Monday, February 20, 2012

Loving Jesus and Loving His Church

Jonathan’s Journals

Well, after declaring several times on Sunday morning, Feb. 19 that we would definitely have the evening service, we had to change our plans after all. The snow and ice came that afternoon sooner than we anticipated, so we ended up cancelling our Sunday Feb. 19 evening service. I was sad to do so. I was really looking forward to the music that night, with Scott on sax, and Susan Pyles and Bonita Chrismon and friends in the band. And I was looking forward to sharing the message with you. We were going to watch a 4 minute video (see video above), and then I was going to respond to it and let the congregation respond to it as well.

The spokesman on the video is a young man, Jeff Bethke, who is 22 years old. If you don’t feel like watching the video, let me give you a short summary: He loves Jesus, but he hates religion. I think it is a common sentiment in our world today (the video was viewed 19 million times in one month), which is why I was going to respond to it. Since we cancelled the service, I thought I would share briefly my response. First of all, what I liked about the video: It is quite clear that Jeff Bethke really does love Jesus. Jesus Christ has changed his life. He knows Jesus personally. He is passionate about sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others. He knows that Jesus wants more than an outward show of religiosity; Jesus wants to change us from the inside out. Jesus reached out to the widow, the orphan, those who were outcast. Jesus loved sinners, so much so that He died for all of us sinners. We don’t have to pretend to be perfect. Our salvation depends on what Jesus did for us, not on what we can do for ourselves. He also makes his remarks in the form of poetry, and the rhythmic cadences of his speech were quite compelling. I would celebrate and affirm all of these aspects of the video.

Despite these good qualities, there are elements of his presentation that need more work. Pitting Jesus against religion is not helpful. Jesus certainly opposed false religion, self-righteous religion, and religion that neglected the needs of the poor. But to say that Jesus “came to abolish religion,” and that Jesus “hates religion,” is going too far. Jesus practiced the religion of Judaism, taught religious doctrine, and instituted religious rituals, such as the Lord’s Supper. Bethke questions the need to follow rules in his video, but Jesus gave his disciples certain commandments and said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The word “religion” is used at least twice in the New Testament to describe an authentic faith and love for God (James 1:27, 1 Timothy 3:16). The church was instituted by Jesus (Matthew 16:18), and despite all of its many problems, Christ has not forsaken His church, nor will He ever do so.

Bethke asks of religion, “why has it started so many wars, why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor, tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce.” He is right to point out that the church has a history of encouraging wars, and for this we must repent. The church has often neglected the poor, but the church has also fed more hungry people than any other human institution in the world. I am not aware of any church that tells single moms that God doesn’t love them. If such a church exists, it ought to be ashamed of itself. Divorce is a complicated matter, and it is always a tragedy, but most Protestant churches recognize it as a painful reality that we must sometimes accept, and then let God’s grace begin the healing process. If the church ever fails to extend hospitality to divorced people, we need to repent.

Bethke is also right in the video to point out that “Republican does not always mean Christian.” We might also add that Democrat doesn’t either. That’s important for us to hear in this election season, as various politicians might try to use religion to manipulate us into voting for them. Our faith and values should impact all of our lives, including our politics, but nothing is scarier than a candidate who says, “you should vote for me because God is on my side.” This is a great point.

Bethke calls for the church to be a hospital, and that’s a good metaphor for understanding the church. But let us always remember, the purpose of a hospital is to get people well, not just to make them comfortable while they are sick. We are all infected with a disease called sin. The church is called to administer the grace of Jesus Christ, not just so that people will be forgiven, but so they will be healed, transformed, and renewed. To use some church language, we are called not only to justification, but also to sanctification. We are not only forgiven, we are changed into new people.

I think Bethke would agree with most of what I have written here. For Bethke and the millions of young people for whom he speaks, I would just say: in order for your passion for Jesus to be sustained over the long haul, it must be nurtured by a community of faith that we call the church. If your passion for Jesus is not nurtured by the church, it will be like striking a match that burns brightly for a brief time, but then fizzles. It is good to strike a match, but once you have done this, use it to light a candle.


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