One of my habits the last few years has been to read through the four Gospels in the month of January. I usually end up teaching my students out of these books during the first part of the year, and it helps me re-focus on the person of Jesus.
As I have been reading this year, I have been struck by the need for simplicity in faith. I know child-like faith is one of those things you hear about and learn about if you grow up in the church. It certainly wasn't a new concept for me. I'm not completely sure why, but this year it especially hit me hard. It could be because I spend more time with young children than I ever have before. Or, it could have been prompted by the things I am dealing with in my own life as I get older- after all, I'm 31 now and that's old and stuff... Maybe the whole issue of people leaving the church from my generation and the younger generation has been on the back of my mind.
Maybe it's a little bit of all of those things.
Blogs like this one, from the Barna group, attempt to try to help bridge the gap between faith and unbelief in these groups. I think the Barna group and many other Christians are trying to do a good job of reaching out to the "Nones" and other young people who are walking away from faith. However, I often come away from the many sides of this debate just feeling hollow and a little hopeless.
Now, don't get me wrong. I believe in the ability of the Holy Spirit to change lives. I also believe God can create miracles where nothing appears to be happening on the outside of a person. It's just that I am not sure we, the church, are getting at the heart of the problem in all of our solutions. I think we need one solution- Jesus.
Sometimes my students get tired of that answer. It sounds trite at times, but I'm serious, we need more Jesus. I know I need more Jesus in my life.
In Luke 20, Jesus has finally reached Jerusalem after an extended time of travel which included plenty of parabolic teaching. At this point, the religious leaders and Jesus start to clash even more than they had previously (as if Jesus' judgments on them earlier in the book weren't enough of a clue, it starts to get real now). Compare Luke 2:41-52 with Luke 20:1-8 if you want to see something interesting in the buildup of tension between the religious leaders and Jesus in this Gospel. As the chapter closes, Jesus points out a fatal flaw in their lives, everything they do is "just for show" (Luke 20:47 HCSB).
Some people reading this might get all excited because they see the vanquishing of religion in favor of relationship. That is a really popular one these days too. I've seen it from people who don't claim to be followers of Christ as well as those who do. From Christians, the sentiment recently spawned things like this video.
I'm still feeling hollow and a little bit hopeless after watching the video. Maybe you're not, maybe it inspired you. I doubt I'm the only one though. You know why? Religion in and of itself is not a bad thing, I realize Mark Driscoll and many others would disagree with me.
The reason I don't believe religion, in and of itself is a bad thing? Jesus was religious (explain the Lord's supper to me without it), he just wasn't falsely religious. I think kids understand the difference implicitly. Rarely can a child explain things as perfectly as an adult, but they know the difference in their gut.
By the way, I happen to hate false religion too. I think the whole religion vs. Jesus thing might be a topic for another day, but it was important to point out the false dichotomy a lot of people are trying to use. The false choice is this- Jesus or religion. In this scenario, religion is trying to usurp the power of the Gospel, grace, and love of God. Religion, here, is just a man-made way to reach up at God with rules, regulations, lists, etc. It's all about power and Jesus is about servant-hood.
There is another way to consider religion. Religion can be a teacher. It is something which helps us make sense of the world, provide a little order, and even a little beauty. Would I ever consider building a cathedral? Nope. Do I think that some of the architects who designed the beautiful cathedrals of the world were offering up worship to God in their designs? Yes, yes I do. Were these designs and even their intentions formed out of religion. Sure. Was it still worship. Probably.
Here, it makes no sense to create a celebrity death-match between Jesus and religion. Although the combat can be more dramatic, it is often created by people who fail to see the real problem. We just need more Jesus in both.
And here we are back to our original conundrum, the religious people did what they did "for show." So, what is my alternative? Let's be children.
Kids love life. Unless they have been hurt, beat down, or just squashed in some awful way, the default action of a child is to take life and live it. What if we lived this way in our experiences with Jesus?
Alright, there might be one major objection to my fairly simple understanding of how we should live from Luke 20:47. Someone might say, well kids put on shows too. And this person would be right. But when kids put on a show, it is completely different than the ways these religious people were just showing off.
Luke 21:3-4 tells how a widow put in "all she had to live on" (HCSB). This is one part of the greater context of the "just a show" comment. This context shows absolute trust in a loving Father. Overall, I think if you were to read chapters 19-21, and eventually all of Luke's Gospel, and the other Gospels too- you might see a pattern emerge. The pretense or "just a show" part of false religion is done to keep other people and God at a distance. It is all about personal power and privilege. False religion doesn't need Daddy, except to show how much power or privilege you individually have.
When I was younger, my sister and I would dance to music. We weren't good at all. We didn't know how to dance, but we would dance. And we did it for show. We loved to show our parents our dances. I remember distinctly one in which we put together a show around The Lion King soundtrack.
As an adult, I know my dancing was terrible from a certain point of view, the point of view of power and prestige. From my parents' point of view, it was an amazing show.
So, go ahead and show off in your faith. Just remember, it's a child's dance.