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.