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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why You Can't Make a Religion by Following Jesus

If you read enough literature in blogs and books and whatnot, you'd think one could be a Christian by "following Jesus." Whether they are "red-letter Christians" (this refers to the way Bibles are sometimes printed where the words of Jesus are in red, and the rest of the words are printed in black), or whether you are post-evangelical, post-liberal, and want to get in the touch with the Spirit, or find your way back to some kind of authentic first-century faith that Jesus and his original followers embodied. That is the kind of Christianity being touted by some folks these days. Much as I love Jesus, such calls to follow his example or commands are not enough for me to base my religion upon...I need more from my religion.

As Bonhoeffer noted following Jesus and his example will only get you dead. He once wrote, "When Christ calls a man (sic), he bids him (sic) come and die." As far as I can tell, you don't need to follow Jesus in order to die...you can follow just about anything if that's all you want to do. 
If all Christianity is about is following the words and example of Jesus, we would be a pretty sick lot. Basically all we're doing is running around looking for somebody to kill us.

Now, I understand many Christians would consider it an honor to die because of following the words and example of Jesus, and maybe even I too would consider it that way. Contrary to folks who whine about the "war on Christmas," I haven't been denied much because of my faith over the years. So I don't know how martyrdom would go for me...Bonhoeffer was impressive in it that's for sure. Check out this biography.

But I don't want a religion that delivers me into death, but a religion that delivers me from death. And I can't follow Jesus into that. The deliverance from death is a gift from God, not a reward for a life well-lived. Even a life lived following the example of Jesus. You can't get eternal life because you're a nice person or you followed all the rules, or you exemplified what Jesus calls us to do...if we receive eternal life it is only because of the love of God for us, not because of our love for God. (For this argument I do not care how you define "eternal life." Whether it's now or later or really later, the point is the same: we receive it because we are loved, not because we are well-behaved.)

So, if following Jesus doesn't make for a religion, what does? Even after all these years, I don't know the answer to that one. It involves trust that God keeps promises, it involves hope that Jesus showed us how to be human, and it involves patiently waiting for the Spirit of God...at least I'm pretty sure about that these days. It's funny but over the last 2000 years, the Church has come up with a way to live in that trust, hope, and waiting...they call it Advent.  

Most of the time these days we think of Advent as an obstacle to celebrating Christmas...but maybe, just maybe, "advent" is the whole point of the Christian religion? You think there's pressure on you to deliver at Christmas? Imagine God...

Following Jesus and his commands are better than many options, I will give you that. But if that's all the Christian religion is, it really doesn't do much for me, because my questions don't involve HOW to live life, but WHY to live life? I do believe Jesus is the key to answering that "Why" question...Lord, help my unbelief!

Merry Christmas.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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