Saturday, June 16, 2007

Religious Dysfunction

I was talking with a pastor friend of mine yesterday and he was retelling a story of how a group of men that he is connected to are learning to be really open and honest with each other. On the drive home from visiting a prison the question came up about which of these sins: power, money or sex, have the greatest chance of creeping into their hearts. What was refreshing and encouraging to my friend was that the men answered honestly about their struggles and that they were there to strengthen each other in order to overcome their particular area of weakness.

I fully agree we need more honest discussions like these but I also know that within many church models these conversations and care are rare to say the least. Week after week many Christians unfailingly go to a Sunday church “serve us” and yet rarely end up in trusting relationships like my friend is experiencing.

We all definitely do battle with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. But sometimes we forget that these very destructive forces can be hidden within religious practices as well. I’ve counseled too many people who have struggled deeply with sinful actions and thoughts and yet have been part of a church system for most of their life. The simple question of who are your friends is both revealing and disturbing. Most don’t have friends like the ones I describe above. It is too shameful to open up to others on the journey because of pride or shame and with no one leading the way.

Even more disturbing is that many of these “churched” people can recite doctrinal truths accurately. But again when the most vital aspect of Christianity, friendships, is asked about, they kind of glaze over. Even my friend who is experiencing vital friendships describes them with great enthusiasm because they are such a rare commodity in his church system.

The rituals of religion have very little to do with knowing Jesus as our friend and building his church around friendships. When Jesus smiles at someone their life is changed. Interestingly enough when religious folk even hear the thought about Jesus smiling they can’t relate to its power.

This happened when Jesus was sitting with tax collectors and sinners around a meal. They would likely have been laughing and telling stories. Then the religious guys showed up with their long frowns and arms crossed to show their displeasure with such frivolousness. They couldn’t catch the transforming power of friendship, acceptance and love. Even when Jesus told them the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the tragic result of religious thinking that separated two sons they couldn’t comprehend how valued they and everyone is to God. Luke 15.

The older brother who represents religion in the story couldn’t fathom that his father would welcome back the prodigal with such selflessness and extravagance. He had stayed home and did what was right but his heart was far from his father’s.

Religion is like that. It emphasizes the right, the duties, the commitment, the morals, the rituals and even the truth but fails when it has no love. These same men who hated Jesus smiling and laughing with sinners, eventually used their religious understanding to conspire to put Him on the cross. John 12:9

I agree with my friend that it is a wonderful thing that men are learning to come alongside each other in their battle with sin. We simply need to recognize that within the battle to overcome those things which so easily entangle us is an even greater and more insidious threat of missing out on Father’s heart: religion itself.

How often have you heard this line after not being at a religious “serve us”, “We missed you?” Was a phone call made, a coffee invitation given or a meal provided? Of course not, why do that when a “serve us” has been provided to relieve our consciences and make others feel appropriately guilty when they have missed it?

How do we overcome? By loving one another and giving our lives for our friends who may be sinners.

1 comment:

Jamie A. Grant said...

"He had stayed home and did what was right but his heart was far from his father’s."

I love that line. So true, and so easy to see in ourselves.