I mean…I get it. You love Jesus, but you’ve had it up to here with organized religion. You’re tired of churches with lifeless doctrine, petty in-fighting, denominational quirks valued more than sinners, neglect for the poor, financial priorities so backwards that…I could go on. The reasons for rejecting organized religion are many.
So you walk away from the church. Jesus is still your Lord and master, and it’s not my place to say otherwise. But you’ve decided to be a “Christian at large”, to practice a “Christianity stripped down to its bare essence”, or however else you prefer to say it.
But what many people miss: Jesus didn’t want it that way.
I could talk about how Jesus (through Paul’s New Testament writings) sees organized religion…but I’m operating under the assumption that, for whatever reason, “God said to do it” just isn’t a good inroad with you right now. I wish it was.
Instead, I’ll talk about Jesus. We can all get on board with that.
Let me identify the true root of all your problems with organized religion. It’s people. People set policy. People fight. People get tripped up by sin and religious pride. Whatever legitimate beef you have with the church, you can probably trace it back to the sin within people.
Now, this Jesus you love…the Jesus whom you claim to follow while having no use for his other followers…the Jesus you admire in part because he calls out Pharisees both ancient and modern…this Jesus was very good with people. Very patient. He was, being God in the flesh, by definition the most gracious man ever to live.
This was the Jesus who tolerated the shenanigans of his disciples. “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” as they fight among themselves re: who is the greatest. Does that sound so out of place in a typical church?
This was the Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (and he didn’t specify atheists).
This was the Jesus who handed over leadership of the church to the very knucklehead who betrayed him most egregiously – before throngs in Jerusalem, multiple times (Matthew 16:18, John 21:17).
This was the Jesus who forgave the very Roman soldiers who crucified him.
This was the very Jesus who, for all his glorious tirades towards the Pharisees, handpicked the greatest of them all to be his apostle to the Gentiles.
Nobody set a more amazing example for bearing with, believing in, and loving on mistake-ridden people than our risen Lord.
And the student is not greater than his master.
Our Lord calls us to follow and emulate him in every way – including his ways with people. And it’s not really one of those things that you can show in a vacuum. You have to put your money where your mouth is – as in be around people. The “love each other” command that the church often fumbles is given to you as well.
When Jesus asks us to accept organized religion, he doesn’t ask us to do so alone. He gives us his Spirit, a Spirit which showed a strength beyond ourselves to deal with fallen people. The same character that allowed Jesus to navigate people so well is also available to you, Christian, through his indwelling of you. With his commands comes the power to obey, always. You are not on your own.
It can be hard to deal with organized religion. I regret that the church has not always carried its “love each other” baton well, sometimes horrifying people straight in the other direction from God. But really…the church is people. What were we expecting?
To those who have been hurt, rejected, or disgusted right out of organized religion, I urge you to emulate the Jesus you love in every way. Give the church another try. Church-hunting sucks, but with the amount of effort people will put into finding the right coffeeshop or Chinese restaurant, I can say that God deserves the effort.
Keep up the search. God is with you.