In the midst of this Easter season, it would be good to understand how many of the modern-day traditions of Easter have more to do with the Christian religion than with the Christian faith.
What do bunny rabbits, easter eggs, and baby chicks have to do with NT beliefs and practices. Or even more pointedly, what do marriage seminars, Sunday schools, day care centers, church buildings, Christian rock concerts, youth programs, etc. have to do with the Christian faith?
The point here is not to be ideologically “anti” about any of these things. Rather it is to be provocative in pointing out an uneasy relationship between two aspects of Christian life that are easily confused: the Christian faith and the Christian religion.
The Christian faith has a unique prophetic nature in manifesting the mind of God. The Christian religion, on the other hand is not much different from other religions in responding to the universal human need for religious expression. The latter is a necessary part of society. The former stands above and outside all human systems and critiques them.
The Christian faith corresponds to the “treasure” of 2Cor 4:7. The Christian religion corresponds more to the “earthen vessels.” Both have their proper place, but many people equate one with the other with unhappy results.
Too often, distinctions between the historic Christian faith and Christian religion are drawn in entirely negative terms, with the primitive faith being portrayed as the preferred alternative to “manmade religion.” A more balanced view would be that religion in general …
- provides a meaning system to understand and cope with ultimate reality
- gives a feeling of belonging to a group with which one shares ultimate meaning and support
- explains, regulates, and integrates the disturbing forces of sexuality; e.g., by defining marriage, family, etc.
- provides a channel for coming into intimate contact with transcendent powers
- provides wisdom, tradition, and teachings that enable a person to wrestle with the problems of life
- defines or reinforces a social structure (restrains deviance, limits change, promotes solidarity, relieves dissatisfaction)
- smoothes existential crises (birth, death, divorce, injustice, sickness, misfortune, etc.)
But religion can be corrupted. Jesus reserved his harshest words for “religionists.” The cynic might even say that religion itself is the subversion of the Christian faith to serve human appetites.
That’s going too far, but religion can …
- offer a false view of ultimate reality
- exert misguided peer pressure
- pervert the forces of sexuality
- promote psychological immaturity, and above all
- place itself in opposition to the very Christian faith it claims to represent
Consider the eagerness of many to put a religious stamp of approval on same-sex marriage.
Benjamin McGuire, 22, left, kisses his husband, Joshua Jason, 22,
in front of their home in Boston on May 3. The two were married in
January 2005. This image is most likely copyrighted by the Associated
Press. We believe its limited use here for identification and critical
commentary qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
Any other uses of this image may be a copyright infringement.
So no religious practice is above suspicion, perhaps except for one. James says, “pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Those are practices that need not be questioned– others should always be open to critique.
The challenge is to let Christian faith inform, transform, and redeem the God-given human need for religious expression. In the meantime, the American ethos will be working in the opposite direction to promote …
- radical individualism
- democratic decision making
- disdain for authority
- a therapeutic approach to personal, social, economic, etc. problems
- routinized entertainment
- media saturation
- fascination with technical devices
- confidence in bureaucratic procedures
— all in the name of religion and much in opposition to the Christian faith.
Worship at Trinity Church in Sunnyvale, CA. This image may be
copyrighted. In any case, we believe its limited use here for
identification and critical commentary qualifies as fair use under
United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image may be
a copyright infringement.
The “treasure” of the Christian faith will always exist in uneasy tension with the more earthly and earthy business of the Christian religion. The latter arises from the universality of religious needs and responds to the wisdom of personal and corporate piety, from private meditation and individual psychology to corporate worship, leadership, group dynamics, public speaking, administration, and finance, differing little from other religions in all these areas. (Consider how Christian techniques of prayer can be so easily adopted by Jews and Muslims. A Muslim group here in San Antonio offers Sunday School.)
The Christian faith, on the other hand, is unique among religions, not enabling or even denying the universal need for religious expressing, but nevertheless offering a distinctive context for veiwing religious practices, providing the “rod” by which all else is measured, and taking a prophetic stance that alllows its adherents to see through the sometimes deceitful facade of religious rituals and techniques.
Reposted from 11 April 2009