Losing My Religion (and finding something better)

You have heard it said…but I say to you…

I find Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7 all kinds of interesting. Of course, pretty much all the recorded words of Christ are interesting, but these in particular haunt me. Over and over again I find myself drawn back to these chapters, to these words, because they speak life again and again.

You have heard it said…but I say to you…

Jesus wasn’t quoting the world’s wisdom. He wasn’t pointing out something that should have been so obvious. “You have heard it said, ‘Murder is great!’, but I say to you, ‘Hurting people is wrong!” That would have been simpler and much more ordinary. No, Jesus was doing something much deeper and subversive. He was challenging their religion.

You have heard it said…but I say to you…

Each time he said it he was confronting the way they understood God’s expectations of them. Challenging the ways they looked at murder, adultery, marriage, revenge, the words they used and the way they shared their money. Causing them to look at the way they interacted with God in prayer and fasting. Jesus was confronting the very institutions they had put in place to interact with God and the people around them and asking them to look deeper.

missing_the_point“You’re missing the point. You don’t have an institution problem. You have a theology problem.”

What I find so fascinating about Jesus’ words here is not that he was calling the structures of their religion into question. Who’s going to argue that we shouldn’t murder or that we should help the needy? They had good things in place that helped them live better in the world.

No, what I find intriguing is that Jesus was saying that those structures weren’t the point. The institutions and rules and principles alone do little more than help us be moral beings. Jesus was calling them to look past the rules and precepts of their religion to find a God who is so much more, so much better. He was calling them to better theology.

Now let me makes this clear — my life has been blessed by the institution of church. I feel like it’s where I have lived my entire life. I came to know God because of church and church camps and youth group. The best relationships of my life have come as a result of being involved in church. I still make my living from the institutional church.

And having now worked in churches for the better part of 2 decades, I see how much we worry about the institution of church. We wring our hands at the number of kids who leave after high school and never come back. We see the sizes of our congregations rise and fall. We see changes occur as new generations take the reigns from previous ones.

And we fight (and fight and fight and fight) amongst ourselves about the ways and means of church. We argue about hows and whats and whens. We get comfortable with the functions we set up around ourselves that are supposed to point us to the Divine. And as Trevor talked about yesterday, we get so attached to the functions of church that we violently react when someone challenges one of them.

theologyAnd through it all, I wonder if Jesus is quietly speaking to us. You’re missing the point. You don’t have an institution problem. You have a theology problem.

Because I believe that the answer to the problems we see with church is not a better church growth model or hipper music or nicer facilities or better programs.

What we need is better theology.

We need to know God more fully. We need a deeper understanding of what the cross actually means. We need to know what it looks like to be the hands, feet and voice of a God who sees no lines between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We need to know what it means to be one in Christ.

Maybe then church can be more the means to God rather than the end that itself. Maybe then we can understand what a blessed church, a successful church really looks like. And maybe by losing our religion we can find something better.

5 thoughts on “Losing My Religion (and finding something better)

    • Thanks, Shelby. It’s obviously a very cursory explanation of a much deeper issue, but I think most of our problems with church come back to bad or incomplete theology. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

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