A talented young believer posted a video of himself delivering a poem last week about what's wrong the Church today and the thing has gone crazy-viral. Nearly 15 million views at this point. Quite remarkable.
Obviously, the piece is connecting with people. I would guess that most are connecting positively because they're interested in seeing a better angle on their Christian faith that's different than what they've been seeing. That desire is always good.
My interest is not the thoughts or offering of the young man who posted it. (I do like that it's an offering of discipleship through art, something that has a long and beautiful history in the church.) My interest is the wild response itself.
Why the huge reaction? One can only guess. So I will.
First, I think it is centered in the wonderful, hopeful and youthful idealism that Jesus is about more than what we get from the Christian establishment.
But this is not new. It is what the Reformation was about. It is what's at the center of every new denominational founding. It was seen in the Jesus Movement, from which I came.
It is what Gandhi was saying when he said he would happily become a Christian if he ever met one.
Same with Bono: "Yeah, I'd break bread and wine. If there was a church I could receive in."
It sounds good and aspirational, but it can also be horribly arrogant. It makes very clear who gets it and who doesn't, elevating "us" over "you people." And doing that has always given us a good feeling. In fact, it was exactly what the Pharisees were about.
You see, Jesus' own circle would not satisfy either Gandhi or Bono because imperfection and short-coming are inherent in anything that involves humans. And the church is God's bride made of exactly that: humans who live between the "already" of Christ's saving work and the "not yet" of His full redemption. That's the way it is. Settle in for it until the fullness of time comes.
Now, I know the young man who posted his video poetry is not arrogant. He has a refreshingly humble and teachable heart, as demonstrated in his reaction to and interaction with Kevin DeYoung surrounding Kevin's thoughtful reaction to the post.
But I would surmise that many who have forwarded it to friends and shared it on Facebook have done so as a rage against the machine that happens to be a form of Christianity that they don't care for. It's rock throwing and all generations have done it to varying degrees. We must come to terms that if the question is "What do you think Christianity should be like?" your answer doesn't really matter. Sorry. It's SO not about you. The question for every Christian is rather: What does our Lord desire?
Yes, the young man in the video is right in spirit, but quite wrong in many of the facts. These shortcomings are expected and somewhat excusable due to his youth, both in age and time following Christ. But his viewers—those who have forwarded the video in the millions—have a larger duty toward discernment.
So let's ask the big question. Does Jesus hate religion? Well, depends on what you're talking about, which this poem never really clarifies.
Jesus' biggest tussle was with the religious leaders of the day. The ones who thought they had God all figured out and confined snugly in their particular box. In fact, they are the ones that had Him killed. (Matt:26:62-66).
But that's not all there is to the story. Jesus was a good Jewish boy. He went in for all the religious trappings of His faith. I like the way Kevin DeYoung puts it:
Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18;8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion.
His parents were good Jews and He honored his parents to the end. Look at the major parts of his young life explained in the Gospels. They are primarily stories about the various ceremonies faithful Jewish parents did with their children—circumcision and presentation in the Temple. Luke 2:39 says approvingly, "When Joseph and Mary did everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned" to their home town. Jesus and His family did the religious things. His followers have as well since the day He left us.
If you want Jesus, you have to take him for who He was. You can't re-construct a stripped down, organic anti-corporate version of what you think He should be. Jesus' gospel is a scandal to all of us, the hipsters and the geezers. It's different than your fabulous pair of pre-worn skinny jeans.
James tells us about religion, that there is some religion that God is quite big on.
So it's not a question of Jesus and religion or Jesus minus religion. It's Jesus and what kind of religion. And this is a bit of the problem with the "Just give me Jesus" and the "Jesus Plus Nothing" approach to faith. We'd like to make it all that simple. Jesus never did. He just didn't. He gives His church certain trappings for good reason.
Does the system of religion (of belief and practice) take you regularly to Christ, compelling you to cast yourselves before him in adoration and upon him in desperation? Or does it given you a false sense of your own self-sufficiency and superiority based on the system itself because it fits with your sense of right?
One is what each of us need. The other is rooted in the original and devastating sin of pride. So no, religion is not the problem. Our rewriting the script is.
Christ—and his Father—gave ALL for His beloved Bride, the Church. She is not beautiful. She is not refined. In fact, God's word clearly describes her as a whore. (Read Hosea 2, Jeremiah 2, Ezechiel 16.)
But this will not always be. For it is written (Revelation 19):
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's holy people.)
9 Then the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!" And he added, "These are the true words of God."
This is the story of the Gospel. It is God's story and the story of His Beloved. It is therefore, our story. And because of the promise, He will not give up on her. Therefore, neither can His followers. That is what we are called to as Christians.
So let's put down the rocks and embrace Her.
Glenn T. Stanton is the Director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and the author of several books, including The Ring Makes All the Difference.
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Laura Ortberg Turner also wrote on the 'Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus': To Adore or Abhor? for Her.meneutics.
Additional coverage of religion includes:
Good Religion, Bad Religion | A new study reveals we're incurably religious. That's a problem. (August 1, 2011)
How to Become a Successful Religion | A marketing consultant advises early church leaders. (August 19, 2010)
Taming Religion | Why we need to keep The Extremist in check. (May 13, 2010)
Beyond Believers | Religion is now the hottest topic for American historians. (March 11, 2010)
Jesus Is Not a Brand | Why it is dangerous to make evangelism another form of marketing. (January 2, 2009)