The Religion BoogeymanAugust 10, 2023 Uncategorized
When people look at our tradition the number one thing they say about it is that we are engaged in “dead religion”. They assume that anyone who willingly prays prayers written by someone else, recites something in unison, or uses their body in worship to kneel or make the sign of the cross cannot possibly have the Holy Spirit. To many in the non-denominational world the Holy Spirit is random and deeply personal. There is no way to know where he is going to turn up. And the only way to know you are really saved is if everything you say comes straight from the heart. It has be to individualized, personalized, and not part of a larger whole. However, there are a number of flaws in this logic.
First, every denomination (with the exception of the Quakers) engages in some form of the above. Baptists do pray in unison; they just do it through song. Non-denominational folks do pray prayers written by someone else such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Sinner’s Prayer. They use devotional books that tell them what passages of Scripture to read and what to pray that day. The fact of the matter is that trying to reinvent the whole of Christianity every time someone gets saved is exhausting and foolish. And the Holy Spirit is not random and he certainly is not just indwelling in you personally. He fills the whole Church with the SAME Spirit. I Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. As in all the churches of the saints…” This verse teaches us two things. First, God is not disordered. So, for a church to have a structure for church leadership like deacons, priests, and bishops is pleasing to God. It is a sign of God’s presence not his absence. Having your worship services written in a book is pleasing to God. It is a sign of God’s presence not his absence. Second, this happens in “all the churches of the saints” so this means each church’s goal is not to reinvent the wheel but to be faithful to church tradition.
For decades religion has been pitted against having a relationship with God. As if having religious practices is a sign that you do not love God. However, everyone has some form of religion in their life. They have a workout routine they do not miss. They have a favorite show they watch with devotion (over and over again). They make time to go on dates with their spouse and throw a ball with their kid. If a husband told his wife, “I know we never hang out except for random times when the mood strikes me and I pretty much do my own thing and never take your wishes into account when planning my day but you have to understand this is actually a sign that I love you more than husbands who religiously spend time with their wives” he would be considered a bad husband not a pure and loving husband.
The reason American Christians hate the word religion is twofold. First, the Puritans were the first Europeans to call America home. They left England not to spread religious freedom but to enforce their strict set of doctrines in their own Christian society. They considered things like Christmas, wedding rings, and the colorful sanctuaries of the Church of England to be evil. That sort of thing was dead religion and popism. So, there is a Puritan reflex in American Christianity that rejects anything that smells like a set religious form and not the pure faith of the Puritans. Second, Americans are libertine and rebellious and do not want to submit to any authority no matter how good it is for them. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Why do Christians submit to their priests and bishops? Because it is our job to take care of you as spiritual fathers. It is to your advantage to obey spiritual leaders. The other good thing is that we have a rigorous process to become a spiritual leader with canon law and lots of accountability. In the anti-religious form of Christianity anyone can claim that God spoke to them and now they get to tell everyone else what to do. I think we can all see the danger in that.
So, there is no conflict between religion and relationship. Your religion is an outworking of your relationship with God not an absence of it. Many of us do not know how to pray as we should. Some people have a talent for spontaneously coming up with right words to say to God in way that is beautiful and correct. Most people do not have that gift so having pre-written prayers is a mercy not a burden. The liturgy, vestments, church calendar, and lectionary are not a burden but a tool for unity. It unites Christians around the Bible and the person of Jesus in order to keep us on the same page. The worst thing a Christian can do is go off by himself and try to do it all alone. This is not good and sets him up to be tempted by the Devil.
Instead of using the world religion like a slur we should be honest that what Christians do is a religion. And it needs to be a pure religion that cares for the least of these. Having rituals and practices is not opposed to have a personal and intimate relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is not random but can be found in the Church and in the Sacraments. We should rejoice that Christianity has developed this form over 2000 years and embrace our roots instead of trying to cut off our nose to spite our face.