Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: The End of Religion (Page 2 of 2)

January 27, 2021 – A Scandalous Life – Taking on the Establishment

Today’s Bible reading

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.– Ephesians 2:14-15 (NRSV)

The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.  And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:8-10

In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear. – Hebrews 8:13

More thoughts for meditation

In the second part of his book “A Scandalous Life” Bruxy Cavey spotlights how Jesus interacts with the religious establishment of his day. As a result, we can clearly see how his actions, teachings and irreligious agenda bypass the salvation system of his day in order to connect people directly with God. In the process of his Bible study, Cavey gives us all an opportunity to listen to the Bible again and investigate just how warped our relationship with God can get when we try to cram grace into our self-centered and self-controlled systems of self-preservation. Here is a good summary of what the whole section is about:

In a sense, Christ’s challenge to the dominant religion of his historical context becomes for us a kind of case study, from which we can draw transferable principles into our own context. The examples are particular, but if we do the work to understand them in their context, the spiritual wisdom we glean will be transcendent and transferable to our context.

The religious people of first-century Israel considered various external characteristics of their faith to be central to their spiritual lives. These were badges of identity, boundary markers of unique status and calling. We can divide these external identity markers into five categories, all of which Jesus challenged in some way:

Torah: The Law of Moses, including dietary laws and Sabbath regulations, was to be obeyed to the letter.

Tradition: Keeping the “tradition of the elders” (or Oral Torah) handed down from their ancestors was on par with obedience to Scripture (the Written Torah).

Tribalism: Ethnic, national, and cultural purity were bound together with religious identity.

Territory: A theology of holy geography meant that certain land, cities, and places were more sacred than others, and that war was a religious duty whenever this holy land was threatened.

Temple: God’s presence was believed to dwell in one holy location in a unique way where worshipers could offer sacrifices and receive forgiveness.

Notice that each of these identity markers engenders exclusivity. Together they helped prop up a strong “us versus them” mentality between Israel and the rest of the world.

Yes, God had granted Israel special status, but that status was not an end in itself—it was a means to an end, a call to a particular mission. In keeping with his heart for partnership, God had entrusted his message of love to Israel so they might carry his message to all the people of the world (see Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Isaiah 2:2-4; 42: 6; 49:6; 60:3; Micah 4:1-7; Zechariah 8:20-23; Matthew 5:14-16; Romans 3:2). Instead, Israel was using the word they had received from God as a religious and cultural blockade, keeping them separated from the world around them and preventing them from fulfilling their mission to bring the light of God’s love to others.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you Jesus, for making peace with God for me and everyone else.

You can see the trappings of all these themes in how the Evangelicals see the world. Many people in Circle of Hope left Evangelicalism, but held on to the worldview – you may have unconsidered re-interpretations of the wrong worldview you left behind. Sometimes you can see that worldview when we are discussing our adherence to virus regulations and how unholy we are about several societal sins. In our proverbs we say, “Jesus is the lens through which we read the Bible.” But do you even know what that means, or what you mean by it (if you ever think about it)? Cavey’s book is all about investigating our thinking again. Let’s try it.

Ponder today’s Bible readings and see if the first church agrees with Cavey or not. He purports to teach based on a straight reading of the Bible. Are you part of the New Covenant or the Old? Did you mix them up because you learned the Bible a certain way instead of meeting Jesus and seeing the world through His eyes?

It’s Mahalia Jackson Day on our sister blog, Celebrating the Transhistorical Body. Be inspired by her praise.

 

January 26, 2021 – The Beginning of the End — Chamber of Horrors

Today’s Bible reading

You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit. – Matthew 7:16-20

More thoughts for meditation

In one chapter of his beginning section: “The Beginning of the End,” Cavey continues to look at the basic message of Jesus which puts an end to religion as it is. He meets head-on the accusation that Christianity is a violent, oppressive religion – “Just look at the Crusades and the Inquisition!” He says the church is not an example of Jesus’ teaching bearing bad fruit, but of Jesus’ teaching being “completely ignored, rationalized, or trivialized – and that bearing bad fruit.” He goes on to give good examples and to make a good argument for why the church does not need to be a “chamber of horrors.” But let me give you just one section that comes from his wife Gina, since I have heard similar things many times (and, rarely, one of our pastors or team leaders might sound kind of angry):

Because my wife was not raised in a Christian home, as I was, Nina has the advantage of seeing Christian subculture with a higher degree of objectivity. Sometimes, when I’m listening to a televangelist, radio preacher, or Christian podcaster, Nina asks, “Why is he so angry?” Because I was raised in the subculture of North American evangelicalism, for a long time I was not aware of what has always been painfully obvious to her. [Oprah explored this one episode] One day Nina helped me really hear the underlying anger this way: She told me to listen to the tone of the preacher’s voice, but to imagine that he was talking about any topic other than Jesus. “What would you say if a professor was giving a lecture on biology with that tone of voice? Or if a commercial was describing the merits of their product? Or, even better, what would you say if a friend was talking about a new love interest this way? What would you think about their tone of voice then?” When I listened this way, a light went on. Many Christian leaders and teachers seem to lead with an undercurrent of anger. If I overheard our neighbors talking to each other the way some preachers preach, I wouldn’t want my children going over to their house. Yet angry preaching and judgmental pontificating have become so woven into the subculture of many Christians’ regular religious experience that it has left significant streams of Christians blind to the hostility projected by their religion.

For a large number of religious people, anger and outrage are applauded as the emotions of holiness and sincere devotion to the faith. (Social media only makes it all the easier for this culture of outrage to expand and become an all-encompassing religious subculture.) In churches (and mosques and temples—this isn’t an exclusively Christian problem) around the world, preachers yell at their congregations and parishioners compliment the preachers’ passion for the faith.[And sometimes universities!] As the religious leader yells louder, pounds the pulpit harder, and waves his Bible in the air more vigorously, with the occasional book-slap for punctuation, topically camping on issues of human sin and total depravity partnered with an emphasis on God’s displeasure, disdain, and divine wrath, the congregation becomes all the more enthralled and drawn in, emotionally bonding with what in any other context would be considered an abusive experience. The result of this verbal pounding from angry preachers creates a phenomenon comparable to a kind of spiritual Stockholm syndrome, with parishioners lauding their captors.

In contrast, the New Testament teaches that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22-23). Anger, rage, wrath, and shame are notably absent.

Suggestions for action

Pray: You have made me a good tree. Energize me to produce good fruit. You have made us a sheltering grove. Energize us to produce good fruit.

“Western Christians often pour their energies into national politics as a way of clamoring for the power they once had in society. But history bears out what the book of Revelation depicts: Whenever the church gets into bed with the political powers, the church becomes the state’s whore.” (Cavey)

Likewise, it is safe to say that Christians who rely on the political powers for social justice instead of practicing it themselves are like the state’s unhappy bride. We have a proverb that says: “Claim your capacity, friend. You are no longer condemned to rely on justice granted by the Great Other.” This saying might not be in the map too long, since Games of Thrones is a memory. But the idea is good, since so many people use religion to placate an angry, vengeful God and are often wondering if their religious practice will tip the balance in their favor on the day of judgment. How do you see God? Not how do you believe in God, but who is God to you, really?   

The church has sometimes been “the chamber of horrors.” How are you dealing with that fact? Avoiding getting into a “religious” discussion? Shrinking away in embarrassment? Trying not to let people know about your crippled faith? Trying to justify the impossible-to-justify? Or what is your good option?

January 25, 2021 – The Beginning of the End  — Water, Wine and Scandal

Today’s Bible reading

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. – John 2:1-11

More thoughts for meditation

Bruxy Cavey of the Meeting House in Toronto and the Jesus Collective recently rewrote his book: The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus. You may intuitively agree with everything he says but never had the time to exhaustively research it all like he did. You may be a skeptic who is not sure about Christianity. Either way, Cavey relates. Early on in his walk of faith he realized he had to let go of his religious assumptions “and let the Jesus of scripture be who the Bible says he is and not who two thousand years of church history and tradition say he should be.” He began his search for a three-dimensional Jesus, beyond the stained glass windows and religion that bears his name, but not beyond the Bible which actually subverts most of the religion that grew up around Jesus.

He starts his book with the miracle that started the subversion Jesus came to accomplish, when the Lord changed the water into wine at Cana (as in today’s reading). He teaches:

Take another look at the vessels Jesus uses for his first “sign.” John tells us that Jesus did not have the wine served out of ordinary wine jars. Jesus directed the servants to use the sacred containers set aside for a religious ritual. When I investigated further, I found that one of the traditions of some religious groups of that day (especially those of an influential group called the Pharisees) was regular ritual hand cleansing. They would dip their hands in sacred water as a ceremonial symbol of their desire to remain pure from the sin of the world (see Mark 7: 1-4).

But why would Jesus use these sacred stone jars for the water-turned-wine? There were undoubtedly other containers available that could have held the joy juice. If they had just run out of wine at this party, there obviously would have been plenty of “empties” around to hold the miracle liquid. Wine jars, wine jugs, wine bottles, wine kegs, wineskins—whatever they had been using—were sitting right there, empty, waiting to be filled. So why the stone jars? Why the sacred icons of religious tradition? Why intentionally do something so potentially offensive?

I was faced with an unexpected but undeniable fact: Through his first miracle, Jesus intentionally desecrates a religious icon. He purposely chooses these sacred jars to challenge the religious system by converting them from icons of personal purification into symbols of relational celebration. Jesus takes us from holy water to wedding wine. From legalism to life. From religion to relationship.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Fill our lives with the “new wine” of your Spirit. I am open to your hope for me.

Take another look. How have you been reading the marriage at Cana story? What has been passed down to you, maybe in an empty jar? What kind of legalism or anti-legalism might be confining your understanding to something more religious than relational?

One of our proverbs says: “Those among us from “traditional” Christian backgrounds are dying to our precious memories of ‘church’ in order to bring the gospel into the present with great flexibility.” You may have never taken it seriously because your religion came installed like Windows on your computer or maybe you’re stuck in Circle 2.0. What does Jesus have to do to install an alternative operating system or an upgrade?

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