Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Empty Vessel

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all [believers].

~ Ephesians 4:1-6 [note added]

You’ve likely seen the shirt, or bumper sticker, or status update: “Jesus hates religion, too.”  It’s the post-modern anthem for the Evangelical’s idea of Luther-esque freedom.  Let’s throw out rigid adherences, toss away antiquated practices, and dispose of the “old” way of doing things.  Let’s take a sledgehammer to the pipe organ, set fire to the pulpit, and never, ever, ever say anything that looks like rote prayer.  In fact, if you mention denominations that have even the slightest liturgical flavor, you must do so with a look of puckered disdain, all sour and “we-know-better.”

But this trite dismissal of all things religious leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  I have to ask, does He really?

I know the common response, when looking for Christ’s example of anti-religious sentiment is His attitude towards and reaction to the Pharisees.  However, I have to note, that Jesus did not roundly renounce the Jewish faith.  Not once did He utter any anti-Semitic pronouncements.  Rather, He calls into question the state of the hearts of the individuals in leadership.  In fact, His ministry centered on reaching the most religious people of His time: the Jews, the remnant of God’s first covenant with humanity; though He knew they would reject him.  And let’s not forget that the foundation of their religious practice was instituted and directed by YHWH Himself.

And isn’t that wasn’t wrong with our religious institutions today?  People.  Our junked up, fallen way of dealing with others, with God’s word, with trying [and inevitably failing] to be God’s emissaries to the lost, the broken, and, frankly, each other.  It’s what the Pharisees were supposed to be.  It what we, the “un-religious” Church, are supposed to be.  Not anti-religion, but pro-relationship.  The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

So if nothing else, I take offense at the misuse of the word.  Much like there is a marked difference between schizophrenia and multiple-personality disorder (another pet peeve), the presence of religion does not immediately equate the absence of Christ.  Simply because someone practices an older, more liturgical brand of faith does not make them an empty vessel; they are not one who has no relationship with Christ, only hollow practices and numerous restrictions.  Frankly, we can not see the state of their hearts, what’s inside their jar of clay.  Only God can; and therefore, it is not our place to play judge.  By definition, religion is: the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance (3) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practice.

“Service and worship of God,” isn’t that what we do?  Is that what we’re called to?  Isn’t that who we, as Christ’s body, are?

Which means I have a bit of a shock for my fellow non-denomers: by definition, WE ARE RELIGIOUS.  But don’t dismay, that’s as it should be.  Which brings us to another potentially uncomfortable truth: as the body, we are to live in harmony with other believers, even [or especially] our liturgical, “religious” brethren.  In fact, so long as the religious “they” holds fast to the truth of the gospel, we are told in no uncertain terms to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” [1 Peter 2:1-3].  That means we don’t talk badly about other denominations, we don’t react poorly to their various spiritual disciplines, and we treat all members of the body of Christ as He does: with tenderness and love.

So the next time you or I see that tag line, let’s remember, Jesus was religious.  He wasn’t disparaging, malicious, or slanderous.  Let us strive, within the appropriate boundaries of the gospel, to be harmonious, peaceful, and loving.  That, and not denominational disputes, is what the world needs from us.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

~ Romans 15:5-6

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