Give the next four minutes to this video, even if you have already seen it. It's best to watch or read things several times in order to think critically about them. And, strap in, this is a long post. I hope you enjoy it, though.
It's been 'liked' on YouTube over 160,000 times and 'disliked' on YouTube over 19,000 times. It's been shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube time and time again. Most commentary thus far has been divided as to whether or not this 'message' is acceptable. Herein lie some of my thoughts. Feel free to read them, wrestle with them, agree or disagree with them, and challenge them. This is an important topic for our time and we would do well to approach in this conversational way.
I remember going to a Big Daddy Weave Concert. I love them. Soooo good. And they began singing a song, one they covered from another worship artist, "Fields of Grace." In Big Daddy Weave's version of the song resides a line that goes like this:
There's a place where religion finally dies.
And I remember Mike Weaver (the lead singer) prefacing the line by saying, "This is my favorite line of the song." The spirit in which it was sung now seems strange to me. I once was sold on the concept of "relationship, not religion" but I'm now more convinced that that notion cheapens the Christianity that both Jesus and Paul called for.
Which leads me to this somewhat bold statement: The man in the video was too caught up in praise given to him for his skilled rhyming that he forgot to actually check his statements and definitions for consistency.
The problem with the video above is that it seems to go one way...and then another. He claims that Jesus and Religion are on opposite sides of the 'spectrum' but he also points out that your religious affiliation on Facebook doesn't make you a Christian. Wait, what? How are these tied together?
It becomes necessary to define 'religion'. (Good rhetoric makes use of loaded, ambiguous terms like 'religion' and, well, 'Jesus' because you can begin to redefine them in your own way in order to make a point. Not defining them within an argument not only makes the problem worse, it threatens to destroy the terms entirely.)
It seems to me that this man considers 'religion' to mean: a facade that followers put on that masks their spirituality. He's not even close to suggest this. Get religion out of the way because JESUS is what is so important. He seems to be saying that you don't need religion if you have Jesus. In fact, he blatantly says that at the beginning of the piece. He says,
What if I told you that Jesus came to abolish religion?
(I desire to respond: I'd tell you that you were wrong)
If anything, I think, Jesus came to reform religion. Jesus came to correct religion. Jesus came to show humans how to live life. This was a large part of his ministry on earth, including his preaching. Jesus did not come to abolish religion, he came to serve religion. In one sense, he came to serve as a means of growth throughout that life.
So truly, 'religion,' for Christians, is the means by which we worship God and grow further in the likeness of Christ. Religion encompasses sacraments like communion and baptism. Religion involves a confession of sin. Religion encourages prayer. Religion encourages accountability. Religion is a way of life, and a way to grow into a Christ-like life.
Now, his courageous testimony is notable and honorable. I always am moved by people who had a huge transformation toward Christ-like living in their lives and are willing to speak openly and honestly about it. BUT, because he has this...he operates out of a mindset of grace.
Truly, surely, GRACE is a large part of the Christian story. Paul tells us that we are sinful people, in need of grace. Theologians have told us throughout time that that sin is covered by grace. Though it's disagreed on exactly HOW that grace functions, all Christians agree that the life of Jesus, the death on a cross, and resurrection have something to do with the grace required for eternal salvation. Even our friend in the video remarks that salvation is not based on "my merits, but Jesus's obedience alone." AND HE'S RIGHT.
Jesus's obedience to do the will of the Father, to face death, has a great deal to do with our salvation. This, I believe, is true. And I can't name you a Christian who thinks that YOU can earn YOUR OWN salvation. That idea was pretty much outlawed in Christian circles a LONG time ago.
But, he's still confused.
His points are right. We do need grace. That has been taken care of. Christians should live holy lives, not just consider themselves saved because of their Facebook information. Christians should tear down the facades. Christians should be open and honest. Christians should practice grace.
BUT THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT 'RELIGION' IS!
That's the calling Jesus placed on us through his preaching. That's the call Paul placed on us through his letters. That's the calling our pastors place on us every Sunday. Religion, the practice of worshipping and becoming more Christ-like, is defined by all these things that he outlines. Religion is not just perfume on a casket, it is the burial ceremony and the tears shed for the loved one.
So, you've probably reached the same point I have.
He's a good poet. Spoken Word is popular now. Rhetoric is easy to come by with ambiguous language. Good speakers can catch and win over a believing audience just by the tones of their voice.
But this does not excuse us from watching our words.
Statements are bold. And when they're attached to art, they become MORE powerful.
Definitions are important. Because we use them to communicate effectively.
So 'religion,' as it stands, maye be a used up, dried out word that offends people. And...perhaps we need a new word. But people, good people, Christians in fact, use the word 'religion' to speak about how they're growing into a Christ-like life.
And so to make a statement that Jesus > Religion is simply unfair. Jesus and the Christian religion are intimately tied together. Religion is a way of life. Religion is the VERY thing this man is calling for. Jesus did NOT hate religion. Religion is a means to Jesus, and if approached in that way, those liking and disliking the video can actually come upon common ground.
Wouldn't that be wonderful?
As a writer, I can relate to this guy a lot. I often write papers that make awesome points that contribute to the exact opposite of my thesis. I end up at the end of the paper saying, "Wait, where'd I go wrong?"
I just tend to think that this is dangerous for the future of the Church. Influencing this many people and convincing them that 'religion' is wrong is scary. Very scary. We do need Jesus. But we also need prayer. We need accounable discipleship. We need confession of sin. We need baptism and communion. These are elements of religion that most in the Church are unwilling to let go. Because, for them, this is where Jesus is. This "Jesus and Jesus alone" mindset is ok, but only if religion gets included in the definition of 'Jesus'.