Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Did Jesus come to abolish religion?

A few years ago a popular video was circulated called "Why I hate religion but love Jesus".    It was a spoken word poem, and was extremely well done.  A lot of people posted responses to it, including Catholics and Muslims, and the speaker, Jefferson Bethke, even wrote a book called "Jesus > Religion".  But since it keeps coming up in my circles, I thought I'd write a post about it.

The premise of his video is that Jesus came for a personal relationship with people, and that we get bogged down by religion and all of it's rules, and so we don't have a relationship with Christ.  He goes further and says that Jesus came to abolish religion.

I agree with almost everything that he says... but I think that he is fundamentally wrong in his premise that Jesus came to abolish religion.  In fact, Jesus said quite explicitly "I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it."  (The law and religion are almost synonymous to people who argue Jesus did away with them, but more on that later.)

Here's an analogy that I think helps to explain this phenomenon.  Imagine that you were a guy with a girlfriend or a wife.  You regularly bought her a dozen roses, maybe even weekly.  You remembered all the significant dates (anniversaries, birthdays, Valentines, etc) and lavish gifts upon her.  You tell her you love her, and keep your dates with her.  But really, you know and she knows that you're just doing all of this to keep her happy.  Your words are lies, your actions are lies, and you do it all because you feel like not keeping her happy is too painful, and frankly you know the routine.  To you all of these actions are just a "long list of chores" in the words of Bethke.

So one day you show up with your dozen roses, and the generic "I love you card" and she gets mad.  She tosses your flowers on the ground and says "I don't want your flowers!  I want your heart!"

I think that's basically the objection that Jesus was making to religious forms. God said "you honour me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me."  And as for the law and following a bunch of rules, he said "I want the law written on your heart."

So the real Gospel message is this-  by the grace of God we can be transformed so that our obedience to the law is not legalism and our religion is not empty ritual, but they reflect our love for God and for others. This is the fulfilment of the law that Jesus talked about!

It is foundational to a lot of protestant thought that we are saved by grace and not by works, meaning you can't earn your salvation.  As far as that goes it is true. You can't earn a relationship. But being in a relationship entails certain things.  And faith without works is dead.

This idea that protestants have comes from a deeper conversation, based mostly on Romans and Galatians and Luthers recognition that a lot of people had once again become like Pharisees-  honouring God with their lips, being white washed tombs, while their hearts remained far from God.  But Paul, who wrote the letters, was objecting to legalism which was huge with the Pharisees, and was also rejected by Jesus and John the Baptist.

But Jesus did not reject doing good works.  Read Matthew again, especially the Sermon on the Mount, or the separation of the sheep and the goats. It's all about the transformation of hearts and doing good works as fruit of that transformation!

So we could offer God teddy bears and flowers to express our love-  and frankly, if that is meaningful, it's probably OK. But we have rituals that are centuries old, loaded with significance, and... wait for it... instituted by God himself!!!

Sorry-  did God institute something He hates?

Read Leviticus, or the later chapters of Exodus, and besides the fact that you'll be bored to tears, you will recognize that God is establishing rituals and art and architecture that is loaded with meaning!  Jesus later takes those things, like the feast of Passover, and fulfils it by becoming the Passover lamb! (Last supper) And then he goes and says "Do this in memory of me..."  He institutes the ritual of the Mass.  And though that ritual has developed over the years, it is still foundationally the same as it was 2000 years ago.  Don't take my word on it... look it up.  Did the earliest Christians gather in an informal, religion free way, or did they celebrate a ritual which looks a lot like the Mass?

Some would argue that the book of Revelation is actually a description of the the Heavenly liturgy of the Mass and of the Heavenly temple-  the fulfilment promised by Jesus-  but that's a whole different blog entry!

Let's be honest, I don't know of any Churches that are without ritual.  If you have a weekly meeting with music, preaching, and then coffee... that's ritual.  If you meet at the same time every Sunday... that's ritual.  If you celebrate Easter or Christmas, if you play hymns, or the same songs more than once,  if you break out the fire tunnel and have everyone run through it while those on the outside yell "fire" and "power" and lay their hands on you... it's ritual.

So if Jesus did not abolish rituals, feast days, or the law... what exactly did he abolish when he abolished religion?

Back to my girlfriend or wife analogy.   Having rejected your flowers, should you therefore conclude that your girlfriend never wants flowers, never wants to hear "I love you", never wants you to acknowledge anniversaries? Or do you think maybe she wants those things as an outpouring of genuine affection rather than as an empty ritual?  

Jesus did not come to abolish religion, the man made invention.  He came, in part, to fulfil the religion founded by God himself.

No comments:

Post a Comment