Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Losing My Religion

Below is a video from one of my favorite bands during my teen and young adult years.  Ironically, I could not be more ideologically or theologically distant from them, since they are unabashedly atheistic, but I love their music and though I disagree with them on many fronts I can't help but sympathize with them sometimes when it comes to their jabs at organized religion, namely organized "Christianity."

I think when we who call ourselves "Christian" lose our ability to sympathize with the grievances of those who don't believe as we do we lose our touch with this world.  When we cease to be able to listen and have willingness to see some validity in their complaints and objections, some of them very personal, we become unrelatable.  When we live in our Christian bubble where everything is about playing the Christian part and doing Christian things, we become someone that outsiders see as detached and unconcerned for this world.
And along with all of this, when we embrace the un-Biblical idea that all sin and brokenness can be fixed and changed in this world, unable to live in and love people in the real world where things are not so black-and-white, we become unrelatable to people who are really struggling and really suffering in this world, which is everyone at some point.

Unfortunately, many self-professing "Christians" become unrelatable, and we dismiss it with quick catch-phrases like "We're in the world but not of the world" or "The Gospel offends people -I can't help that."  We do care about some important things.  We care about pro-life.  We care about moral issues.  We care, to some degree, about feeding the poor -I mean, we'll at least give money at church for it.  But when our best friend is going off the deep end, we forget about them.  When people we once loved aren't living right, we distance ourselves from them. Maybe we are afraid we will become more like them because we are aware of our own weaknesses.  But maybe we are afraid that we don't know what to do because we have this idea burnt into our brains that all sin can be fixed -and if it can't just be fixed and overcome through some prayer and Christian self-help books, then we panic and don't know what to do about it.

We have a reputation for being up-tight and unrelatable.  And because of that, we fuel the erroneous assumption of our larger culture:  becoming a "Christian" means becoming just like that.  The larger culture, as men like Tim Keller have pointed out, generally believes that when we call them to believe in Jesus we are calling them to be essentially "Christian" religious moralists -people who are up-tight, unrelatable, who do their little Christian cultural things, who have their practices and their moral code (but with a nice Jesus emblem on it), and who then try to push it on everyone else.

"Well, gee... when you say it that way, I can see why someone wouldn't want that..."

It is true, of course, that God can save people in spite of our imperfections.  That is 100% true.  But that doesn't mean we aren't responsible for our non-conformity to the Gospel (myself included).  And it is also true that the Gospel is just offensive and repulsive by its very nature.  After all, that is how we are saved.  Hearing the Gospel brings about a death in us.  It clobbers our self-righteous, self-glorifying, self-deluded flesh.  But then something happens with most of us.  We become immersed in Christian culture and the "Christian look" which may have very little to do with the Gospel at all.  We forget that we should be daily returning to the place where we were first saved, the place where we saw ourselves in one amazing moment as simultaneously sinful, condemnable, guilty, and broken, but also justified, forgiven, accepted, and beloved for the sake of the One who died for us.

The song above talks about a pastor who climbs up to his pulpit and solemnly delivers shocking news to his congregation:  he can't relate to any of them.  The implication is that he is abandoning his faith because he can't relate to it and to any of the people who make up the community who embrace it.
Here's a story of an honest man losing religion,
Climbing the pulpit steps before an eager congregation,
The while praying came a wicked inspiration,
Brothers, sisters this is what he said:

Dearly beloved, dearly beloved, dearly beloved,
(Make no mistake, despite our traits, I've seldom seen evidence of genes)
I can't relate to you, I can't relate to you!

Sadly, I believe it is possible that plenty of people walk away from "Christianity" not only because of our common love for rebellion but sometimes perhaps mainly because they have the image of God in them which hates the smell of a counterfeit.

What is the solution?  It is easy to pick out flaws.  I don't know how to implement anything on a practical level.  To an outsider, they would say our Christianity is too strong.  If we toned it down a bit, we would be less up-tight and more open to different people and struggling people.  We just need to become more like those liberal and nominal Christians, right?  They go to church and stuff, but they know how to leave that behind and return to real life.  That is what we need, right?  Moderation...

No, that is false.  Our Christianity, true Christianity, needs to be deeper.  There are two things that the cross of Christ opposes, not just one.  The cross of Christ opposes open sin, but it also opposes pretentious, detached, happy-clappy-bubble religiosity.  It calls the "sinner" out of the pig slop, but it also pops the hot-air inflated bubble of the "good religious."  It brings us both down to earth where God is God and we are humans who rely on His unconditional grace.

I don't want to over-generalize, but has it dawned on the Church that Jesus alienated religious people but was a friend to "sinners?"  And yet today, many Christians are alienated from "sinners" and fit in quite well with religious people.  Hmm... 

We don't need strategies to try to be hip and "relevant."  External strategies don't change the attitude behind it all.  We need to come back down to earth out of the lofty clouds of organized "Christianity."

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