Let me summarize every religion for you: “You shouldn’t, you did, you’re toast.”
Religion in every form is man setting laws you can’t or won’t keep and then condemning you for failing. Recently, a young man told me, “I grew up in church, but in my church if you ever failed, they never let you forget it!”
Sadly, his experience is not as uncommon as we’d like to think. Sadder still is most expressions of Christianity that we see today are religious Christianity not the Christianity the founder had in mind. True Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.
The problem with true Christianity is it’s hard, it’s messy. Jesus summed up his brand of Christianity with these words, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35, NIV84).
If we love like Jesus, we’re going to be misunderstood — or worse.
There is an interesting passage in the New Testament book of Matthew. In chapter 12 Jesus is walking through a grain field with his disciples on the Jewish holy day (the Sabbath), and they’re hungry so they begin to pick some of the heads of grain (a perfectly acceptable custom in Israel) and eat the grain.
Some of the religious elite are along for the walk and they are incensed. They immediately complain to Jesus “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
The religious leaders had actually established 39 categories of actions that were forbidden on the Sabbath, based upon their interpretations of the Old Testament Scriptures and their traditions. Like every good religion, their customs became binding law.
What the disciples were doing to meet their immediate need was seen by them as harvesting on the Sabbath, and they were not happy. Jesus reminds them of the broader context of Scripture (versus their traditions) and then concludes “I am the Lord of the Sabbath.”
Next, He enters a local synagogue and sees a man with a shriveled hand. These religious Jews see this as an opportunity to trap Him, so they make sure Jesus sees him by asking “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
Jesus responds to their questions, heals the guy, and they all love him. No. Here’s their response to a man being made whole, “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” (Matthew 12:14, NIV84).
For the religious person, rules are always more important than people. For Jesus, people trumped rules every time.
Now the religious people reading this are probably angry. They are going through all the reasons why what I have written is a bad idea. Rules and regulations are always easier to follow and implement than this nebulous thing of love like Jesus taught.
“Why if we don’t have rules and regulations, pandemonium will follow. We have to have standards, after all,” they might say.
I am not questioning standards; I am questioning our religious bent to turn those standards into rules that determine who we let into our club or not, religious traditions that sound good and maybe are good, but that take us far from the Father’s heart.
Paul put it this way, “Since you died with Christ and were made free from the ruling spirits of the world, why do you act as if you still belong to this world by following rules like these: ‘Don’t handle this,’ ‘Don’t taste that,’ ‘Don’t even touch that thing?’”
These rules refer to earthly things that are gone as soon as they are used. They are only human commands and teachings. They seem to be wise, but they are only part of a human religion. They make people pretend not to be proud and make them punish their bodies, but they do not really control the evil desires of the sinful self” (Colossians 2:20–23, NCV).
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.