When you think of the church, have you ever ask yourself this question: “Are you in relationship with a person or with an organization?” As with any relationship, there is always the opportunity for misunderstanding, hurt, neglect and abuse. Sometimes it is intentional and sometime not. The thing that pushes people away from God is not isolated to just one thing. It is like trying to pull apart a hairball. [Thanks Jason for that illustration!] The problem with religion is that it was a good thing that went wrong a long time ago. It comes down to four basic issues.
With religion there is the issue of “us and them” or whether one is “in or out.” Jesus encountered this when the religious leaders of his day asked “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?” In other words, how come you and your group do not do things as we do them. We are right and you are wrong. You are out while we are on the inside.
Religion can also create the problem of power. Power equals control and is too easily turned into manipulation. How often have you heard a TV evangelist tell their audience that they just send in money they will be blessed by God. I heard one man tell his audience that they would just send in handkerchief to him he would blessed it and return it to the sender; and God in turn would bless them in answer prayer all for a small donation.
The problem of righteousness scale is a problem of trying to keep certain commandment to please either a group of people or to please God. It becomes a thing of judgment if you fail to keep those certain requirements. Who is keeping track of the ‘righteous scale.’ Is it a church group? Jesus made a startling statement when he said to the religious leaders “Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” In Jesus day, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were Jewish people who worked for the enemy, the Roman oppressors. They were hated and seen by their own people as traitors of the worst sort. But here’s the point of what Jesus was saying. Tax collectors and prostitutes were generally not proud of their professions. They knew they were not living a life that would be pleasing to God. And when Jesus confronted them they were humble. The people that were not humble or those that thought they were living a righteous life. They were proud of their ability to keep the law and were not of the worse sort, tax collectors and prostitutes. And because of that pride their heart was closed to God when Jesus appeared on the scene. You might want to read the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. It will give you insight into the difference between prideful righteousness and humility that God seeks.
And then there’s the problem of just simply missing the point. When we’re missing the point we are spending more time obeying and loving what men have set up as the right thing to do rather than loving God and our neighbors. Being legal is more important than loving others. And interestingly enough the world is not becoming less religious but more religious. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day they were setting aside the guidelines of God to follow the guidelines of men. They were setting aside what God wanted in order to keep their traditions.
One reason people adopt following a religion and not a relationship with Jesus has to do with humility. Following a religion and being part of ‘in crowd’ can give us a false sense of security, all in the name of worshipping God. Jesus said “whoever exalts himself will eventually be humble; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So if you turned your back on religion for whatever reason, that’s a good thing. Now start afresh and go seek out Jesus. Abandon fear, fighting, control, wall building and just simply trust Jesus. He is far superior to religion.