Speaking with a new friend the other evening I heard the same phrase I once uttered a few years ago, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” Perhaps you would say this same thing- a general belief in God or something greater. Perhaps even a belief in Jesus, but a strict avoidance of church and those who smell to strongly of “religion”. I understand very personally where this religious trepidation stems from, but I now understand the danger in such a sentiment.

A good ol’ Wikipedia search lists about 40 major divisions of Christianity, each of whom might have some variation in belief. There are vast differences in belief such as those between Catholics and Protestants and those that seem small and subtle. With the Church disagreeing on everything from infant vs. believers baptism, the presence or absence in the gift of tongues in today’s modern society, to whether the bread & wine ARE the body & blood of Christ, simply infused with it, or a symbolic representation, physically nothing more than bread & wine, it can make the idea of choosing to follow the Christian religion intimidating and frustrating. Where does one start?

Paul is very clear in his letters to Corinth & Ephesus that not only is the local church, but the capital ‘C’ Church, is to be united and not be torn apart by disagreements between them.  I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.1 Corinthians 1:10. Yet a couple thousand years later here we are bickering and arguing over just about everything. Being human is by definition imperfection. How a bunch of messed up, self absorbed, fallible humans kept God’s Word going through the ages is itself a sign of the Holy Spirit at work.

So what are we to do? Particularly those of us that are new to faith or just the idea of sharing our faith on Sundays with others?meadow-1684549_640The answer is quite simple, really. Read your Bible. Read for yourself Christ’s words and see how he taught us to live and follow that. Stay away from religion and follow Christ. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Too many of us are getting tangled up in the fine webs of doctrine and dogma. God’s grace is not contingent on what we believe about the Eucharist or if we disagree with others about it.  But should we allow it to divide us? It is worth letting go of these small differences to follow that which is larger than us. Again, read your Bible and seek out a church that most closely aligns to what you find in it. It may be denominational or it may not. That’s okay. Find a place that feels right to you. A place where you can build trusting relationships, a place where the people will help you grow and remember that you may not see eye to eye on everything. It may not be easy, but I promise you it will be worth it.

Easy to say, I know. There are things the Bible does not comment clearly on, if at all, and you will find differences there. That’s okay. However, there are those larger differences that I believe we do need to put our foot down on. There are denominations that have twisted and turned things, that teach things that are clearly not biblical. Denominations such as Catholicism have dangerous teachings that are not found within the Bible. For instance the bible clearly teaches us: And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. -Matthew 23:9 yet they insist on the Pope being the vicar of Christ, the infallible speaker for Christ here on earth now that he is not present. That is just one instance, and one that many Catholics might not realize themselves having chosen to follow what they are taught rather than reading the Bible and letting that be their guide.  Let your Bible guide you. Let God’s Word guide you.

So again you may be asking yourself, why bother with church at all? Why bother with “religion”? There are many great answers to that question and you can read some of them here, but what I would like you to consider is the danger of going it alone. There is no support, no correction, no accountability, no camaraderie in being the lone wolf. In today’s world most of us don’t want to be corrected or held accountable, but it is a necessary and valuable part of being in a congregation and of being a Christian. Satan searches for the lost sheep, those on the fringes. It’s easier to pick them off, to lead them astray. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable. Surrounding yourself with fellow believers will help lead you back, will lift you up and encourage you when your down, help set you straight when you are lost or struggling. There is so much value in that.

thermometer-1696961_640There is also the danger of being lax or backsliding. Of picking and choosing what you follow and what you don’t if you aren’t actually committing. There can be no such thing as a half-hearted Christian: And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27. Salvation is given to those who believe in Christ as their savior and this is evidenced by sanctification, or rather the fact that having a saving faith changes you and makes you holy. If you are not seeing a change in the choices you make because of your faith I would argue that perhaps you do not have true and solid faith. Faith is active, not passive. It takes work and dedication.

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. -Revelations 3: 14-17

As Frank Powell points out in his blog article 9 Reasons Jesus Hates Religion (And You Should T00):

“… let’s be real, at its very core Christianity is a religion. By definition, religion is “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” Sounds like Christianity, right? …  You see, saying religion and Christianity are two sides of the coin is theoretically true, but it’s not true in reality. It’s true on paper, but not in life… 

Religion breeds wars. Jesus breeds love. Religion says try harder. Christianity says stop trying. Religion says reach up to God. Christianity says God reaches down to us. This is why another post about religion versus Jesus is necessary. We need to be reminded. Often. While Christianity is a religion on paper, it is much more than a religion in reality.

Maybe you have drifted towards religion. Maybe you have always lived there. Maybe you have been hurt by religious people masquerading as Christians. Maybe you want to know how to love God more intimately and follow Jesus more passionately. Regardless, the dividing lines between religion and Jesus are clear.”

I believe this is true. Religion can be dangerous, but Christianity, true Christianity, is the very opposite. It is love, it is truth, it is all that is beautiful and right in our world and so much more. Search for Christ, build up the Church, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

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Philippians 2:1-3 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.