Last Sunday afternoon, as we were on our way home from the Wild Goose Festival, Olivia and I were discussing the weekend’s events. We do this from time to time, especially after an experience as intense as the one we’d just finished up. The conversation ranged all over the place, eventually landing (I don’t remember how) on religion. Olivia is 16 and, in her father’s humble opinion, is wise beyond her years. As we turned that particular rock over to see what bugs were crawling around underneath, she said “I don’t believe God needs religion at all. It’s for us, we made it up on our own.” See what I mean? Wise beyond her years.
A look at a couple of definitions shows just how right she is. Merriam-Webster defines religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”. The World English dictionary has this to say: “belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny”. There is some overlap between the two dictionaries, not to mention other definitions for different contexts, and I exercised a little discretion with my choices. The point is, however, that religion is the lens through which we see God. Unfortunately, that lens is man-made and very easily becomes distorted, which distorts our view of God.
Now, a lot of people are going to read that last sentence and get all bent out of shape. What?!? they’ll shout, MY religion is straight from the Bible. There’s nothing man-made about it! Let’s think about that for a minute. Is any current religion, with all its attendant practices, doctrine and dogma, really straight from the Bible? To answer that, perhaps the best place to look is in the second chapter of Acts, verses 42-47:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
What you see here is one of the earliest descriptions of the Christian church. Now, I put it to you that if unless your religious life is structured like this, it’s not biblical.
Looking at this passage, we do fine with the parts about breaking bread, fellowship and prayer. We’re okay with meeting together, perhaps even every day, to pray. It’s these two verses that trip us up: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” How many of us would continue to attend a church that asked that of us? The thing is, that’s exactly what Jesus asked of us, His followers. It’s what He’s still asking of us today.
Tomorrow: How do we make this work in today’s world?