By Charles Redfern
My head is spinning. I’ve read the title of Jessica Mokrzycki’s March 3rd “Ascending The Hills” blog: “Lose Your Religion and Find God.” She quotes Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk, who says contemplative prayer is not escape but engagement. I’d love to plow that theme, but that title: I can’t get past it. It’s the scalpel clearing my cataracts. I now see the gulf between living Christianity and mildewed Churchianity.
“Religion” has at least two meanings. One refers to our view of the universe’s forces and their role in our lives. I am a card-carrying member of the “Christian Religion” on that score (bought the mug and T-shirt …). The other is laced with nuance, inference, and subtext: anchorless traditions; meaningless ceremonies and rituals; relationship networks riddled with power-plays. The rituals’ profound meaning splattered in the last church brawl, when Bob and Betty stormed out because Bill and Nancy failed to invite them to their Tupperware Party. Such a “religion” inoculates us against a mature relationship with God and mutates Christianity into Churchianity.
Christianity is God living a human life and dying for us on a cross; Churchianity is several families monopolizing their power-base. Christianity involves humiliated people coming before that cross, stripped of their rationalizations and excuses and seeing their sinfulness – and discovering forgiveness; Churchianity runs us through an obstacle course of protocols. Christianity features an incarnate God washing the feet of his disciples; Churchianity demands late-night meeting after late-night meeting. Christianity is the reinstatement of a guilt-riddled fisherman after he denied his Lord; Churchianity piles grudges on grudges. Christianity is joyful, counter-cultural obedience; Churchianity follows orphaned traditions while neglecting the Bible. Christianity is 120 people huddled in a room, suddenly infused with the Spirit’s power and awestruck with the conversion of 3,000; Churchianity complains about kids these days. Christianity is resurrection and miracles and healing and relationship and love and the real fear of God; Churchianity is a musty pew.
But here’s the twist, the jolt, the blow that throws us on the floor: Genuine Christianity compels me to embrace Churchianity’s victims and forces me to see my own Churchianity. It bars me from finger-wagging. I cannot withdraw to the insufferable fringe. Our graceful God loves us fallible humans and chooses to work through His tainted “Bride,” His errant “Body,” His grizzled “called out ones:” that infuriating rabble known as the Church, which has beaten me up and left me on the mat several times. I’ve nearly fled to the margins and hurled my insults – but then I meet sneering censors who wear their pain like an old sweater soaked in moth balls. They condemn The Church for its judgmentalism, snarl at it for its spitefulness, withhold their money because no one tithes, and drop “hypocrite” as often as a teenager says “like.” They’re out there, rasping from the sidelines, still claiming their love for Christ but refusing healing.
Do I want to be like … that? Of course not. Christ was far better: He returned to his “hypocritical” disciples, forgave them, and restored them. I’ll learn from my latest thrashing, drive my roots deeper into God, and, I hope, bear the Spirit’s fruit among Churchianity’s victims (see Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”). I’ll join the church committees, participate in church breakfasts, and attend the church meetings – which are not bad in themselves. They can be very good. Maybe – in my own small way – I can be one of God’s many agents in purging the Church of Churchianity so Christianity can reign.