“I’m not into religion, only relationship.”
It’s become the gold standard religious defense against the dreaded accusation of being…well, religious!
We advocate that Jesus came to found an organic movement not an organized religion. We talk about grace over law and relationship over rules. Love. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Freedom. These are the things that matter; this is the good news we offer.
But here is the dilemma: if all that is true, why do so many people think we’re religious?
To find the answer, I started with the question: “Am I religious?” The first thing I had to identify is this: what does religion look like when it’s being religious?
Holy Week provides the answer.
The actions of the religious leaders of that day give us a clear picture of religion in rare form. The principle reality so glaringly obvious in the actions of those who conspired in Jesus’ death is that they lived from a closed system of thinking.
When this closed system was threatened, all kinds of ugly stuff emerged from behind the veil. These leaders prove that religion operates from certain imperatives that create specific reactions to people who don’t fit into the accepted picture.
- exclusive so it is utterly cynical—Jesus didn’t fit the mold so He didn’t fit in
- defensive so it is absolutely inflexible—Jesus didn’t conform so He wasn’t welcome
- manipulative so it freely condemns—Jesus didn’t agree so He had to be wrong
- deceptive so it condones duplicity—Jesus was a problem that justified any solution
- vindictive so it promotes judgment—Jesus was a threat so He had to be silenced
It is apparent in watching those leaders that religion is meanness cloaked in propriety–venom spews out of perfectly compliant lives. Its oxygen is opinion–what do others think of me. Its values are conformity and uniformity–it can’t tolerate creativity and uniqueness.
Religion is unable to hear and unwilling to change because of its unbending allegiance to its unquestioned answers!
Religion rears its ugly head whenever its system of thinking or way of life is threatened. When new thoughts challenge old precepts, religion raises the drawbridges of the mind and settles in to defend its theological fortress to the death.
You see, new wine explodes old wineskins of accepted ideologies. New patches tear the fabric of established thinking.
So the honest question to be faced in light of Holy Week is not “Am I religious”, but “What am I religious about?”
Anytime I find myself entrenched in self-defensive protection of my position–fearfully challenged by disagreement–it points to my own insecurity concerning the validity of my beliefs.
Jesus was never exclusive, defensive, manipulative, deceptive or vindictive simply because He really did have a relationship with the Father that defined and defended him.
It makes me think: the opposite of religion isn’t really relationship.
It’s repentance—change your mind so God can change your heart.