My precious wife, Bonnie, last night at some level of depression and frustration, said to me, "I hate Christianity!" There was no one else in the room but me, and our three puppies. They understood perfectly, and so did I. And, I believe, so did God. I won't take the space to discuss the provocation for such an exclamation. Suffice it to say that it was enough.
One cannot, of course, take the words at face value. Here is a woman, who, when she prays out loud, there is a holy hush in the hearts of those who hear. Here is a woman who has made me feel infinitely loved, and through whom I feel God's love for me. She makes everyone she meets feel this way. Here is a woman who lights up a room whenever she enters it, people turn their heads and are awash with her smile and the joy in her voice. Here is a woman who, if she is not connected with the beauty, love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, no one is. What she was saying, actually had nothing to do with Jesus, his Person or his message.
Or maybe it did.
Perhaps she was just expressing what He must have felt when He "cleansed the Temple." Perhaps she was just expressing hatred for the brutish legalism of believers who practice their faith in constant fear of "Satan," instead of the holy Power of God's Spirit within them; people who are obsessed with "God's Standards," and with "obedience" and are afraid of falling into the hands of an "angry God." Perhaps she was really just saying, "I hate the Cult of Christianity." Perhaps she was just saying that she hates how institutional religion forms the spiritual character of those who buy into it; people who are Baptist, or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Catholic, or Calvary Chapel, or, God help us, whatever. Perhaps she was saying how she hates the prison and slavery such religion brings. Perhaps she was saying that she hates any system of belief that does not bring whatever Jesus was talking about when he said,
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free."Or when he said,
"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
You must understand, if you please, that I am no stranger to the "Cult of Christianity." My Bachelor's degree in Biblical Theology comes from one of the most fundamentalist Christian universities in the world. I received my Master of Divinity degree from one of the most evangelical seminaries in the USA. My Ph.D. also came from a fundamentalist institution. I have been pastor to several evangelical churches. I have tried to fit into this modern-day "Temple," that so needs cleansing. I have failed. I have utterly failed in the attempt. And in this, I rejoice.
Some years ago; actually when I would be considered by most, a young minister lacking maturity, I too, became frustrated with institutional religion. This resulted in my extracting from my considerable library, in which I took great pride, all of my seminary notes and syllabi, and depositing them into the trash. It was to become a singular event in my life and today at 78, looking back on it, I count it as one of the most freeing things I have ever done.
I knew three things:
1. Inside of me dwells the blessed Holy Spirit of God;
2. With 5 years of Greek and two of Hebrew, I could freely study the Scriptures in their original languages; and,
3. I knew I had a good mind.
With these tools, I knew I had at hand that which would enable me to discover the richness of relationship with God on my own. I no longer needed to rely on the thoughts of other men, however distinguished, in my spiritual formation. I was free at last. Thank God Almighty, I was free at last!
These elements have occupied my mind and my endeavor since that singular event. It has created an entirely different Christian anima. I feel a heady liberation from having to adopt so-called Christian dogma shaped by the minds of others, except from those whose minds and writings, I, myself, have judged empathetic, and can identify with my own spiritual discoveries.
Most of all, this process has brought me to the place where I am aware of the love, mercy and grace of God far deeper than anything I have ever known. This has been present with me now for several decades. As a young theological hopeful, I was taught that experience was a dangerous place to encounter God; that one must subscribe to a biblical, systematic theology if one is to remain stable and steadfast in the faith. Nothing could be more false, or more absurd. If one cannot experience intimacy with God, then one's faith is not faith at all, but a purely propositional, and thoroughly consummate fraud.
Knowing the love and passion of God as I do, it is difficult for me to conceive of his alleged "hatred" for anything. But what else would cause the man Jesus, God in the flesh, to deliberately and malevolently construct a punitive tool (scourge whip of cords), and with it violently wade into what he considered an evil human practice, overturning tables and knocking down cages of doves and freeing sacrificial cattle and sheep? What else would cause him to scream, "Get these things out of here! I will not allow you to turn my Father's house into a den of thieves."?
I think it is time for a little Christian anarchism. Believers have far too long subjected themselves to religious control. By this, I do not mean anarchism against God! I mean anarchism against what many believe to be a structured, neatly arranged, boxed-in Christian system of belief. It is time for believers to seek God in earnest. When Jesus died on the cross, the wrath of God against what happened in the Garden, was exhausted. The essential worth of the believer is forever measured by that cross. Relationship with God is not a religion. Relationship with God is not a system of belief. It is not a theological construct. Relationship and intimacy with God through His Son cannot fit within a box -- or even a Book. If that is all Christianity is, then I too, hate Christianity.
Let us be specific about exactly what happened in that Garden. We evangelicals are quite sloppy about that. We conclude that Adam's sin was that he wanted to "be like God." We conveniently ignore what follows, which is, "knowing good and evil." Adam wanted to know the rules. Adam wanted to be able, like God, to differentiate between right and wrong. Had this not happened, there would never have been a 10 Commandments. The concept of "Law," would never have been conceived. There would have been no need for mercy, no need for grace. Had this not happened, humankind would have existed for eternity within the intimate pale of holy and abundant love. No traffic lights. No stop signs. No "Rules of Engagement."
I have no idea where you, dear reader, fit into this discussion; or even if you fit at all. Nonetheless, I appeal earnestly to you: Lay aside your engagement with institutional religion, with the industrial church, and come to know the real Jesus. Come to know intimately, the One who walks beside you, who lives in you, the One with whom you, yourself, are one. For in so doing, you will know the joy of that stream of water of which Jesus spoke, springing up into an everlasting life of joy and peace.
The above started out as a prayer; it ended in an answer.