Is anyone else out there a die hard Monty Python fan?
This morning, Don Merritt got the ball rolling with a couple dynamite posts on Life Reference, and this is an “extended comment” to the second one, “Form, Faith, and Following“. I suggest you look that over before this, because…. well… it will just make more sense that way.
We, as practicing Followers of Christ, and often (this humbles me a lot), actively serving ministers… spend a great deal of time, effort, prayer… sometimes tears… pondering and shaping “worship” or the “practice of religion” in such a way as to strike a balance among three elements of tension…
(1) The Holy Bible, repository of the Words of God as expressed through the Words of Jesus, the Word of God that is Jesus (Logos), the Law and the Prophets, interpreted through the Word of God that is the Holy Spirit (Rhema). We seek to be “true to the Word”, however that may be.
(2) Relevance to Our Time, Our Culture, Our People. Speaking God’s Truth is not merely a matter of parroting holy words. Telling our people how to care for sheep, without applying and illustrating Biblical principles in our time, culture and lives would be foolish. Jesus did not do that. Neither should we.
(3) Tradition. Almost all of us worship and live our Christian lives out as a part of a community of faith, whether how we worshiped as children, how we trained, how we formalized our service to God… that community comprises its own culture, history, practices, interpretive frameworks of scripture and experience. We are usually part of a “continuum” from past to future, through this present.
Personally, I think this is a GOOD “tension”. These are each important things. Remove any of these elements, and I believe “religion” would suffer, and the people would not experience what God would provide in such experience. But where it all goes wrong, for me, is when we get the “cart before the horse”. When we focus with such intensity on our “religion”, that we fail to recognize that this is a Two-Party enterprise between ourselves (human people) and God…
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Please understand. I grew up in a “Religion Free Zone”. While I, myself, had a vibrant prayer relationship with God and all His Persons, I was not a member of any religion, nor allowed to be so, nor allowed to speak of God, or Jesus, or prayer in my home, nor allowed to own a Bible. (Though God cut me some slack on the “obedience” of this part, and I had one (a Gideon… I didn’t steal it… the stamp said ‘if you don’t have one, and you want one, take this one’… and I didn’t, and I did, so I did) that I had to hide under my bed mattress and read by flashlight in the night. Anyway, I grew up with only a Bible (King James, at that) to tell me what God was, is, could do, couldn’t do, and how He related to me. So, I’d pray, talk to Jesus, He’d answer, talk to me, take me places, show me things.. and we had a marvelous time together. (Btw, He’s also SUPER in math! He tutored me a whole year in 8th grade Algebra, and I’d never have gotten it without Him.)
Anyway, later on in my life, after I was beyond the authority covenant of my parents, I asked Him a question… asked Him to show me something… explain something to me… and He said He could not answer. Not that He didn’t KNOW the answer… He did. But that I would not comprehend the answer, so… no answer. This was a first in my little spirit. Never, my whole life, had He failed to answer something about Himself. So, I was insistent! I argued! I wanted to KNOW! NOW! So… being a Child of His not accustomed to not getting my own way… I pitched a fit. Didn’t help a bit. It was still, “No.”
So, I calmed down, pondered a bit, and devised another strategy. OK, so if He would not answer because I would not yet understand the answer, could He teach me THAT? Whatever it was I had to understand, to understand the answer? (Anyone hearing echoes of “42”, and Deep Thought here?)
To this request, he said, “Little Monk, for me to answer this question, show you what you want to see, you must first enter in to a…” (I’ll never forget these specific words as long as I live…) “corporate worship experience of Me.”
Gentle Reader, I was so shocked I couldn’t even respond. I could barely even interpret the words, make sense of them. I had to just sit for a moment, repeating them to myself, and let them soak in. When at last they DID, I said,
“Are… are You…. are You talking about joining a CHURCH!!!???” *insert tone of utter shock and disbelief here*
“Yes. Yes, I am.” Jesus responded.
“WHAT? Are You KIDDING? You’ve GOT to be Kidding! They don’t Know You. They don’t mind You. They just talk ABOUT You, they don’t actually DO anything You’ve told us to DO! You’re way stricter with me than I see you with Any of Them! Heck, they can’t see You, or hear You. They don’t let You take them places. As far as most of them are concerned, You’re just an Absentee-Landlord, deaf mute, they just send telegrams to once in a while!”
Now, Gentle Reader, let me hasten to point out… I was very young. I was very arrogant. (Please see “Recovering Omniscient” for my repentance on this.) And I was, for the most part, very WRONG. But, I was sincere.
His response? He didn’t discuss or argue. He just said, “Nonetheless…”
And that was it, To get my own way, I needed to (*blech!*… *insert shudder here*…) join a church! So I yielded, in that I’d already learned that, stubborn as I am, He is even more stubborn still. This began a journey of discovery of “what church” He wanted me IN. He would not drop hints. He said I needed to take what I knew to be True, the Bible, and find what fitted most closely for me and my spirit. And so I did, resulting in my baptism two years later, and His almost immediate answer to my question. *None of which we will discuss here right now.*
But, in that seeking process I had to think through “Religion”, what it meant, what He means by it, and how all that lines up with Scripture. I mean, there are (according to fairly recent research), approximately 32,000 registered “religions” in the world, of which about 28,000 claim Christian as their basis. So… what does that MEAN? Who has it right? Who has it wrong? What if we choose wrongly?
I mean, if I picked wrong, would I find myself at the Judgment, all shiny and hopeful, just to find I’d been hanging with the wrong crowd? Would I get there just to see some old guy looking like the Knight from Indiana Jones’ Quest for the Holy Grail shaking his head and saying, “You chose… poorly,” and then be sent to Hell?
This was a real CONCERN, Gentle Reader. YOU may have the luxury of being from a family of faith, and may never had to “shop” for your eternal salvation… but this was life or death for me!
When I took all this concern, all this anxiety, to Jesus… well, I won’t say He “laughed at me” exactly… but He did sort of waft all my fears aside with a gentle wave of His hand… and He taught me something I’ve never forgotten or let go of. I think I’ll close this post with this lesson I learned, and as always if it fits for you… great! Blessings to thee! And if it does NOT fit, or the Holy Spirit does not affirm it as truth in your heart, then cast it aside without hesitation or remainder.
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He took me to Samaria, sitting by a well. The woman came with her waterpot, and they talked about gifts, and thirst, and water. And then, she started to suspect Who she was talking to… and she dared to ask Him a question…
The woman *said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24)
She asked Him a question of “Religion”, and He answered with something completely different… an answer of Truth, of Spirit, of Relationship with God. He was ALWAYS doing that kind of thing… the Woman Caught in Adultery, the question of Taxes to Caesar, Nicodemus and how to enter one’s mother again. He never EVER seems to ARGUE about “religion”… He just tells you something completely different about Truth, and Spirit, and Relationship with God.
When the conversation was finished, and Jesus returned us to the here-and-now… (well, granted, it was the there-and-then so many years ago, but still… you know what I mean)… He taught me this:
God and man are in Relationship. God, never changes, never alters. God is timeless, Eternal. Man, on the other hand, is constantly changing, constantly adapting, and constantly altering himself and his social groupings through time. Think of a “Light Beam” exchanging light in relationship between God and man. From “God’s side”, that is pure spirit. God’s love, grace, inspiration, care, all of that… just flows, timeless and unchanging onto and into His Beloved Children.
But what about Man? How does he RESPOND to that? How will he REFLECT that back to God? How will Man express love, gratitude, worship, service? Well, he will do so in “human language”, “social language”. He will respond in his relationship with God, however he best perceives such a response, such an expression to be, in any given time, place, or culture.
Those are going to DIFFER from place to place, time to time, culture to culture. And so they SHOULD! Man will try to reflect and give to God, the best he can conceive of, in any given time and place. Since time and place, for MAN are ever-changing…. so will religion be. Since they do not change at all for God, God’s side stays the same.
God is ever Spiritual. Man, expressing himself in private before God, is also spiritual. But, when people gather, as they are wired to do (man is a social creature), then that CORPORATE expression, will codify into a “religion”, and these will differ by culture.
It’s not that one is wrong, and another right. It’s that these provide arenas for congregate expressions of relationship back to God… birthed from spirit in private.
In short? God to Man? One… Men to God? Many…
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I’ve really struggled with how to express this last “conclusion”, Gentle Reader. Feel free to help me express what is a very simple vision, that seems to convolute into much more complicated words when I try to say it.
Comments MORE than welcome!
Blessings and grace to thee! I am yet SO much a student, sitting at the Teacher’s knee, listening… listening… listening…