While pastor of Lynchburg, Virginia's First Baptist Church, I was assigned authorship of the religion column for the September 5, 1992 edition of The News and Advance. I recently came across a copy of that article and thought it provided helpful background for what I've been chewing on in this blog. It follows as printed:
ARE YOU RELIGIOUS?
Let's do away with religion!"
Who would make such a suggestion? Obviously -- one who is either a subversive revolutionary or mentally deranged. In either case, that person might become dangerous to society if they were taken seriously...and so it was that the authorities decided to silence a young rabbi by execution almost 2,000 years ago.
Yes, Jesus of Nazareth sought to free people from the bondage of religion -- for religion always tends to enslave people by imposing a system of thinking and acting (dogma and ritual) which is intended to invoke the divine blessing.
Over in Buckingham County, there is a religious community, known as Yogaville, which tries to promote unity among all religions. Their motto is "Truth is one, paths are many." Indeed, there are many paths which which religions promote as the way to find God. And it is in this sense that Jesus sought to do away with religion -- for religion is the human enterprise which seeks to look fo God.
In contrast to the religious approach, Jesus taught that God was looking for humanity, and announced, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15) The good news is that you do not have to find the way to God; God has found the way to you! The good news would later be interpreted this way: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8).
Religion assumes that God is remote and angry and must be appeased by some ritual and/or sacrifice; even worse, religion tends to promote the individual assumption that God is against you. In direct contrast, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the proclamation that God is for you because God loves you (John 3:16), even as the father loved his prodigal son. (See Luke 15: 11-32).
Perhaps you are very religious and are doing your best to know God. That is certainly your privilege. But if religion turns you off, consider the prospect that God has visited humanity and offered a love that knows no limits through Jesus the Christ: "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." (Rev.3:20) You do not need to find your way to God; you simply need to respond to the love of God which is at your door.