Monday, January 16, 2012

Why I Hate: "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"

"What if I told you, Jesus came to abolish religion?"
What if I told you (Jefferson Bethke) that you were wrong?

I have thought about this post for several days. After 12 million+ hits on YouTube and multiple occurrences on my Facebook feed on Friday and Saturday, I started to consider a response. Not that Mr. Bethke will ever see it. There are many, many other more intelligent and thoughtful posts out there that he should be reading.
But over the weekend, I was approached by multiple students about the video and what I thought. So… I thought I would post something official.

Officially… I don't like the video.
There, I said it.

There are several things to like about the video. His style is appealing. His rhymes are nice. The content seems to be driving at something good and many people seem to be pulled into approving this video and it's content. On a couple occasions he drives at something that is needed (the tendency to tell people we're Christians on Facebook but never back it up without lifestyle). There are some things to agree with.

However, it gives me an icky feeling.

Primarily because he's wrong on several occasions. Some of what he said is not just wrong… It's unChristian. I could drive in on a variety of issues but in my desire to keep my blog posts short, I'm going to point out two places where I feel that he leads people astray (as a shepherd, I feel its part of my job to help the flock).

First, Jesus didn't come to abolish religion… He came to fulfill it.
Jesus himself said: "17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Matthew 5:17
Jesus was a Jew. He grew up in the Jewish religion. He went to the temple… made sacrifices… offered offerings… observed the Sabbath and the feasts… like the rest of the Jewish nation. Yet, Jesus never commanded, instructed or even hinted that his followers should abandon the Jewish religion. In fact, when Jesus chose this followers… those who would begin the church… he chose 12 guys from the Jewish religion (one was even a Zealot… the strictest of the Jewish religion). One would think that it was Jesus' desire that his followers abandon the Jewish religion, he would have picked 12 disciples from outside the Jewish faith.

Furthermore, after Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, his followers continued to function within the Jewish religion. Peter and John are on their way to the temple in Acts 3 for afternoon prayers when they meet a lame beggar and heal him. Paul, during his missionary journeys who was notably the biggest rebel of the New Testament, went to the temple, observed the sacrifices and stayed within the Jewish religion. Paul also preached to the Gentiles (those outside of the Jewish religion) but we never have any record of Paul denouncing the Jewish faith and writing that anyone should.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin root "religio". That root simply means "to bind together." Moreover, Jesus never uses this word that we are aware of… neither the Latin form nor the Greek (neither "eusebeo" (pious) nor the more common "threskiea" (religion) form. Jesus never uses these words.

Additionally, Jesus' argument in the New Testament isn't with the "religious" people… those people who were bound to God in relationship (i.e.: the Jews). Instead, Jesus' argument (especially in Matthew 23) was with the hypocrites and legalism. Those two groups of people are very different from religious. While it may seem at this point like semantics, I don't think it is. For whatever reason, Mr. Bethke chooses the word "religion" and then drives and drives and drives on it. Had he used the word "legalism," I would have been more on board.

But I need religion. I need to be reminded of the things that keep me in relationship with God. See, I'm prone to wander off (mostly after shiny things). I need to be reminded by my church… by my Bible… by influential Christians in my life… by weekly observance of the Lord's Supper… by the songs that remind me of what Jesus has done… by a variety of things that I am in relationship… that I am bound to God together in a covenant. Jesus didn't come to destroy… abolish… do away with… or any other verb form… religion. Jesus came to fulfill it. All of those things are part of the religion that binds me to Jesus.

Secondly, I am most uncomfortable with the notion that Mr. Bethke puts forward that he doesn't need the church.
Oh, you might say that he says he "loves the church… loves the Bible." Unfortunately everything he said contracts that. While he says that he loves the church, he bashes it… calls it a museum for good people… a starter of wars (that is entirely different discussion… Mr. Bethke should read a little more history and little less Mr. Hawkins)… failure to feed the poor.

This is most unfortunate. The Bible that I spend time reading calls the church (the ecclesia… the assembly) the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18)), the Bride of Christ that Jesus sacrificed for (Ephesians 5:25), a radiant bride without any blemish (Ephesians 5:27). The Church belongs to Jesus and Jesus belongs to the church. The Bible pictures the church as the bride of Christ. Now, I don't know how some people run their families, but nothing gets me more upset than someone saying bad things about my wife. That will draw anger quickly. And yet, the Bible calls the Church Jesus' bride. Do we not think that this pains and angers Jesus? (Personally, I think it does.

Furthermore, some in our church culture have begun to promulgate the notion that "all I need to be a Christian is to love Jesus." They don't see the need to connect with a church. They don't see the need to function within the church. They feel that they can float along, unconnected, just following Jesus and they will be an okay Christian. Sorry… that idea is just flat wrong. Jesus is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23) and we are commanded (not suggested) to stay connected to Jesus (John 15:4). If we are disconnected from the church, we are disconnected from God's people and we are disconnected from Jesus.

This individualistic notion has spilled over into our understanding of Jesus' death on the cross. Somewhere along the lines we have picked up this narcissistic perspective that when Jesus lived, and walked, and taught and died on the cross, Jesus was thinking about me. Craziness! Mr. Bethke even mentions it in his little poem. Jesus, when "he was dangling on the cross, he was thinking of you." Craziness! I'm not sure what Bible Mr. Bethke is reading… but in THE Bible, we have no idea what Jesus was thinking of. We know from what Jesus said that he was thirsty, he felt abandoned by his Father, that he forgave the soldiers, scribes and Pilate for putting him there, he spoke with the thief and that he was thinking of his mother Mary. But we have no notion, contrary to Michael W. Smith's song, that Jesus was thinking of me when he hung there. Maybe he was… maybe he wasn't. Was he dying for my sins? Absolutely. But was he thinking of a man who would be born in March of 1977 and become a youth pastor? Maybe… maybe not. We simply don't know. But I think we need to lose that narcissistic notion that I am the center of Jesus' universe.

It's not me and Jesus. Both fortunately and unfortunately, it's "us and Jesus." It's the community that bears his name in relationship with Jesus. That is the Church. That is an official religious binding in relationship between Jesus and His Church.

Finally… contrary to Mr. Bethke's poem, we are commanded to be religious in the Bible. Jesus' brother James, who likely wrote the book of James in our Bibles, instructs us that "7 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27). Is the church perfect? No way… because I'm there and I'm not perfect… and you're there and you aren't perfect. The church… organized religion… the people called and bound to Jesus in relationship… is the bride of Christ. And if we are going to follow Jesus, we must be connected.


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