – or the act of playing church, exchanging internal truths for external performance, substituting spiritual realities with carnal rituals’
I wonder, which of those is truly most accurate about the Christian religion and what the church of Jesus looks like today? Many would say there’s a bit of both, others would point largely to the latter one and still others would ignore and disregard the latter one as cynical and dismiss it completely. Such is human nature. The real question is, does the church today and the Christian religion accurately reflect what Jesus originally intended – and what are we willing to do to ensure we continue to be faithful to the way of Jesus?
In my experience – and indeed through history, religion, sadly, is a place where you find lots of people who start out with good intentions, great values and ideals, but end up building up an organisation which ends up becoming so big or successful that it loses it’s heart in trying to preserve it’s existence. It builds up it’s own set of traditions and values and these can end up becoming more important than the values on which the organisation was valued. Anyone who has been in and around church – or any religious institution – for any length of time will tell you how political it can be. As a Christian I’ve always believed Jesus was bigger than that, and wanted us to be above all that, and that one of the ways we do this is by modeling ourselves on Him – including the process of death and resurrection.
Without it, the Christian faith and church doesn’t exist – and as I’ve said, it’s at the heart of what we believe and how we should live.
Honestly, I believe Jesus wants us to give up our religion as we know it.
Jesus consistently comes into conflict and criticises people who use God as a means of controlling people. That’s the danger of religion, and it’s how it’s been abused over the centuries, both politically, publicly and privately. Even in the Christian church, sadly.
These are often the big criticisms that people have of the church – they aren’t actually to do with Jesus, they are to do with religion. And religion does have its problems.
Come on. There isn’t really a doubt about it. Even the staunchest defenders of traditional religion would say it has its flaws. We all have a religion you see – what grounds us, whatever we fundamentally believe about the universe, what governs and dictates our values and decisions, that’s our religion.
And Jesus, I believe, came to argue for an end to religion as we know it.
Look at ‘the church’ as an institution, a rule/tradition-based organisation with structure and size. It has a lot of flaws – and not just because it’s run by human beings who are all, by definition, sinners who need God’s salvation.
It has a lot of flaws because the sad fact is that the bigger these kind of organisations get and the more their longevity the easier it is to be drawn away from their radical revolutionary, insurrectionary heart. They find a comfort zone, a safe place, where they can grow and achieve success and stability, and although in language and to a degree in action they may remain the same, something gets lost.
Fear comes in and people start to get protective of what they have, so they become fearful of allowing parts of it – or indeed the entire structure itself – to die in order to discover the heart of what they intended. So in the process they lose that heart, and the passion, the centre of what motivates them changes – they are now seeking to preserve something that works rather than pursue the ideal they started out with, so something is lost.
Then what happens is down the years, new groups spring up, all seeking to recapture this heart that was lost, and rediscovering it. But the same thing happens; they get success and achievement, find a formula that works and become fearful of losing it, so again another renewal becomes necessary.
This is a pattern that I have seen in the church – though fortunately, not yet my own – and a pattern which manifests itself in our lives. We often start out young with big dreams and ideals, and as we get older, get more financial security and stability, we often lose something of what we started out with. Sometimes, we end up being less faithful to God than we were when we started. We might still be in church, but it’s not the same as it was, and there is a part of us which wishes things were as they were, but doesn’t think it’s possible. We stop being challenged and get into a comfort zone with God where we think we’ve reached a level of maturity that is satisfactory, and just stop growing. We might still be involved with church and active within it, but something is missing – and we feel it deep inside us.
Something is lost when actually what was needed was a process of death and resurrection, renewal and restoration.
This is the problem when faith in God becomes religious, or when religion becomes the God.
I am simply not convinced Jesus came here to start a new religion.
For a start off, Jesus was a Jew, and He said Himself He came to complete the law. He was the Messiah promised to the Jews, and at the same time said that God’s kingdom was now open to all. He tore down the temple curtain and allowed the spirit of God into the whole world, and told His disciples to spread the gospel to everyone.
This wasn’t a new religion, it was in one sense the fulfillment of religion, and opening the door to a new way of living with God at it’s centre and with community – church – at it’s heart, but without religion. He set in place values for us to live by, and showed us in Himself this process of death and resurrection which is necessary in order for us to be truly alive – and we need to be applying that to every area of our lives, and the church needs to be just as willing to look at itself and allow certain things to die in order for it to be fully alive and embracing the life Jesus called us to.
Indeed, in ‘The Fidelity of Betrayal’, Peter Rollins argues that we must be willing to betray our faith sometimes in order to be faithful to it, using the example of Judas and saying that ulitimately, His betrayal of Jesus – which led to the crucifixion and resurrection, through which salvation was ultimately made possible, could be argued as an act of supreme fidelity to the Christian faith – betraying Jesus so that He could fulfill His divine calling.
I’m not saying I necessarily agree or disagree with that, but I in terms of our discussion think it points to a bigger question.
I wonder, does that mean we should be willing to allow the institutionalised, traditional, political church as it is, to die – in order that Christ’s church might be fully alive?
I’m not saying I believe this necessarily, nor making this a statement of fact, but it’s a question we shouldn’t be afraid to ask.
In fact, questions like this are vital to the growth of the church – both corporately and as individual churches, and indeed individual Christians. It’s often in discussing the difficult or what would seem unthinkable that you find positive ways forward.
In the New Testament Jesus says it straight out “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven” (Matthew 18 v 18). Maybe this is a hint at this type of process, Jesus knowing what eventually will happen, knowing human nature and the nature of church & religion.
It could be argued He is giving us authority almost to go through this process – as individuals, and as churches, maybe even denominations.
Church can be so political – and that should never get in the way of knowing God or our relationships with Him. It’s true of our own individual lives as well – when we get success, achievement, security, we want to keep hold of it so it becomes more tempting to compromise.
We must always be careful never to hold on to any of these things too tightly, always be willing to let them go, allow them to die, and in so doing we can find on the other side a new life, new vitality, a freshness.
Jesus wants us to practice death and resurrection as a process, not just a physical one when we die, but all the way through our lives – and that applies as much as a church and a faith as it does individually. It means that we must be willing to let go of things we consider important for the good of the kingdom – never compromising the values of Jesus for the sake of politics, religion, or legalism – or indeed, for anything – whilst being careful to act in a way which loves and serves our neighbour, and always honours God.
We must not be afraid, as individuals and churches, to have the difficult discussions and make the difficult decisions, provided they are what God is calling us to do.
It’s the only way that the church of Jesus, and the way of Jesus, can grow & thrive. Otherwise, we may lose the heart of what we believe, for the sake of maintianing the status quo – the exact problem that Jesus hinted was the problem with the Pharisees of His day.
Let’s not be Pharisees. Let’s be disciples.
Do you think the church and Christianity as a whole embraces this mechanism?
What would it look like for ‘traditional churches’ to live or conduct themselves this way? What would it look like in your church?
Do you think Jesus came to end religion as we know it? Why/why not?
What are your thoughts on the issue of ‘Dying to live’ & this blog series?