Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

End Of Religion

Was Jesus of Nazareth an irreligious agitator? Was his message more radical than we’ve been led to believe? I recently read "End Of Religion" by Bruxy Cavey (A teaching pastor and fellow Canadian eh?).

I'd like to share a few of the things I highlighted as I read it. I welcome any feedback.

"The Jesus described in the Bible never uses the word religion to refer to what he came to establish, nor does he invite people to join a particular institution or organization. When he speaks of "church", he is talking about people who gather in his name, not the structure they meet in or the organization they belong to (see Matthew 18:15-20). And when he talks about connecting with God, he consistently speaks not of religion but of "faith" (Luke 7:50; John 3:14-16). Jesus never commands his followers to embrace detailed creeds or codes of conduct, and he never instructs his followers to participate in exhaustive religious rituals. His life's work was about undoing the knots that bound people to ritual and empty tradition."
I don't want to sound judgmental to my brothers and sisters. I truly can not see the heart motivation behind stuff others do. I'm just thinking through the implication of this.

First... do you agree with the above quote? Do you think Bruxy is off track here?

Most Christians wouldn't say you have to be part of a particular institution or organization to connect with God. But isn't it usually highly recommended? Invitations to join a church and come to church are common. Why don't we see Jesus making such invitations?

Most Christians would agree that faith is what saves. Yes, faith in Jesus. However isn't it common that soon following this faith comes a push to accept detailed creeds and/or codes of conduct. Did we get this idea from Jesus, or is this our religious nature?

What about rituals, and empty tradition? The reformation did a good job freeing us from a lot of that. But is there more?


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8 comments:

Tiffany Jane said...

It's interesting - last night we were listening to a teaching, in which they guy states at one point that "Jesus was not in any way a religious man." To which both Adam, my husband, and I rolled our eyes and discussed later in the car.

Part of the problem with these kinds of statements is that it fails to define what is meant by religion and religiousness. For instance, the dictionary definition I find is:

:the service and worship of God or the supernatural"
and religious is "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity"

And to me to say that Jesus was not "faithfully devoted to God" or that he did not teach others to do so is disingenuous.

BUT - I know that's not what teachers and authors that say those things mean. They are defining religion more in terms of "empty rituals and tradition" which is fair enough. BUT it's still not as simple as that.

Religion is as first stated, at its core basic definition, 'faithful devotion to God', but as we start to flesh out what that means, what 'relating to God' mean we start forming ideas ABOUT God, and what he is like (Creeds) and HOW we ought to behave in relationship to this, and physical things that remind us of this and help us to understand how to relate to God (Sacraments, traditions and rituals)

Because Jesus didn't use the word 'Religion' is besides the point entirely. We have to address what we MEAN when we say religion/religiousness and then see if he ever speaks to those themes and elements. Which he does - a large portion of his message seems to be against those who have the framework of religion but have lost the meat. He described Pharisees as White-washed tombs and dirty dishes. Clean on the outside, dirty inside.

So we can run with that and say that Jesus taught against religion - IF we define religion as empty rituals and tradition. But what about FULL rituals and tradition. What if traditions and rituals are vessels - which regardless of the outward appearance can be used to hold Good fruit or bad fruit. Can be clean OR dirty inside. In the case of the Pharasees he calls them out for their 'empty traditions' but what about when Traditions, rituals and sacraments are RIGHTLY used.

They are reminders, pictures, containers, for us to to fill to overflowing with the grace of God. And that I think is rightly a part of the definition of Religion. And I don't think Jesus was against that.

He went to synagogue because it was useful for learning and teaching. He took part in passover because it was a ritual, tradition that was FULL of meaning and there he instituted further traditions and rituals commanding us to perform an action in his memory (communion). As a reminder, and renforcer of a truth.

I'm starting to ramble on a bit now, but it's an interesting topic about which much could be said. I think alot of the Protestant vilification of the term 'religion' is more harmful than helpful.

Terms like 'relationship not religion' aren't REALLY useful because if you really look at what religion is suppose to mean, it IS relationship. These sorts of phrases are a knee jerk response to the negative experiences people have had within the religious institution. But this approach then affirms that those negative experiences are part and parcel of 'religion' instead of recognizing and 'calling out' where religion has been broken and needs mending.


James 1:27
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Tiffany Jane said...

PS Sorry - I just saw the previous post where some of this discussion of definitions gets explored!

Al said...

This was one of the first books I read as I began to discover people and books that loved Jesus, but had plenty of strong words for the institution that supposedly is based on his teachings.

Many authors point back to the dualism of Greek thought in conjunction with Constantine as the 'beginning of the end'. What began as a loosely-knit group of fellow followers became a very organized, very authoritarian, very powerful institution led by the elite, in a rather Roman empire style of government--complete with a Caesar figure.

I imagine part of the attraction to this was our religious nature, demonstrated back in Judaism, and repeated in Christianity.

Yes, the Reformation may have helped, but it seems to have only replaced one batch of rituals and traditions with new ones. And now we have thousands of variations, each claiming to be more right than the others.

It could be disheartening, but I think that the fact that many people are talking and writing about it means there is hope for a new Reformation. Hopefully it will somehow escape our religiosity.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tiffany for the comments. Yes how we define Religion is important to this conversation. The author of this book "End of Religion" goes with this for a definition:

"By religion people tend to refer to established systems of belief about Ultimate Reality and the institutions that maintain them. I use the word religion in a similar way, to refer to any reliance on systems or institutions, rules or rituals as our conduit to God".

So, yes I should have included this definition to make sense of what Bruxy Cavey was talking about.

Jonathan said...

Also, good point Tiffany about what you refer to as "full rituals". No doubt there are things we DO that are part of our relationship with God. Following Jesus isn't just a passive belief. Yet we must acknowledge the tension that it is not what we DO that makes our relationship real. So a ritual that may be full to you, may be empty to someone else. One person may connect with God while they participate in the Lord's supper, while someone else may just be going through the motions and fooling themselves if they think participating in the ritual means anything to God.

And yes I love James 1:27. I think it's the most positive reference to the word Religion in the New Testament. And it has nothing to do with established systems of beliefs, institutions or rituals. If the Christian Religion was simply what we see in James 1:2 , I don't people would be having this discussion.

Jonathan said...

Hi Al,

What I thought this was a recent book. Yes, it looks like it came out in 2007. Oh well. :)

Yes, Al. Change is never easy. It is hard to imagine what is on the other side of where this journey I'm on is taking me. But it is reassuring to know others who love Jesus are changing course as well. I believe God is at work. I also pray this reformation can be done with more love and respect during all the dialogs. Things got kinda ugly during the last reformation, and I know there is potential for that this time round as well.

God bless!

Tobie said...

James 1:27 is nice, but it's used there in a way that differs so much from the conventional understanding of 'religion' that I don't think we can even appeal to this verse as a justification for using the term. It's a bit like using Peter's reference to us being 'priests' to justify pastoral titles, if you know what I mean. The New Covenant usage is so different to the Old that it bears no resemblance. And so I think James is deconstructing the term, not promoting it. As Karl Barth said: "Religion is for unbelievers; it's the business of the godless." I also like Louis Nizer's "True religion is the life we lead, not the creed we profess." In the end, as the saying goes, religion is people's search for God, but Christianity is God reaching down to us. It's the difference between the Tower of Babel (working our way towards the heavens) and the New Jerusalem (coming down from heaven to us). Bless you, it's a nice nice blog.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tobie for the comment. I've subscribed to your blog - from South Africa? We've got Barbados, South Africa, USA and Canada in on this conversation. Thanks & welcome.

Yes, if by religion we mean a reliance on systems or institutions, rules or rituals as our conduit to God... James may be restating what Jesus said is the greatest commandment. Basically saying the only system, rules, or rituals that have value in themselves is loving others, and loving God.