I admit to a certain theological quirkiness. Two of my favorite Christian thinkers are Alexander Schmemann and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Schmemann was an Eastern Orthodox priest. Bonhoeffer was the German pastor who was killed for his resistance to Hitler. I have argued for some amazing similarities in their thinking in my thesis for my MA, but for our purposes here I simply want to mention one statement from each.
Schmemann said that Christ “has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion.”
Likewise, Bonhoeffer once said, “Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life.”
I could not agree more. I’ll even admit to preaching a sermon at one time entitled, “Losing My Religion.” I still stand by most of what I said in that sermon—though it was years ago, and I think in some areas I have matured and changed a bit.
None-the-less, in the matter of the current Evangelical approach to “religion” I cannot help but quote that great Spanish philosopher Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“Religion” is not a synonym for hypocrisy. It isn’t another word for sin. Nor is it a term that means idolatry. At the risk of stumbling into that discussion killing topic of etymology, “religion” in its most basic meaning from ancient times to the present means reverence for God or gods, life conduct that exhibits belief in God, or recognition, belief, and worship of God. Why exactly is that a bad thing?
Furthermore, James tells us plainly what “true religion” is. While I will discuss his statement more deeply in later posts, it is important to note that if the scriptures tell us what true religion is then we can be assured that it exists.
Interestingly, to return to my introduction, both of the men I mentioned, fully recognizing that Jesus is not merely some founder of a religion, invested their lives in what many might call “religious” work. Schmemann was a professor of liturgical studies. His focus of teaching was how and why we do the things we do as a church in worship to God. Similarly, Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancé from prison that his most important work that he wanted her to read and digest was Life Together, a book about how and why we were to act in corporate worship—arguably a book about liturgics.
No, Jesus wasn’t about founding religion, but true religion matters—and so this series of blog posts will attempt to answer why.