Youth Ministry blogger, Ben Kerns, over at Average Youth Ministry, has a great post on this very topic. It's what gave me the final, internal nudge to post this. I'll confess, I wanted to write this post last week, but didn’t have the guts. I doubted whether I could articulate my feelings without sounding arrogant, cynical, or elitist. My self-doubt was only increased after I read this reflection and felt as thought it was the exact tone I wanted to avoid, yet sprinkled with a little truth. I wondered, can I communicate my feelings about the ideas expressed in the video without hating on the dude in the video? Well....here goes nothing...
I've watched the video, and I keep asking: Is Jesus really against religion? Did Jesus words, "It is finished," have anything to do with abolishing religion? Is personal faith in Jesus Christ more important than the corporate, historic faith expressed in the body of Christ, the Church?
You see, I can't help but sense this video is just another passionately sentimental and severely oversimplified attempt to somehow show that we don't really need religion, a.k.a. the Church, we JUST need Jesus. I'm an evangelical too. I'm familiar with sentiments such as these and have heard them often, even from pastors like me (especially anti-establishment, "cutting edge" youth workers!).
Call me annoying and snarky. Call me esoteric or idealistic, but I believe the Church matters. In fact, I'm willing to say that I believe religion matters. I need a set of beliefs, behaviors, values, practices around which to organize my words, thoughts, and deeds. I need something that gives order and purpose to my life. I desperately need something to help me overcome my selfish ambitions and self-serving motives. I need a group of people who know my struggles, share in my joys, and remind me of who I am in Christ. I need religion. I need the Church. I need Jesus.
But for some reason, when I watch this video I feel as though the idea being presented, even glorified, is that Jesus and the Church need to get a divorce. The Church has too much blood and ugliness in its past, and that's not to mention its present. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe that's too harsh. But what I hear is that we need less rule following, less telling us what to do and how to do it, and less annoying, outdated, tradition. We just need Jesus.
While that may strike a chord with some, it leaves me uneasy. This post, and my thoughts about this video, aren't even so much about this video as they are a call, a cry, an urging to all my brothers and sisters in Christ to embrace Christ's body, the Church. My hope is that we can get back to our identity as followers of Christ; a people rooted in the Church; to remember and identify with those like Cyprian of Carthage who famously claimed,
“Anyone who cuts themselves off from the Church and is joined to an adulteress is separated from the promises of the Church, and anyone who leaves the Church of Christ behind cannot benefit from the rewards of Christ. Such persons are strangers, outcasts, and enemies. You cannot have God as Father unless you have the Church as mother.”Cyprian knew this religion called Christianity was important. Cyprian knew that it was impossible to claim God as Father without Church as mother. Cyprian knew what it meant to proclaim, "Jesus is Lord." He knew what was at stake if he continued in his role as Bishop of the Church in Carthage. He knew the Church was worth it. He was martyred in AD 258.
Likewise, Saint Augustine, in a Sermon to the Catechumens on the Creed, said,
"But you begin to have God for your Father, when you have been born by the Church as your Mother."Here it is again, the Church as Mother. The Church as nurturer and "birther" of faith. The Church is the place where faith is communicated, enfleshed, and preserved. The bride of Christ. The people of God. The community of faith. I love the Church. I love my religion. And I love Jesus - the One who died that we might live.
The Church certainly has its blemishes and blind spots, but isn't that largely due to the fact that the Church consists of people like you, me, even Jeff Bethke? We are the Church. We are God's people. We are Christ's ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation to a broken and hurting world.
I love the Church, and I love Jesus.