Jesus Vs. Religion


It’s been a long time.  Lots of stuff going on.  Seems like the kind of stuff people would blog about.  I’m not a good blogger, though… I don’t have deep roots in liveJournal.  This isn’t a chronicle of my life, but a place to ponder the questions and formulate answers.  Oh, one thing that should be mentioned (while I’m talking about me, and before I get to the point), is that a few months ago I started a new job as the Assistant Pastor (focusing on Worship and Youth Ministry) at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.  Therefore, it should be said that nothing I write here, have written in the past, or will write in the future necessarily represents the views of that or any other church.  So don’t get mad at them.

But here it is… there’s this thing that’s been floating the net.  It’s VIRAL (that’s a good thing, now).  This guy named Jefferson Bethke posted a poetry slam about why Jesus and Religion are opposed… why he likes one and hates the other.  Some people love it.  Some people hate it.  Some people are facepalming because they don’t see him ACTUALLY drawing a dichotomy between Jesus and Religion.  The vast majority of people are completely indifferent, but no one on either pole believes that.

If you haven’t seen it yet, this is it:

Because of the people I have relationships with, I can’t get away from it.  Or the responses to it.  My various feeds are inundated with links to that video, or blogs supporting the video, or blogs disputing the video, or blogs and videos deriding the video.  Lots of opinions; many of them insightful, many of them insipid.  Some of them get hot at Bethke for bashing the church.  Some of them get hot at Bethke for pushing Jesus.  A couple of responses caught my eye and got passed along on my profile.  One was from the Gospel Coalition [a gang of Biblical superheroes that seek to save the world in the name of orthodoxy as they know it… as you might guess, I find myself on opposite sides of many lines from them, but they had this one pretty together], and a video that a friend of mine found and posted showing a Roman Catholic (not catholic; that means everybody, but that’s not a rant for right now).

This is that video:

Sooooooo…. if you’re still with me, that probably means you haven’t watched the stuff here or read the link.  That takes too long.  Anyway, the surprise is that everything above was just preamble anyway; getting you up to speed for this post.

I’ve got a friend that messaged me shortly after I posted the “Catholic Response,” asking me: “Aaron – you agree with the Catholic video? “without the catholic church”? You are wiser than me (seriously) so what’s with the catholic bragging? YOur thoughts?”

That’s humbling.  Thanks, man.  You’re a more humble, gifted, motivated, and determined person than I am.

I’ve got my share of beefs with the Romans, but most of the really bang-your-head-against-the-wall stuff – the history that gets the church slammed – has been addressed in the last half century or so.  Most people that bash it are more fashionable than in the know.  I think that video response had a lot of good points, and the GC one posted above as well.  Within the Church, so much of what we argue about comes down to semantics.  Don’t get me wrong, semantics are important.  It’s about saying what we actually mean to say, and providing sharp clarity to our positions.  We need to be careful about the words we use, because words are heavy, and putting them in the wrong place can crush an argument.  In this case, the argument is framed as being Jesus vs. Religion.  The problem is that what Bethke calls religion isn’t the definition of religion.  Now people coming to the defence of religion as they understand it are actually talking about something different than he was.  A lot of people are just saying the same thing with different words.  That annoys me.

Here’s a couple of Bible nuggets for you:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

In the first, Jesus clearly tells the “religious people” [that Bethke said Jesus hated, he might be right about that] that they should be continuing their religious practices while ALSO acting out the prescriptions of their faith in their relationships.  Micah 6:8 says that what God required of his people was to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.  That humble walk is the spiritual discipline that some call “religion”.  I’m bad at it, but that’s not the point.  The point is that it’s really easy to elevate one over the other, the religion and the relationship, because different people connect to it in different ways – finding one easier than the other – but Jesus held them both in high esteem.  The problem he had was when people thought that putting on a façade of obedience to God, while ignoring so many of the ways that he commanded [read: made rules about] his people to relate to the rest of the world, was somehow okay.  In the second quote, an early leader in the church clarifies a definition of religion for Christians.  He points out that caring for people IS religion.

So in response to Bethke’s initial question, “I’d say you’re wrong.  He specifically said that he didn’t come to abolish the law.  Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion, but to perfect it.”

I think my friend’s question had more to do with the laundry list of accomplishments that the video guy [he’s not famous enough to go find his name] credits to the Roman Catholic church, though.  In a nutshell, some of it is right on.  Some of it he’s crediting to the Roman Catholic church, but really should be “Christianity in general.” Some of it is pure ass-smoke.  Without Catholics say goodbye to hospitals?  That’s just dumb.  Public education?  Hardly an invention of the Catholic church.  I think that what he’s trying to say, is that in the Western world, the Church has funded and supported these things to some extent throughout it’s history.

The flipside is that to some extent throughout it’s history, it hasn’t.

It’s really easy to get negative about the Church, about religion in general.  We get known for our failures more than our successes; that’s a well-established fact.  Another way of putting it was credited to an FBI official: “Our failures are public, but our successes are private.”

We feel bad about the crusades, about the inquisition, about the arguing, hypocrisy, financial and sexual abuse that the Church has rightly been charged with through it’s history.  It’s worth noting, though, that the corrections to these things tend to come from the passionate religious within the Church, not from without.  Still, ask an avowed athiest what he thinks of Christianity, this is what comes to mind.  Catholic Dude’s right, though.  The Church is the greatest force for Good in human history.  It’s done more to feed the hungry, shelter the poor, and embrace the wounded, than any organization that anyone can name.  Period.  Yeah, there’s been bad, but to say that the bad has outweighed the good is to be ignorant of history, as well as what the Church is doing around the world right now.

The Church was called the Bride of Christ.  How do you think Jesus feels when people talk smack about her?  They’re gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do, bro.

Here’s the thing, though: Bethke never insults the Church intentionally.  In fact, he says he believes in sin, loves the Church, and loves the Bible.  What are people getting upset about, then?  That’s religion.


About Aaron Mark Reimer

Aaron Mark Reimer was born in 1980 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and his parents promptly moved him west to Ontario. He is a pastor, a writer, a speaker, a musician, and a bit of a geek. Published works include The Art of Being Broken, Worshipping Through John: A Devotional For Praise Teams, and a short story about going to Jupiter with his dad that he wrote when he was seven. He has one wife (Vanessa), two sons (Dúnadan and Taliesin), and many cats. Follow him on Twitter as @IAmAnErrorMaker

Posted on January 16, 2012, in Christianity, God, Ramblings, Theological Reflections and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I agree with your view here Aaron. I posted something the other day that talked about somethings in that video that were “incorrect”. I posted it for educational purposes, but got kinda reprimanded for “bickering” about it. My intention wasn’t to bicker but to educate. As for this video, I like what you said about semantics. I feel like if Bethke had said “legalism” over “religion” I would support it more. I think the video is great, well done, but I don’t think Jesus “hates” religion. It wasn’t the fact that the Pharisee’s were religious that Jesus rebuked them for, it was the legalism they had created within their religion that Jesus rebuked them for. Just my two cents. Good post!

  2. Speaking of getting reprimanded I was mocked in an open forum by a good friend for my view… I tend to ramble so… be warned…

    Jesus > Religion. This is an equation we should be comfortable with. Jesus = Religion. As Christians, even orthodox Christians we see a red flag in the back of our minds with that one. Jesus Religion.

    Bethke at no time calls us to abolish organized religion. Bethke at no time calls us to abolish the Church. Bethke says (to paraphrase) ‘Religion is a word with a lot of baggage, people hear it and they think of legalism, hypocrisy, facades, self righteousness, and a host of other issues.’ he goes on to say ‘I hate those things and so does Jesus.’

    Where is the issue there??? Is it in semantics?? Seriously? Ok lets address semantics. The definitions of words change all the time. If I invited you over to my place by saying “Hey man, my wife is finally taking a night out, wanna come over for a gay time?” you would have serious concerns… but had i posed this question 60+ years ago you would have been stoked to come chill. If I said 20 years ago, “I think I have gone viral!” you would be calling the CDC and getting me quarantined…. no longer the case. To argue that Bethke should not use the word religion is frankly dumb. ‘Religion’ as a word carries with it a weight that we, in the church, tend to ignore. If Bethke had done a poetry slam about Jesus v. Legalism than he would not have been talking about self righteousness, ignoring the poor, facades, hypocrisy or anything else it would have been an attack on legalism, it would have not gone viral and it would have been relatively boring. Also it would not have gotten his point across. Jesus hates religion?? Absolutely. When religion is defined, as Bethke defines it in the poem which is consistent with the definition we find from any unchurched individual religion = hypocrisy, legalism, facades, self righteousness, self promotion, self glorification and a host of other things that Jesus Himself would hate. When we compare the worlds view of religion with Websters we see a disconnect and in the end THAT is where the argument is. What Bethke wrote is entirely accurate.

    The RC response I watched, it was ok. I wouldn’t say as one friend did that the RC kid is a better rhymer, personally the only rhymer i like is reimer, but thats another matter. I too thought he gave too much credit to the church but putting that aside I can see what he is saying: “Church = Good.” The problem is this i’ll express it as an equation as well

    (Church = good) ≠ (Jesus > religion)

    So the points exist as separate. Bethke isn’t bashing the church, he is bashing the things that world defines as religious. So there is simply no argument there. Its like if I said the best fruit is an apple and you said I like driving. The points are completely unrelated… Bethke himself said “I love the church” so defending the church in response to that is simply useless.

    Food for thought:
    The ONLY people who are publicly attacking Bethke are people within the Church. Over 13.5 Million people have seen this video and heard a very clear and concise Gospel message. They heard of Jesus, His power, His might, His freedom, His call, His role in his life as well as in the lives of others and a lot of other good things… So the question is this: Is what Bethke did good or bad? Does God support it or not? If what he did is good and God supports it and we stand against it as arrogant theology majors who “know something” than what are we really??

    The GC article was so close, it actually made the point itself at the beginning of the article where it said “Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it.” Then he went into defining what religion means to him and said that because of his definition of religion Bethke’s statement is “misleading and unhelpful” … a shame. So, so close.

    So in summation Bethke is right. As religion is defined by the rest of the poem, Jesus hates it. The GC is right as well, as religion is defined by them, Jesus does not hate it. Aaron/Derek you’re both right that the argument has come down to semantics and at this point its just getting stupid. At the end of the day Bethke doesn’t speak a word of untruth. Religion, as he defines it has corrupted a lot of Christians and churches. That is in no way a stand against the church nor is it a stand against Christianity. It is simply a call to arms for those of us in the faith to step up, look in the mirror and figure out how we are doing. It is a message to the unchurched population that equates our faith and our church, nay, our religion, with everything that Bethke had to say. It is a message to them that says, “Do you hate religion? If so, there is still space to love Jesus.” And for us as a faith to refuse to support this kids ministry is ludicrous.

    • Mikey, I assure you there’s plenty of athiests being all pissy about the video too. Their just as douchey in their superiority over any person of faith as either wing of Christianity is to each other.

      The problem I’m having, the more I think about it, is that Bethke KNEW he was using the wrong word. His youtube description of the video is “a poem [he] wrote to highlight the differences between Jesus and FALSE religion” [emphasis mine]. The word false doesn’t actually appear in the poem, though, so unless you to the page instead of watching it embedded, you don’t get that tidbit. What you’re left with, as one athiest puts it, is: “Jefferson Bethke… Hates fruit. Loves apples.” You don’t get to love Jesus without following his teachings. When you follow his teachings, that’s true religion. If the word False was in there, it would be “Hates plastic fruit, loves apples,” which makes a lot more sense. Unfortunately, anyone predisposed to thinking Christians are stupid and illogical just got some more ammunition. Flipside is that I’m sure many people in the middle ground had a positive rethink. Anyone already committed to their position wasn’t going to get swayed by a 4 minute poem anyway.

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