Of late, more and more people have become dissatisfied with the term religion, centered in what is known as the mainstream, more or less, orthodox church. I say 'more or less', because much of the dissatisfaction has come from those associated with the evangelical denominations, which can go from one to the other extreme, when it comes to traditional orthodoxy, but usually more toward the 'left' end of the spectrum, especially of late.
My purpose, in this article, is to remind my readers that although the mainstream church, and the 'religion' that they often engender, has taught many 'doctrines' that people have begun, at the very least, to suspect, or even to view, as mere 'fear-mongering'. Some even go so far as to say that it would be a very cruel God who would create some people, just to consign them to 'hell' ( given that orthodoxy is correct ) and thus have disassociated themselves with those that have chosen to align themselves with, or even to adopt the 'false' doctrines of these mainstream churches, and teach these 'doctrines' as truth ( they answer to God alone ). To do so, just because they do teach or believe differently, ( I believe ) is to 'throw out the baby with the bathwater', in other words, the same thing that many in the mainstream 'church' have seemingly done!
James said that 'if any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.' ( James 1:27-NRSV ) In the same 'vein', he wrote later ( 2:17 ), 'So faith, if it has no works, is dead'. Reading in context; we can see that what James was telling them, and what God has told us ( in His Word ), is that we must ACT on what we profess to believe, else it's not true religion at all, and we are only professors and not living confessors!
There are several different ways that 'religion' can be defined; it can simply be what one believes, or as James is speaking of above, it is what is called the 'Christian religion', and this is usually what is meant by the phrase 'he got religion'. Most people nowadays, especially those that speak demeaningly of 'religion', have in mind 'organized religion', or the institutional church. Talking to a brother this morning ( thanks, Greg! ), I said 'I have no problem with organization; it's just the way some things are organized that I have a problem with'! Like I said above ( in other words ); if we profess to believe a certain way, and don't live those beliefs, our religion is worthless ( I say this to myself most of all )!
No doubt, there are many 'doctrines' being taught today in the mainstream, and orthodox churches, as 'Gospel truth', that have been shown to 'leak like a sieve', and more that are being, or have been proven to be absolute falsehood! The Truth, however, 'is what it is' ( as another brother ( thanks, John! ) puts it, 'it is what it aught to be' ), and it is not our belief in a certain matter that makes it so, or not so; for instance, it is not our belief that Christ came again in the first century, that makes it so, and conversely, one's belief that He did not ( yet ), does not make it so. Religion becomes a problem when we allow our beliefs, not only in word, but in deed, to keep us from fulfilling God's command to 'love one another, as I have loved you'. It is true that many within the organized ( institutional ) church today, especially the 'orthodox' branch, seem to have forgotten this principle, but I believe that as many or more, have begun to change their system of belief concerning how we are to treat others, even those with whom we disagree, even vehemently, and even those within the more 'orthodox' denominations have 'put their best foot forward'; sharing, spreading the love of God in Christ Jesus, almost contrary, seemingly, to their purported 'doctrines!
The argument has been made that 'when Christ walked this earth; did He only ( actively ) love those that believed the way He said they should'? The answer, of course is, overwhelmingly, No!
So can we do less?
Many like to use the 'phrase 'forsake not the assembling of yourselves together' ( Hebrews 10:25-KJV ) as a 'proof-text' that we should, if at all possible, be in church every time that a meeting is called there: quickly; I'd like to remind my readers, 'we're always in 'church'!' We ARE the Church, and although most, if not all, will readily admit that; I believe that when too much emphasis is put on meeting together as a group, in a special building, on a certain ( special ) day ( or days-Sunday and Wednesday ) of the week, to pray together, sing a few songs of praise, listen to a sermon, partake of the 'Lord's Supper' ( varyingly ) and fellowship as the Body of Christ; we tend to forget that WE are the Church, we are the Body of Christ, and when we fellowship, whether it be in a special building, on a certain day of the week, or at our jobs on Monday, or a picnic, we are celebrating His Body and Blood, we are not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, even if it is not the traditional time, the traditional place, the traditional words................! All these things by themselves are not bad things to do; on the contrary, they are very right, very good things to do, but we get into a 'rut' because we begin to look at doing these things, at a certain time, and in a certain place, as 'Church' and go about our busy every-day lives, complete with all our worries, stress, and busyness the rest of the week! Sure, we keep a semblance, or a pittance of our Church-ness about us, especially when we remember that Jesus told His disciples 'where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them' ( Matthew 18:20-NRSV ). Here's a good question: when some Christian buddies get together, throw back a few 'tall cold ones', and watch football; is God among them? Are they gathered in His name? Must they pray before God is present?
Back to the Hebrews passage; not only do many quote this a lot; they often mis-quote it, not taking into account the covenantal and historical context of the passage. The covenantal context is brought into focus with the previous verse, where the writer adjures them, 'let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds', and both the covenant and historical context, when he says, in the latter part of verse 25, 'and so much the more as you see the Day approaching'. As above; there is nothing at all wrong with meeting together at a certain time, in a certain place, for all the purposes that I mentioned above; not only is it 'traditional', it is well-nigh a 'must' for the busyness of our everyday lives; we need that one special day to 'rest' from that busyness, to take our minds off our worries, get out from under our 'stress', but isn't this something that we should be doing every day? Don't we have our 'rest' in Christ? In fact; we have 'every spiritual blessing' ( Ephesians 1:3 ) in Christ! Aren't we told not to worry, not to stress about things, in Matthew 6:33?
To 'wrap things up'; I just want to remind us all ( myself included ) that there is nothing wrong with 'religion'; it is the way in which we practice our religion ( what we believe ) that can be wrong or right. Sure; much of 'organized religion' practices their religion badly ( poorly ) and in some cases, just plain wrongly, and this is too bad, so sad; but should this keep us from 'practicing' our religion? Too many 'Christians' out there, I'll readily agree, are quick ( and often very 'apt' ) to spout their religion out you ( often trying to 'ram' it down your throat-sadly, I must admit that this was me! ), but if you 'fight back' with your own brand of religion, 'the gloves come off', and it's 'no holds barred', until one or both end up limping away with their pet theology intact, but with no love in their hearts for the other person! Thankfully; this is not always the case, and we must gratefully and humbly applaud our brothers and sisters who can exercise the self-control ( and restraint ) to stay away from a situation like this.
Sure; it's hard! But isn't that what God promised?