If I walk into a church and the first thing I see is a coffee shop… I’m leaving. After I get my mocha of course.
On a serious note, what is it about spirituality and a faith that connects with people? How does that belief play itself out; creating a moral code that person lives his or her life by in accordance with the spiritually driven values?
For modern American Christianity especially, I’ve perceived a driving mantra for the new millennium Christian: Jesus alone. No, this is not a new feature in the religion but I see it more frequently. This driving point of “you only need Jesus” seems to be championed by more modern churches (the mega, the non-denominational, what have you). This makes sense. In an effort to create a new approach to Christianity, it follows that the method would be “Jesus alone,” with little to no connection to other Christian traditions and heritages. The premise is that “religion,” in some form or fashion, has gotten in the way with a person’s personal relationship with Christ, thus this theology encourages the believer to push away traditional notions of “religion” and simply follow Jesus. If that is your approach and your source of spiritual fulfillment, I am not going to judge, criticize, or knock it, but merely ask questions of it.
A few months ago, I read part of a book by an author that I will not reveal, to be published by a major publisher. The theme of the book is just what I’ve been discussing here, the idea that all you need is Jesus. One chapter in particular focused on the idea that “religion” had overtaken the love of Jesus and “religion” is just full of rules that get in the way of a real relationship. Sound familiar? It should, because you hear this from many Christian platforms. Incidentally, don’t bother looking for this book because it was never released. Prior to its publication, it was revealed that the author had engaged in some pretty awful behavior that he was not up front about, so the book was pulled.
I hone in on this author for a reason. He was (based on his bio and look) the typical “hipster” cool pastor. No formal training or education in religion, just a magnetic personality that managed to obtain followers. Yes, there goes Andrew again, being an educational elitist. I know it is a delicate balance: I’m not going to disparage someone for not having training in divinity because then I would be imposing my concept of spirituality on someone else, a practice I am trying to eliminate!
What a lot of Christians miss with the whole religion and “rules” thing is that millions of people find spiritual fulfillment in this way of life. It is not a burden to follow religious edicts, but rather a joy. This is how that spirituality is expressed. Even more troubling, the churches and pastors that push this ideology that rules and practices are bad or devoid of meaning are digging into the anti-Semitic heritage of Christianity, whether they mean to or not. Christianity has traditionally looked at Judaism as a religion more concerned with rules and regulations, rather than faith. The assumption has been that Jews must observe these rules in order to obtain salvation. This is a complete misunderstanding of both the Torah and Judaism as “salvation” is not linked to following Torah and Torah is a gift of God.
If you follow the belief that all need is Jesus, I’m glad you have a spirituality and a Christianity that speaks to you. This isn’t a call to abandon that, just a suggestion that I try to push with everything: really spend time self-evaluating what it is you believe and why you believe it. Many of the churches that push for “Jesus only” may shun the concept of religion, but in reality, they are merely creating their own. Think about how similar these churches are: from their “hip” stage setup that resembles more of a rock concert than a traditional church, to the coffee shop in the lobby (where I’m willing to bet first time visitors get a free cup of coffee!), to the countless small groups designed for every facet of life. Religion and practice exist within this environment, the only difference is that they try to go by different names.
If having a “Jesus alone” approach to your faith works for you, I’m happy for you. Just know that 1) The church you attend is probably engaging in all the trappings of “religion,” you just don’t recognize them because they look different from what are accustomed to and 2) don’t criticize those who stick to what you deem to be a “religious” code because that is how that person experiences their spirituality. You most likely won’t find me in a church with this ideology, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time. On the upside, at least I’ll enjoy my free cup of coffee.