Sometimes the books that people want me to read seem to converge on a single topic. One of my retired friends gave me a book by Richard Wightman Fox called Jesus in America – Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession. Another friend told me that if I want to understand where the youth of today are going (not always to church) I should read Before They Say Goodbye by David Sawler. My own daughter sent me a YouTube clip entitled “Why I Hate Religion, but I Love Jesus.”
Then this week in my devotional reading I read the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. These two books describe the beginning of Christianity, starting with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, Judea and concluding with the great Apostle Paul waiting for his sentence from the Roman Emperor. One of the main threads in the lives of Jesus and Paul is their desire to do what God wants them to do. The preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom took Jesus to the cross and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ took Paul to the Roman jail where he was sentenced to die.
It is easy to read the gospels and Acts and see that Jesus Christ is critical of the Pharisees and the Romans. It is easy to transfer what Jesus said about these groups to leaders in the Christian church or to other religious leaders. It is more difficult to accept that what Christ says to the Pharisees, he also says to me and to all of us who read the gospels.
The followers of Jesus were called Nazarenes or the followers of the Way until Acts 11:25 where we read, “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The words preceding that conclusion were “For a whole year Barnabas and Paul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” This is exactly what Jesus Christ tells us to do. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)
In listening to people who are in the church and people who are outside the church and claiming that they love Jesus but not religion, I find that many of us really do not know what Jesus wants from us. Paul and Barnabas were teaching the new disciples for more than a year. Jesus tells us that we should obey everything that he commanded, but often people do not know about those commands.
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The Roman Catholic Church spends little time in preparing their children to have their first communion and confirmation. The majority of the training that baptismal candidates get in Baptist churches is 4-6 hours before the baptism! The emphasis seems to be on the shorter the better. The homily (usually one verse, one funny illustration and a soft conclusion) is being discussed not for what it says, but if it goes beyond the prescribed 8 minutes of length. Sometimes sermons focus on one verse and go for 30 to 60 minutes. However, even here we have to ask how much of the sermon is focused on Jesus and how much is the display of our oratorical skills.
Religion at its linguistic Latin root has to do with binding or uniting people together. Jesus tells us that we are his disciples if we obey His commandments. Those who obey the commandments of Jesus Christ come together because their commonality is the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has been called the love of God, the unifier of the world because he invites everyone to come to Him. However, the same Jesus has been the great divider because he told the world that they cannot come to God the Father unless they come through Him.
My friends who love Jesus but not the church or religion need to read the gospels where Jesus tells us that He will build the church. Moreover, in the Day of Judgment, Jesus is going to present the church as a bride without spots, blemishes and wrinkles, which means that the church has those things today. Jesus has a high view of church and we should have one also, even when the church is not always doing what Jesus wants her to do.