Friday, January 20, 2012

If only we were as zealous for missions as we are for defending organized religion

The Wall Street Journal has an article out this morning in the "Houses of Worship" column with the provocative title: Can You Come to Jesus Without Church? The author, Jonathan Fitzgerald, is the latest person to respond to the video by Jefferson Bethke that has defenders of institutionalism all up in arms and like so many others he equates "church" with "organized religion". It seems an odd question since everyone who came to Jesus in the New Testament did so without the "benefit" of organized religion but let me allow Mr. Fitzgerald to speak for himself in his conclusion.
Stating that religions build churches at the expense of the poor, as Mr. Bethke does, turns a blind eye to the single greatest charitable institution on the planet. Blaming religion for wars ignores the fact that the greatest mass murderers in the 20th century—indeed in all of history—killed for nonreligious reasons. And advocating for a kind of Christianity that is free of the "bondage" of religion opens the door to dangerous theological anarchy that is all too common among young evangelicals and absolutely antithetical to biblical Christianity.
That statement is chock full of error. Anyone who cannot see that there are people that are starving and in need of shelter all around us while church after church building new buildings, renovating their sanctuaries to make it more comfy for the couple of hours a week it is open, paying clergy to minister so that the average church-goer can feel absolved of the need to do anything beyong payin’ and prayin’, etc. is out of touch with reality. Again I issue this challenge. Look at the budget of most churches and ask where the money goes. Is it going to the cause of missions and aiding the needy, within and outside of the church? Or is it going primarily to sustaining the machinery of institutionalism, keeping the church doors open and the ministers employed?

Mr. Fitzgerald's opinion that just because religious organization do some charitable work and that not all wars are started by religion is setting a pretty low standard for what is supposed to be the church. I don’t think our standard of financial stewardship is really “marginally better than the world”. When Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, I don’t think He was thinking that “peacemakers” are those who only start half of the wars or are not quite as efficient in killing others. Being not as bad as Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot is not quite the message of the Sermon on the Mount.

As far as the breathless hyperbole that we would face “theological anarchy” without the protective confines of the institutional church. Decorum prevents me from posting the cattle influenced phrase that leaps to mind so I will restrict myself to “Baloney!” I would rather have theological anarchy where people ask questions and seek the truth over empty religion of passive sheep shuffling in and out of church each week. Better that many seek to find the truth and some find it than everyone passively being spoon fed dollops of religion in exchange for a check in the offering plate, spiritually withering away on the vine. I hate to point out the obvious but there has been far more error and heresy and division propagated by organized religion than all of the “young evangelicals” and others who reject organized religion combined by far.

The comment stream that accompanies this essay and the other rage that has swirled around this fairly innocuous video by a young brother who seems quiet sincere, humble and teachable has been instructive. It is disturbing that many people who are not stirred to action by the billions of people who don’t know Christ around the world and around the corner, who are apathetic about orphaned children and homeless families, or who see nothing wrong with sitting one pew away from a family in serious financial distress, get incensed and spring to battle to defend institutionalized religion. If only the defenders of organized religion were as zealous for the Gospel and for mercy as they are for religion.


Anonymous said...

everyone who came to Jesus in the New Testament did so without the "benefit" of organized religion"

What about Jesus telling Lepers to go show themselves to the priests and make the accepted offerings?

Arthur Sido said...


What about them? Were those people told to go to the priests, the very same priests that Jesus often clashed with and that He often called hypocrites, so they could come to Jesus? Or perhaps was Jesus fulfilling the Law as He said He was coming to do?