Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Farewell to "Religion"

Today at Hope Community Church was "rally day"--the first day that everyone is back at the U, creating a huge boost in attendance for Hope. Naturally Pastor Steve would want the preaching to be top-notch for such a momentous event; last year we had just reached 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (the part about head coverings for women!). So this year we're in the middle of a quick series about Hope's core values; this week we covered Galatians 5 on living filled with the Spirit. I could write many posts on what this entails, but for now I'm going to focus on something from the sermon (and that I'm increasingly seeing) that hit me.

The sermon was basically about how the Christian life is a constant struggle to avoid slipping into two extremes--trying to earn your salvation by being legalistically righteous on one hand, and abusing God's grace by living however you want on the other. He mainly focused on avoiding the first extreme; instead of having our righteous work from the outside in, making ourselves "good people" by acting holy, we're to live from the inside out, letting the Spirit make us righteous via relationship with God.

I couldn't agree with any of that more, and overall I really enjoyed the sermon. I just wanted to focus quickly on Pastor Steve's universal name for this kind of legalistic, outside-in living: 'religion'. The way I grew up, when someone asked me my religion, I would have said I was a Christian (even if I wasn't necessarily living it out yet, but it was the descriptor). As I grew up and learned about the importance of a relationship with God and how we're supposed to live that, religion was the word I used to tie it all together.

Thanks to this redefinition, Christian writers and preachers actively shun religion and look for other words to use: 'faith' 'relationship', fill in the blank; you may have heard more than me. Nowadays, religion has become a very bad word in the evangelical community--a thing to be avoided, to dissociate yourself and your church from. It's associated with dogma, divisiveness, petty doctrinal disputes, empty rituals, and the imposing of morality on others. Perhaps because of these associations, it's become of the two things you never talk about in American culture--a shame!

And the saddest part is, I can't really disagree with them. It's easier for Christians and churches to distance themselves from the term than to try and redeem it in the juggernaut of American culture. I sigh when I see student groups promising "Jesus, not religion", but if 'religion' is such a huge stumbling block to so many people, maybe it's time to move on, with 1 Corinthians 10:22 flexibility.

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