Friday, August 12, 2011
The Role of Religion
Have you heard? "God hates religion." That's what a friend told me recently, with what I thought was unwarranted confidence.This is a great piece taken on its own terms, which is the argument about "spirituality v organized religion." But it does fail to address what I consider the key issue in the discussion of the role of organized religion - just as the church amplifies our spirituality, it also amplifies our sin. Many are the times I think the church has done more damage to God's name than it has good.
Surprisingly for some of us, she's not alone in her thinking. Here at the tip of the Bible Belt, in North Carolina, that conviction seems to be more common than it was when I lived within earshot of the mission bells along California's "El Camino Real."
The "religion is evil" narrative tends to be spoken with a curled lip turned toward Vatican City, so for the sake of space, let's just look at Christianity. Influential American pastors in the Reformed Christian tradition like Mark "Mars Hill" Driscoll say the same thing my friend did; when they talk about people calling themselves "spiritual" rather than "religious," the "God hates religion" card gets played.
For Driscoll and pastors of his ilk, the key piece of evidence for their claim is that Jesus criticized the legalism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were the most self-consciously religious and dogmatic people of his day. Protestants of the "low church" persuasion blend the Pharisees with Martin Luther's anger into a fog, until it seems to them that "organized religion" does more to obscure God than to reveal Him. In well-intentioned efforts to set the rest of us straight, they then proclaim that "Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship."
That's a clever formula with a questionable premise, because it can only be true if "religion" and "relationship" are mutually exclusive terms. The problem, of course, is that they're not.
The answer, of course, is to hold the church more sacred, not to do away with it. The answer is to take it far more seriously than we do. It;s one thing to say that cutting the grass will wait until tomorrow, or painting this room just is not that important - it's another thing altogether to punt on the church.
God is patient, but oiur lives are limited.