Russell Moore wrote a post that has been sitting on my back burner percolating like some old stale coffee that all sensible people would have disposed of by now. It is called Losing My Religion.
So my first thought was delight, joy, as if to say, thank God we are finally losing our religion! I had no idea I disliked “religion” so much, but I seem to share that notion with Jesus Himself so perhaps I am in good company.
What is “religion?” Well I tend to think of CS Lewis and his essay or his graduation speech called “The Inner Ring.” It’s an institution, a collection of fallen human hierarchies, a tribalistic bureaucracy of in group preferences all competing for favor and status. An institution, and seriously, who wants to live in an institution??
He came to set the captives free……now quick, chain me back up before all this freedom goes right to my head.
My second thought was that if Gallup had phoned me up and asked about religious affiliation, it’s quite likely I would have found myself tossed into the “none” category, the unaffiliated, the more than half of us who don’t belong to a church of any kind. Here is the speed bump that tends to trip me up, I don’t belong to the church at all, the church belongs to me. I am the church, or at least I am one if it’s pinky fingers.
To add some irony to our pot of confusion, it was actually people like Russell Moore who have taught me that. See, Moore always speaks of church in terms of identity and culture, politics and tribalism. He is still taking pot shots at Southern culture, the Bible belt, and of course, President Trump.
Irony of all ironies, vanity of all vanities, but Moore says, “Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that such is true, which comes first here—the demand to line up politically in order to follow Jesus or the decision to reject the politics of those making such demands?” Through the language Moore uses, like his disapproval of “owning the libs,” he is actually doing the precise same thing, creating a brand, a flavor, a tribe, a religious identity, a hierarchy.
The other day I watched a video of some baptisms and everybody was wearing masks. It actually made me cry. Intentional or not, there is now a brand proudly displayed right on our faces, a clearly designated in-group preference.
In the church our identity is often in Anybody and Anything But Jesus. I just watched 3 really good talks about head coverings, authority, men and women, and who is seated at the head of our table. I loved what was said, about how people often get tripped up in the literalism, because it is always all about our hair, right? We will toss that verse to and fro, much like one flips their hair, using it to argue for or against women’s roles in the church while completely missing the most significant part, “every woman who prays or prophesies…” Every,” it means “all,” and since we women are there in the church busy praying and prophesying, apparently praying and prophesying in the church is what women are called to do!
More importantly however, those details around appearance, braided hair, bald, not bald, veiled or not veiled, men, women, are about branding, culture, advertising Who is your head, Who is your first love, Who do you serve? I don’t wish to be needlessly harsh here, but watching people lined up on little six foot social distancing dots before stepping into a baptismal with their masks of secular submission on, did not convince me that Jesus was seated at the head of their table.
Russell Moore and I are in complete agreement here, when he says, “We are losing a generation—not because they are secularists, but because they believe we are. What this demands is not a rebranding, but a repentance—meaning, as the Bible does, a turnaround.”
Oh yes, the church often looks very much like the world! It looks much like the world whether it is busy “owning the libs” or busy glorifying in it’s own wokeness. But the cure for all the secular hypocrites on the right is not more secular hypocrites from the left.
Branding is not necessarily “bad,” culture itself is not evil, but the truth of the matter is that as a church, as a body, as a bride, our strength is really in our diversity, in our many flavors, even in our many inequalities. Try selling the notion in today’s church that inequality is beautiful, that the last shall go first, that we are called to be followers of Christ more so than leaders.
Pastors tend to get a bit worried when I say things like this, mostly on account of their desire to protect sound doctrine, but find a flavor of Christianity, any flavor, and trust the Holy Spirt to lead you to all truth. I think it’s the fact that we don’t trust the Holy Spirit that drives me batty. Our Head is seated on our shoulders and living in our hearts. He does not live exclusively in our denominations or our books on theology or in what our church teaches. He may well live there too, but that is not where He is seated.
I feel good, grateful perhaps, that we are losing our religion, that within our country there is a whole lot of shaking going on, that God is on the move and up to something good within His church here in America, and perhaps all over the world. I don’t just feel “good,” I’m excited, I think we’re right on schedule, and heading right where God wants us to go.
Laughing here, but it takes me about two minutes on line to slam into some Christian leader’s preferred in group preferences and find myself blocked. It’s totally my fault, I absolutely know how to curry favor, but how boring that is when one can actually curry Truth.