Religion leaks into the cracked communal reality of relationship with God
Religion is like an enticing magnet -not only to people who are committed to truth and morality, but also to those who want power and recognition. How many rules did the Pharisees add to the original handful? Denominations must of necessity insist on adherence to certain common principles of conduct and doctrine to maintain unity of the membership. Otherwise there would be chaos and controversy constantly. This defining process began at the very outset of the church, as both honest and unscrupulous differences of ideas occurred during the settling process. There are many things that seem to be left up to the personal discretion of the particular believer (for example, to eat meat or only vegetables). However a ‘Christian’ must of necessity accept certain basic indisputable facts as true about God to be called such, and cannot insist that his own private view of God trumps the collective revelation of Him. The church fathers recognized this and established a set of basics to confront the heresy of their day. Here is the earliest one:
This was revised several centuries later to include statements about the church and the communion of the saints, but the basic precepts remained unchanged. A Christian by definition accedes to these essentials. No one individual or group sees all of Who God is. But we don’t have to agree on everything to harmonize in the basics. Fellowship should not and, practically speaking, cannot be only with those who agree on everything pertaining to God. He is too enormous and for that!
Religion is defined as ‘a particular system of faith and worship’. Belief in a higher power and the need to recognize and honor this being or force is pervasive throughout history. C S Lewis describes it in The Weight of Glory : “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” We are created with the need to worship. Religion orders that impulse, and since religion is managed by humans, its implementation is necessarily flawed. Religion is often blamed for many of the evils inflicted on civilization in its name. True! Conversely, the attendant morality has preserved culture and society and ennobled mankind in many ways. Applying a norm intended for the regenerated man to a natural-minded society could perhaps be helpful, but the question is whether or not this was the intention of the Regenerator. However, good intentions and fervent belief systems have yielded mixed results. G.K. Chesterton distills it with this statement: “The reformer (religious mind) is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”
But certainly the connotation that is associated with Christianity in our American culture today is not flattering. Some of that is deserved and some is the inevitable result of insisting upon an unpopular standard of morality. I feel that in our pursuit of ‘religious correctness’ and seeking political solutions we lose sight of the whole idea that Jesus Christ came to reveal Who God is, His saving intention for mankind, and His desire for personal interaction with individuals. His creed is that we believe in Him and His Father, and receive His gift of eternal life. And He left us one another – a community- a comradeship –and a command to love. What has developed from that seems a bit ponderous, mechanical, and cold – oddly reminiscent of the institution of Phariseeism that the Lord Jesus condemned. In a culture that idolizes individual rights at any cost with personal preferences paramount, it is not surprising that the acculturated church reflects a confusing representation of spiritual ideas (at best).
Without the revelation which God saw fit to impart to us in the Bible and the early eyewitness accounts, we would not have even the Apostles’ Creed. However the Bible is a large and largely unread Book, so religion far removed from the heart of God is free to breed and thrive. A strong personality or convincing theology fosters mistaken ideas of spirituality. This is no surprise to Jesus, Who warned of those who would kill His servants thinking they are doing God service.
Who can know the truth anyway? ( Apparently the writers of the New Testament thought they knew about it: In the King James version the word truth appears 118 times; the word truth’s appears once and the word true appears 54 times in the New Testament) We, however, stand next to Pilate and ask “What is truth?’ That’s a good question!