Christianity is overrun with the spirit of organized religion. You shop for a church you like, become a member, sign off on all the doctrinal statements, join a smaller Bible study sometime during the week, and reschedule your weekends to fit the newly acquired church routine. And while this system has produced many men and women of true faith, I’d have to say that our mainstream has taken the focus off Jesus and placed it on “sound doctrine,” systematic theology, or simply not living a “heretical” lifestyle. But there is something about the religiosity of Christianity that gets under my skin.
I have never signed off on a doctrinal statement of beliefs contract or church-membership contract. For starters, I don’t recall being given a form to fill out or a line to sign as far as church membership goes. Secondly, if I had been given a piece of paper to sign, I think I’d walk out. To some, the fact that I have never signed off on a doctrinal statement or have not become a member of my church may be unsettling. Why haven’t I at least become a member? Because where I go, there are no formal memberships; you make the commitment to show up every week and serve the church – if you want to – in some way. Our pastor doesn’t guilt-trip us into serving; he merely presents the church’s needs as they come up and as people are led by the Spirit, the needs get met.
As for the doctrine-signing thing, I don’t know how it goes at other churches, but there is a church here in Eugene that required a signature on various doctrines before one could join a mission’s team. It was a couple years back when I was contemplating traveling with a college-aged group to go help a city that was devastated by a natural disaster a couple years prior. We attended a meeting and were given a packet of information and forms to fill out and on the last page I recall a list of “I believe” statements. At the very bottom it had a line for a signature and date. It stopped me cold, to be honest. It wasn’t because I didn’t agree with the statements, necessarily, I just didn’t feel comfortable with the concept of signing off on some form thinking that would somehow prove that I was a “Christian.”
This age is a very textual age; nearly every business agreement is backed up with countless law documents. It makes things much easier than trying to remember what everyone said, word for word, yes, but the problem is this textual culture has influenced how we view Scripture and how we view Christianity as a whole. We take the passages in Scripture and make doctrines out of them instead of allowing them to encourage us, teach us, and move us forward in the faith. And when someone steps forward with a question or statement that merely challenges those doctrines that we believe we’ve set in stone, we assume they’re influenced by the Devil. I find it funny that we sometimes wonder why people of other religious beliefs have such animosity towards Christians…
Taking the Bible and turning it into a book of systematic theology is like killing somebody and then having a taxidermist stuff and mount them so we could put them on display. We take the life out of Scripture when we try to make it something that it wasn’t supposed to be. If we close our minds to think only in a certain way, then we’ve disabled ourselves from interacting with the many, many complexities of Scripture. And since we’ve disabled ourselves from interacting with the complexities (and even the simplicities) we take the life out of it. The life comes from the ability to interact and engage the text; to ask questions when we’re confused regardless if our questions challenge well-established theological thoughts; to picture how the metaphors might be lived out in today’s time; and just to move forward with the faith instead of staying in one position that only demands our compliance.
The best way I can describe the religiosity of Christianity is this: an actor with two scripts; one written by God Himself and the other written by man. Man’s script is very easily read and digested and the actor would have no problem memorizing his lines. But God’s script is a little different. It has blank pages throughout most of it with maybe a few lines here and there near the beginning. With man’s script the actor finds that he only has to do his job and give the audience what they want to see. But with God’s script, the actor realizes that he would have to do something beyond acting; he would have to perform with the faith that the lines will appear within the script when God decides they need to.
Thinking back through my life as a “Christian,” I realize there are two major acts. Act 1 was about the first four, maybe five years of my walk. I attended church on a punctual basis, was a part of a Bible study during the week, and I generally went along with what was taught to me. And then there came a major change to the style of my play in Act 2. All of a sudden I wasn’t punctually following the same routine I had been for years. Instead, I was taking each day for what it gave me and didn’t really care if I wasn’t aligning with the mainstream. When I truly saw Christ for who He is, it was like I suddenly became a character in a story.
The first page of my script for Act 2 of my life had only a couple lines. Something like “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” and “Follow me,” were the only lines there. As the days grew to months and the months to years, I, like a toddler trying to walk like his dad, strained to follow Christ’s instruction. I prayed, read, and worshipped in a whole different way than I had in Act 1. Though the Bible was the same, the songs were the same and even some of the people I prayed with were the same, there was something new within it all. There was something alive and vibrant and, to some extent, reckless, as though I didn’t care what this world did to me; I only cared if I was following my Dad’s footsteps.
And then I saw that form, sitting neatly on my desk waiting for me to make a decision about the statement of belief. The one that tripped me up the most was the one regarding this word “inerrancy.” It wasn’t about whether or not I agreed with it; but rather, I just never thought I had to figure that part out in order to serve Christ. It’s funny; nowhere in Scripture does it say you have to believe in the perfection of Scripture to be a true follower of Christ. And yet there I was being asked to agree with something I was never before instructed about before I could join the college-aged group to serve as a follower of Christ.
I’ve had many conversations since that day about inerrancy and many of the people I’ve talked to ask me why it’s so hard for me to believe. But there have been a few who have greatly encouraged me by their answers; “What difference does it make whether you do or you don’t? Doesn’t Jesus say, ‘Follow me’ and that’s the end of it?” Of course they worded it a bit differently, but the point is very clear; what we believe about Jesus should not be subjected to some book of systematic theology composed within the last century, but rather the focal point of our faith: Jesus Christ. It wasn’t our doctrinal contracts that took three nails upon a cross; it was Jesus. It wasn’t our organized religion that died on the God-forsaken tree; it was Jesus. And it surely was not the book of systematic theology that rose from the dead to give the people new life; it was Jesus. It’s all about Jesus and it always has been.
Ultimately it comes down to our decision. We can choose to sign off on the doctrinal statement of organized Christianity or we can choose the reckless, mysterious, and somewhat terrifying path of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. What influenced me with that mission packet sitting on my desk was the poem by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken.” For two years I had it nailed to my door. As I’ve wracked my mind and heart over whether to believe what everyone wants me to believe or follow the path of faith, the last two lines stood out; “And I –/ I took the road less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference.”