This past week I saw a video on Facebook. The young man in the video, Jefferson Bethke, states that he hates religion but loves Jesus. He claims that Jesus came to abolish religion. The video has gone viral! Many people have responded to the video but I’m not sure many of the responders have listened closely to the poetic prose of this young man. The responders I’ve heard seem to have jumped to a conclusion of what the video was about based on “Why I hate religion.” They claim the man is preaching “cheap grace.” I don’t think so, but rather than focusing on his feelings about grace why not hear his message regarding “religion?” We should listen closely and heed the wakeup call. His voice is but one of thousands in our communities that are turning away from churches they see as “Religious.”
In preaching through the Sermon on the Mount I showed where Jesus talked about salt that had lost its saltiness and lights hidden under bushel baskets. I related this to what I called “pretend” Christians and “club” churches (that is churches that are really clubs). When I listened to the video I came to the opinion that Mr. Bethke doesn’t have a problem with the Church, he has a problem with people that are pretend Christians or that belong to a club posing as a church.
I’m currently serving my third charge within the United Methodist Church. The first charge had three churches, the second two, and now I serve a station charge meaning one church. In the dozen or so years I’ve been preaching and the forty or so years I’ve been associated with churches and religion I have experienced what Mr. Bethke is exclaiming. Too many people claim the title Christian without allowing Christ into their lives. These pretend Christians go through the motions, proof text the Bible, go to church on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays, and they can mouth the words to most of the hymns. Unfortunately these people fail to act in a Christian manner.
I have a friend that honked at a car that had a “Honk if You Love Jesus” bumper sticker. The person made obscene gestures and yelled at him. Is that being a good witness to Christ? Is that what Jesus would have us do? Maybe the person was simply having a bad day but it served as evidence that Christians are not what they portend to be. This occurs with great regularity. Pretend Christians judging and behaving as if they are something special.
Likewise churches are also failing at their jobs. Too many churches are inwardly focused. It is not that they are not good at loving but rather the object of the love is itself. The people within a congregation are so busy maintaining the status quo and bettering things for themselves that they have forgotten that the role of the church is to reach out to the lost, the marginalized, and the poor. As I was sitting in my office at a previous church a woman came in for help. She told me her story and asked for groceries. I didn’t have any money to give her but invited her to a Wednesday night meal. During the meal the treasurer began a meeting by announcing that the church had $78,000 in the bank. I was so embarrassed. The $78,000 was for a building that still isn’t needed many years later.
Of all the churches I’ve been associated with throughout my life only a couple have had their priorities straight. A tornado went through Hickman County and devastated the Brushy community. Several of the ladies from Littlelot United Methodist Church went and served a hot lunch to the aid workers every day for a week. This church of ten to fifteen people feed almost 75 people a hot meal every day for a week! That is being church rather than being religious! That is being church rather than being a club.
Jesus Christ has set us free. But what have we been set free to do? We have been set free to let other beggars know where they can get bread. We are to witness to the love of God through our actions of being the Church united with Christ, doing God’s work. By doing the work of the Kingdom of God we can lead more people to know Jesus and thus gain help in the ongoing work of easing people’s suffering and pain.
There is a lot of work to do. Won’t you join me? Right now fully commit or recommit yourself to living the live that God desires for you. Begin living in such a way that people can see our Lord and our Savior in and through us. The work is abundant! What say you?
This is this pastor’s opinion.