Monday, February 27, 2012

Curing the Plague of Churchianity

Someone wiser than I once suggested that in many churches, what is needed is not a long, skillfully-delivered, scripturally-based sermon following a passionate time of worship but rather a short admonition. She imagined God wanting a pastor to simply stand up and declare, "Brothers and sisters, God's word to us today is 'Love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies.' Go now and immediately put this into practice. There's no need to return next week unless you have completed the assignment. You're dismissed." That would be the extent of the service.

As I've written in my chapter on church, Save the Ales (from the Church), churchianity--the practice of making the demands of the institutional church more important than loving others--is a plague on evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. Richard Beck made a similar point when he lamented how church and religious rituals (and I would add, believing the right doctrines) have supplanted the most basic Christian practice: being decent human beings. Rather than focus on what really matters, followers of churchianity put more stock in "church attendance, worship, praying, spiritual disciplines, Bible study, using religious language... and arguing with evolutionists..." (This is the short list). The outcome? As Beck says, churches become "jerk factories."

Churchianity rears its ugly head when we hear of spiritual abuse in denominations like Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Seattle Mars Hill church. I recently read the Mars Hill membership covenant and was shocked how lopsided it is. Members promise to "submit to church leaders, doctrine, discipline, and the authority of scripture," "not function as a member of another church," "commit to the mission of the church," which is to "make disciples (get other people to do the above) and plant churches" (get even more people to do the above), and promise to practice a long list in a behavior code having to do with sex, not living together before marriage, and refraining from pornography, alcohol abuse, and drug use. There was not one word about loving one another or loving the unlovely.

I'm not pretending that none of the things in their covenant are important, but that it's emphasis is on things only the church and its leaders can control (how they do church discipline, decide what's right to believe, decide what part of the Bible is authoritative, which interpretation to believe and which to ignore, what moral practices to follow, etc.). Churchianity is primarily interested in controlling others and empire building, not loving our fellow man, promoting social justice, and allowing people to govern themselves through Christ's superior law of love. These are the only cure for the plague. I welcome your thoughts.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Confessions of a Bible Thumper Book Summary

First some random thoughts. I liked Mike Morrell's Heresy Hunting piece on how to handle alternate views on theology and faith. He reminds us, despite accusations (or subtle implications) of heresy by some people directed towards us emergent, questioning, and universalist types, we should not tolerate the practice of demonizing people.

Second, I really liked this article by Richard Beck called The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity. He makes the point that much of Christianity has become a mechanism to replace being a loving human being with an endorsed "spiritual" list of ritualistic substitutes. The chapter in my book on the church--Save the Ales (from the Church)--is on this subject. I will blog something on this later.

Finally, as I said below, last week John and I made a video in a local microbrewery (Sound Brewing, Poulsbo, WA) that summarized my book. This will be the first of several videos I do on Confessions. Also visit to read some new reactions to the book. As usual, I appreciate any comments!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nine Reasons Beer Is Better than Religion*

*source unknown

I had the priviledge this past weekend of hearing Marcus Borg speak in Seattle and was pleasantly suprised when he began with a light-hearted piece about beer. It's seems every where I go, the subject of beer in relation to faith just crops up.

The next night, I went to a local microbrewery to video a blurb about my book and several of the patrons came up to me afterwards to voice their interest in my story. My friend John and I ended up chatting with Melody and her husband over some nice Belgium Porter about open-minded faith and how the church has squelched certain freedoms, one being the responsible enjoyment of beer. It really is a shame, because it's true. Beer really is better than religion (but not genuine reasoned faith) and here are nine perfectly good reasons why with my additional thoughts:

1. No one will kill you for not drinking beer. [Or devise some elaborate torture method, use it on you, and claim they're doing you a favor by compelling you to recant and thereby save your soul]

2. Beer has never caused a major war. [Or a nasty church split]

3. Beer doesn’t tell you how to have sex. [Nor when to have it]

4. When you have a beer, you don’t knock on people’s doors trying to give it away. [Or hand out simplistic tracts that you have to apologize for to intellectual types]

5. They don’t try to force beer on minors who can’t think for themselves. [Or force it on adults by telling them it's dangerous to think for themselves]

6. You don’t have to wait 2000 years for a second beer. [Or a second well-crafted microbrew fit for a returning King]

7. There are laws saying that beer labels can’t lie to you. [Or decieve, manipulate, or twist the truth]

8. You can prove you have a beer. [No need to blindly believe because a church or a pope says so]

9. If you’ve devoted your life to beer, there are groups to help you stop. [They meet in buildings devoted to religion]

Any other reasons beer is better? I welcome your comments.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Did Jesus Hate Religion?

That is a question that Jefferson Bethke addressed in his "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" video that went viral. When I watched it, I found myself agreeing with a lot of Bethke's assertions, but was uneasy with the way in which it was expressed. It seemed like he wasn't getting to the root of the problem that I see in religious institutions.

Then I saw David Brooks' fascinating article on how Bethke caved to his critics; people like Kevin DeYoung, who "corrected" Bethke, saying that Jesus, although he hates self-righteousness, doesn't really hate religion because he observed Jewish holy days, went to the Temple, founded the church, instituted church discipline, initiated communion and baptism, and didn't abolish Jewish law. Bethke apparently wrote DeYoung in an email exchange and admitted to him that he actually "agrees 100 percent." Ahh, so this is perhaps why I was uneasy about the video. The "religion" Bethke critiqued was not the same as the one that DeYoung defends. But it's the religion that DeYoung defends that needs the critique!

In my book I make the case, based on historical analysis by people like Garry Wills, that Jesus in fact did not found a church, perpetuate Jewish law, and insitute a set of rituals to be followed to the letter. These ideas are read into the New Testament, not derived from a fair, exegetical reading of them. When Jesus taught on the church, he did not have our modern churches in mind, particuarly ones that promote spiritual abuse in the name of "church discipline," he is widely misunderstood on Jewish law (that's why Paul says "we have been released from the law" and "we are not under its supervision"), and in fact, not only was he opposed to this type of religion, but confronted the corruption of the Temple and accurately predicted it would be destroyed!

David Brook argues that disaffected youth and protestors have to do more than just cry injustice. They have to come up with an appropriate alternative, preferably based on an already establshed counter traditional school of thought, or else their critiques are vague and ineffectual. Excellent point.

On the other hand, in my mind, the answer to the "religion" Bethke ranted about is not DeYoung's view of Jesus' religion. Jesus' religion was a religion of the heart, where love is the only law. It wasn't a religion of unquestioned institutions and ecclesiastical authority. The alternative to DeYoung's "religion" (and the issues Bethke addressed) is Jesus' established but misunderstood philosophy of the loving reign of God. I appreciate your comments and thoughts.