Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The difference between Christianity and religion

I venture that the last thing Jesus wanted to do was to start a new religion. Further, I suggest that Christianity has in fact become a religion, whether Christians choose to admit it or not. This leads me to conclude that on the whole, Christianity is missing Jesus' message.

Let me explain. Jesus was a revolutionary. Jesus wanted to right our relationships not only with God, but with others. His vision was the Kingdom of God, a radical new culture and society in which people experienced and enjoyed life as God had intented. This would be a life of freedom, love, compassion, kinship and kindness. It would free people from thinking about things wrongly, and from treating each other wrongly as a result. Jesus called people to follow his vision and believe in it, live for it, suffer for it, and even to die for it. And why? Because it is the only way the world will ever be free from the hurt of people's wrong thinking and wrong behaviour, and it is the only way we will ever experience such a world. Continue to live in this way, even into the new life after death promised to those who live in this way. This was the message of Jesus.

There was nothing particularly religious about his message. To the contrary, Jesus opposed the religious systems and thinking of the day. He opposed it because it missed the point of loving others, and even loving God. Jesus know God doesn't want people to concentrate on rituals, rules and propostional theories, but on loving others in a way that fits those called "children of God". Jesus didn't want to put in place more rituals and rules, but bring a whole new way of life that is built on the principle of love for other people.

What can we see of Christianity today? Thankfully, there are many followers of Jesus who have remained true to his message, and live according to it by loving others. Surely, these Christians deserve great commendation, because they increasingly seem to be a minority. It seems that more commonly, Christians have made Christianity a religion based on rules, rituals, and propositions.

Surely not! I hear you say. We are not saved by following rules! We only need to:
1) Accept that we are sinful and need Jesus to save us from hell
2) Believe and trust that Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross so that God would give us access to heaven
3) Recieve the free gift of salvation.
4) Show our gratitude to him by praising and worshiping him.

And surely rituals aren't part of Christianity today? We merely go to church, sit in the pew, sing songs repeditively, close our eyes, lift our hands and mouth "Jesussss" quietly. We make our Christian network feel completely foriegn and religious to those outside Christian circles by the sort of language we use and the things we talk about - but that's not a sign of any rituals, is it? The secular world, who have not grown accustomed to our rituals, often see Christianity as being full of rituals.

These two things may not be the worst, for modern Christianity has born a whole new kind of religion - a religion based on propositions, doctrines, and beliefs. Of course, these things are necessary foundations for living in the way of the Kingdom of God - we need to see things more like Jesus did, think more like he did, and believe things more like he did. But these ideas are not the goal. They are not the message. They are not loving God and loving others.

Modern Christianity has made ideas, doctrines, beliefs and propositions more important than the practice of following the way of life Jesus urged us to follow. It has become so focussed on the glamourous, exotic, and esteemed "beliefs" that Jesus' down-to-earth, every-day, flesh-and-blood message has often been left aside. This is why I call modern Christianity a religion, because it has forgotten its cause and instead filled its vision with philosophies - as if philosophies were the point of the gospel.

Let me venture something even further - that propositional ideas, theories, doctrines and beliefs matter only in the extent that they affect how we love God and love others. Now I see many people who put Christians to shame in how they live, for they follow Jesus' message more faithfully than many Christians. Does it matter that they do not share the "Christian" doctrines of propitiation, soteriology, escatology, trinity and grace, when they have understood Jesus' message better than many Christians who believe these ideas? Far too many of the perspectives, ideas and doctrines in Christianity today bear no correlation to how we live - I dare say some even promote the very opposite of what Jesus wanted. These ideas don't matter because they aren't part of Jesus' message to love God and love others.

It is little wonder, then, that so few people in the world outside of Christianity are inclined to "convert" to Christianity these days - to attend our religious services and believe our religious ideas. They see it for what it is, religion, and people today want more than religion. But I wonder what would happen if Christianity regained the original focus that Jesus had, and began again to live as Jesus lived and love and Jesus loved. If Christianity returned to the simple, non-religious message to love that Jesus taught, perhaps it would be something worth other people believing in once again. I hope so, because it has made all the difference to me.

1 comment:

EONsim said...

Let me venture something even further - that propositional ideas, theories, doctrines and beliefs matter only in the extent that they affect how we love God and love others. Now I see many people who put Christians to shame in how they live, for they follow Jesus' message more faithfully than many Christians.

I'd agree with that!

Nice post.