Listen in to Pastor Mark Anderson’s sermon:
> ‘the Yoke of Religion‘. (17 mins.)
What exactly did Jesus mean when He told us that He wanted to give us rest and that His yoke was easy?
Christian Religion #1:
Requires your effort. You lift yourself up and make yourself more acceptable to God by what you do, or don’t do.
Jesus Christ can, and will help you in those efforts.
Christian Religion #2:
There is nothing that you can do to improve your status in God’s eyes. But Jesus Christ declares you to be totally righteous and acceptable…for His sake.
Jesus Christ does everything, for you.
I heard another guy on the radio today urging believers to really get “serious” about their Christian faith. He urged them (us) to give up “milk” for the real “meat” of the Christian faith by “getting busy”. By buckling down and acting serious about being a Christian. And he said, “If you…” at least 4 times. “If you really get serious, you will unlock all the blessings that God has in store for you.” “If you get serious about growing in Christ, you will have a much more fulfilling Christian walk of faith.”
Says who? The guy who reads the Bible like we would read an instruction manual for assembling a lawnmower?
I think he has it exactly backwards. I think that the “meat” of Christianity is realizing that we really are NOT serious about all of this God stuff. And that the only One who is serious about it is… God. Who was so serious that He actually became one of us, and lived down here with us, amongst people who would reject Him, revile Him and eventually kill Him. He was so serious that He forgave His murderers from the cross that they had murdered Him on. He was so serious that He uttered with His last breaths, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Yep… ‘Christian religion’ has it exactly backwards. For the religionist, it is all about OUR seriousness, and our efforts to be what we ought be, SO THAT we will be more acceptable in the eyes of God…and to PROVE to themselves (and others around them) that they really are believers.
Give me a break. God does not need our seriousness, for He knows it is all a sham. He knows the thoughts and motivations that lie within the hearts of men and women. He knows fully well that if it wasn’t for Himself making believers out of us unbelievers, not a one of us would come to Him.
But He loves us anyway! He wants us anyway! He is after us and He wants to assure us of that fact in His promised Word. And in water, bread, and wine, attached to that Word of promise.
“If you…” Forget all that “if you” stuff! When you hear that kind of talk connected to something that you should, must, or ought be doing to become a better Christian…turn off the radio…leave the Bible study…walk out of the church…because there won’t be any gospel there…only law. Law can’t help you where God is concerned. That is why St. Paul calls it the “ministry of death”. (that’s right – google it)
God in Christ Jesus loves you. He died for you. He forgives you. He wants you. He will never leave you. He will raise you from the dead when you need Him to. He has prepared a place for you with Himself. He has freed you! Not the ‘cleaned up’ you , but the real, sinful, you… the you that really needs a Savior.
If you would rather live by the “if you’s” and the religious/spirituality/self-focused growth projects… then go ahead. But you are going to rob yourself of the comfort and assurance and rest and freedom that Christ Jesus has ALREADY won for you on that bloody cross. And you are probably going to be so busy with yourself, that you might not have much time for those around you that could really use the help of someone who is available and free to help them.
So, here’s my advice. Chuck all that navel-gazing, Christian self-improvement religion, and trust in what the Living God has already done for you, is doing for you, and will yet do…for you. And realax a little. And enjoy being what God made you to be in this world, a person… nothing more…nothing less.
Thanks to flickr and Kpako for the photo
We need a Savior (and we’ve got one), not a self-help guru, or cruel task master that is trying to whip us into shape.
All over the place in the Christian blogesphere, I run into folks who are obsessesd with a perfect church.
Forget it. It ain’t gonna happen.
Don’t they know who it is that makes up the Church?
Don’t they know that the wheat and the tares grow together? Don’t they know that the wheat are still sinners, too?
The emphasis ought be on our need of a Savior (using the Law and our brokeness and the brokeness of the world), and then the Savior Himself should be emphasized. What He has done, what He is doing, and what He will yet do.
There is a big diffeence when you focus on the sinner and not the Savior.
Pride, self-righteousness, phoniness, and despair are all hallmarks of focusing on the sinner and whipping him/her into shape.
Repentance, love, forgiveness, and freedom are all hallmarks of focusing on the need for a Savior, and focusing on just who that Savior is.
Baptism and Holy Communion and liturgy and a church that looks Catholic.
” We aren’t into all that “religious ritual.”
OK… here we go again.
Looks can be deceiving.
There can be a certain amount of ritual as the church goes about worshipping the Lord in Word and Sacrament. Things ought be done rightly and in good order.
But the focus is not on ritual. The focus is on Jesus Christ and His promises.
The focus is on the non-religious. It is on what Jesus has done for us. What He is doing… for us. And what He will yet do…for us. That is not being “religious” in the right understanding of the word. That is trusting in faith.
Religion comes from our end. It is what we do to try to attain holiness. It is our efforts to become more acceptable to God. That is “religion” in it’s most bald sense.
The irony here is that many churches that pride themselves on not being “religious”, because they reject a more formal liturgical worship and an understanding of the true presence of Christ in the Sacraments, are actually MORE religious, even though in appearance they might look less religious.
They may worship in a warehouse with no altar and folding chairs set up, and the pastor may have shorts and a Hawaiian shirt on, and traditional Christian hymns are traded out for contemporary Christian rock music…but they are actually being more religious.
Not because of those things specifically, but because the Word is being internalized.
The external nature of the Word (God coming to us from outside of ourselves) is turned upside down, and now the whole enterprise revolves around ‘us’ and what we are doing to try and make this Word real, and meaningful in our own lives. Worship then, becomes a project of the self. Our emotions, our experience, our comittment and seriousness. That IS RELIGION.
The external Word. God comes TO US. The direction is all important.
Many churches that have a more formal litugical worship can get it wrong also and confuse the direction of the promises. Roman Catholicism is a good example of this misdirection. The direction in their Sacrament of the Altar is from us to God. (backwards)
This is why a right understanding of the Word and the Sacraments is so important. This is why a right understanding of the true nature of man’s will (bound to sin) is so important.
When we take over and place ourselves at the center, place the emphasis on our decision, our seriousness, our striving…things get turned upside down in a hurry and the gospel can just disappear.
And what you can end up with then…is “religion”… no matter how high, or low your worship style is.
I have friends that tell me that they don’t like the church that I go to because it is too “religious”.
They see a church building that actually looks like it is set apart for something of ‘the other’. It appears, in some respects, ‘other worldly’.
There is an altar, stained glass windows, church pews with kneelers,hymnals, candles, vestments on the pastor, a bulletin with a liturgy, a pulpit, a pipe organ, a cross (they don’t think that is too bad). It looks, in many respects, Roman Catholic.
They have been taught that Roman Catholic is bad. Usually, where they worship, many, if not all of the things mentioned above have been replaced by an auditorium, with folding chairs, band instruments, Polo or Hawaiian shirts, big screens and stage lighting. The sermon has been replaced with a ‘how to’ class in Christian obedience.
While some of those modern methods aren’t necessarily bad, in and of themselves, they can and often do tend to place the focus and emphasis of the message back onto ‘the self’. (which I believe fosters religiosity)
As Lutheran Christians, we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We recognize the importance of the symbolism in the things passed down to us from saints that have gone before us. As Lutheran Christians, we recognize that because of our Christian freedom, we do not have to keep any of those things. We want to. Meaningless symbols can just be expressions of religiosity. But when those symbols are tied to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, they become life giving lines of hope that are anchored to our Lord Jesus. They help keep us in Him… and Him alone.
Often, what appears to be “religious” is not at all…and what appears to not be “religious”, is really quite so.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am certain you will find very religious people in the congregation where I worship. And I believe that in the contemporary expressions of Evangelicalism, you can certainly find faithful Christians that have no room for religiosity.
But for the most part, when the focus is upon the Word of God, the law and gospel and the administering of the sacraments, the direction of the congregation is away from the self and towards our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus…and the wonderful things that He has accomplished for us, is accomplishing for us, and will yet accomplish… for us.
You can’t tell a book by it’s cover…or can you?
Addendum: Here is a short article, the likes of which rarely (if ever), for the reasons stated below, would be seen in ‘The Lutheran’. click on Easter Faith
I had the dubious opprotunity to peruse the pages of ‘The Lutheran’, the other day. It exhausted me. So many articles on doing. We lutherans are doing this, those lutherans are doing that, digging wells, planting rice, rearranging somebody’s finances, investing here, building a home there…doing, doing,doing.
I did find it, in an add, where the church was trying to raise money.
Even there, the name of ‘Jesus’, was associated with doing…your doing.
‘The Lutheran’ is the poster boy for “Christian religion.” But virtually nowhere in those pages do you see anything about what Christ has done for you. What that cross was all about, or the importance of telling people about the One that came to save them. In this day and age that would be just a bit too pushy and judgemental. “Save us? From what ?”
What the folks at ‘The Lutheran’ have figured out is that it is much safer to feel good about yourself and the things you are doing than to actually hand over the Living God to someone and take the risk of being called “intolerant”, by mentioning that name that the whole world just loves to hate, namely… Jesus, the Christ.
That’s right. Too much ‘religion’, in not only the Lutheran churches, but the Roman Catholic churches and the Protestant churches, and the Pentecostal churches, the non-denominational denominations, Baptist churches, yada yada yada….
If we define ‘religion’ as that which we do to ascend to the divine, or grasp some sort of personal spirituality, then there is way too much of that going on, in all the churches.
‘Religion’, puts the onus on you. What you do. What you feel. What you say. What you think.
Faith, what Christ is after in us, is quite another matter.
Faith puts the onus on Christ. On what He has done. On what He is doing, and on what He will yet do.
So, am I saying that we are unimportant. Heavens no! Of course we are important, or He would not have died for us.
What we do is important. But not for God’s sake. He doesn’t even need us. But our neighbors do. We were created for good works, but those good works are properly directed outward and not upward.
Christ put to death on the cross, the ‘religion project’. It was nailed there along with Christ to that instrument of death. “It is finished.” We are finished. The old Adam was also staked to that wood and left to die.
Too far back for you to relate? OK, well the same thing happened when you were baptised. The old sinful self was put to death. The religion project, the self improvement project to please God, was held under the water and drowned. (Romans 6:3)
When we lose faith in this act of God, when we feel like we must show our faithfulness, that we are serious about God, we naturally engage in ‘religion’. Doing to impress God, doing to impress the neighbor, and doing to impress ourselves.
Baptism and the Lord’s supper take a back seat. They revert to, or always were, just symbols of my faithfulness, instead of the living presence of God for us (His faithfulness to us), to assure us of His presence and work in our lives.
So give up ‘religion’ and take up your faith! Trust in what He has done and not in anything that you might do. That is the freedom, the real freedom, that Christ has won for you.
– Steve M.