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Don’t Try to Find Jesus on Your Own

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“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Last month I was at the doctor’s office when John Denver song ‘Blow up your TV’ came on the radio. The chorus of the song goes like this:

“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper;
Move to the country; build you a home.
Plant a little garden; eat a lot of peaches;
Try and find Jesus on your own.”

The singer of the song was given this advice by a topless woman who was willing to join him in giving her advice a try. In the last chorus we learn what the result was:

“We blew up our TV; threw away our paper;
Went to the country. Built us a home.
Had a lot of children. Fed ’em on peaches.
They all found Jesus on their own.”

I am interested in this song (which you can watch on Youtube here) because it gets to the heart of how many Americans feel about their faith.

For countless Americans, Jesus is essentially someone to connect with on your own. While church may be important, it is essentially an accessory. If the communion of the saints has any importance, it is to facilitate each of us finding Jesus on our own. And if something else (say, moving to the country) can get the job done with equal efficacy, then the larger community of Christians becomes unnecessary and can even be an encumbrance.

Self-sufficient spirituality
The freedom represented by moving to the country and eating home-grown produce functions in Denver’s song as the appropriate metaphor for a religious quest that is essentially an individualistic journey of self-discovery.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with someone moving to the country and building their own home. And if you want to blow up your TV in the process, that might not be such a bad idea.

What I am questioning, however, is the song’s individualistic subtext.

Hate Religion but love Jesus? Think again!
One of the reasons John Denver’s song caught my attention is because it resonates with so much contemporary spirituality, not least the views we find embodied in the ‘Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus’ video that recently went viral.

In this popular video a young man trumps out all the same worn-out arguments against the Christian religion that God-haters have been bringing forward ever since the French Enlightenment (i.e., that religion creates wars, produces hypocrites, brings bondage, etc.) The video climaxes in the claim that Jesus came to abolish religion.

While some of my friends have tried to argue that the speaker in this video is only talking about false religion, it is significant that one of the reasons so many Christians repudiate the term ‘religion’ is in order to self-consciously downplay the public and corporate aspects the term immediately brings to mind.

Another reason why the term ‘religion’ is falling out of favor is because it is considered cool to pit the relational aspect of Christianity against the structural and ecclesiastical connotations, with the term ‘religion’ being emblematic of the latter. As you’ve probably heard people say before, “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.” The only problem is that this false dilemma is about just as illogical as if someone were to claim that marriage cannot be a close relationship if it is also an institution. The love relationship of marriage depends on the integrity of marriage as an institution, just as our relationship with Jesus depends on the integrity of the religion in which that relationship is situated. This is because religion, as my friend James McDonald recently reminded us, is about more than just the individual. Pastor McDonald wrote:

“We are a people, not just a person. Yes, we are all called to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but this personal relationship is intertwined and lived out in the midst of the corporate community of faith where we are called a ‘peculiar people, a holy nation, a chosen generation (1 Peter 2:9).’ This is part of true religion; it is rejoicing in the organized Church that Jesus has given us.”

In praise of institutions and organized religion
Did Jesus come to abolish ‘religion’ and all the “churchiness” associated with it so we could find Him on our own?

According to Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, the answer to this question is an emphatic NO. In their excellent book, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, Kluck and DeYoung walk through the Bible’s own teaching on the church, challenging the individualistic assumptions that permeate so much popular thinking.

If your thinking has been contaminated by the “Christianity is not a religion” mantra, then I strongly urge you to get a copy of their book.

The conclusion of the book is simple: don’t try to find Jesus on your own!

Next steps

Do you know any people who are trying to find Jesus on their own? Why not send a copy of this article to them, and invite them to join you for coffee and conversation about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

For further insight into this topic, buy Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion from our online store or read Pastor James McDonald’s article, “Religion: Does it Deserve a Bad Rap?” Finally, if you are interested in appreciating the historical context behind the pioneer mentality in so much American Christianity, read Robin’s blog post, ‘Christianity and the Pioneer Mindset.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalms 18:2

A little child shall lead them
I always enjoy Children’s Time, that segment of our worship service when the children run to the front of the sanctuary, sit on the steps, and listen to one of our ministers tell a story related to the day’s sermon. The stories, the illustrations, and the questions and answers from the kids bring not only chuckles, but often theological insights from the youngest members of our church family.

 

1 Comment

  1. Robin...love your zeal to strive for balance in this discussion, as I am sure in all things. One of the things that can often create unnecessary divides is words. We all agree "words matter", especially when trying to navigate through ares of great truth. Depending on how "religion" is defined we would all be for it or against it. Against it, if by religion one means that which you must do to earn righteousness. For it, if we mean the body of Christ that protects us and is the means through which He intends to serve and reach the world. My guess is you and the "young man agree" with the McDonald quote. Or to say it another way...you agree with each other and should want to both make sure that your words are understood in their meaning so you can support each other in your mission to remain faithful to the fullness of the gospel. Rather than assume people who use the word religion want "to self-consciously downplay the public and corporate aspects" of the faith, it might be better to say, "if by religion someone is trying to downplay". Meanwhile, I love your zeal and celebrate your boldness. Here's praying I write and communicate myself in a way that encourages and challenges others to be faithful to good "religion" and boldly speak out against the bad.
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