The Dilemma of Loving Jesus But Hating Religion

 usemylifeforyourglory asked:

Hi! I believe in Christ and I’m experiencing His love and grace on me. I love Him but I’m so annoyed and I hate religion. I hate when people criticize others. I hate how religion divide people. I hate how they always debate who is right and wrong, true and not. I believe that His love is for everyone, that He gives us rest and in Him there is no condemnation. I’ve been in to other churches but sometimes I just don’t agree to what they say. Is it okay this is how I feel? Ugh.

Hey my lovely friend: It’s definitely okay to feel this way about “organized religion” and the disunity you see in the mainstream church.  It’s right to get angry at condemnation, legalism, hate, and oversized doctrine-heads.

But please allow me the grace to gently challenge you on one simple thing.

It’s easy for me to express discontent with the church because there’s definitely so much wrong with the flesh-driven, man-made, bully-infested hierarchy of smugness in our Christian subculture.  It’s easy for me to say, “Look at those Pharisees, those uptight religious bigots. Thank God I’m totally not like them.”  And you would be right to say that, because you have enough clarity to see how moralism kills us.

Yet the criticism we throw at the religious tends to turn into its very own sort of legalism, until we’re in a perpetual loop of grudges and animosity and division.  Making a distinction against what is wrong always begins with the noble intention of loving people, but we easily boost our own egos when we think “I’m one of the good Christians.”  We’re all prone to an elevated platform, because you know, we’re all sinners. The devil is laughing his butt off over this.

I would say that 98% of Christian blogs I read are just reactionary finger-pointing separatists that always reeks of an attitude that says, “I’m not like those other Christians.”  We tend to eat our own and shoot the wounded.  I’m well aware that even by me saying this, I’m totally defeating my own point too.  But my heart really does grieve for unity, with hope and grace even for the overbearing legalists.

You see, the nuanced love of Jesus included even the worst offenders of love.  Jesus had grace for those who abused grace.  He not only befriended Peter, Martha, Paul, Thomas, and the Samaritan woman at the well, but he also loved Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and Jairus the synagogue leader.  Jesus’s love was so off the map that he loved people we could never imagine approaching, because he smashed all those dichotomous binary categories.

It’s probably cool to point at Pharisees and legalists and the religious.  You can have a really popular blog by making fun of uptight church culture and satirizing poppy praise songs and even mocking traditional liturgy.  I guess it’s funny sometimes.  But it lacks thoughtfulness.  It lacks consideration.  It lacks the grace to see the whole story, to understand how it got so bad, to truly sympathize with how a hateful person became so wounded and mad.

Of course, please leave the room if there’s obvious hatred and bigotry.  Please speak truth when you see that love is not the goal.  I would never make excuses for some of the atrocious misguided hate we see today.

But I really believe the true Christian can eventually cross over party lines, not for the sake of looking flexible, but because the line is hardly visible.  What Jesus did on the cross was shrunk us to our true size by equalizing both our sin and our need for grace.  Jesus wants the heart of the worst rebellious porn addict to those picketers at Westboro to the greediest politician to the most destitute homeless child.  Only grace offers the sort of hope to see a person beyond their category into God’s very own creation.

Without that sort of hope, even if it’s just a tiny grain of mercy, then we will remain stuck in superiority disguised as higher knowledge.  We will remain snobby while thinking we are “more balanced” than the “other.”  To hate a legalist is still legalism.  Only with the humility that the Gospel offers, can we begin to dismantle all the fallenness of our cultures and reconstruct them with the life that Jesus poured out for us from his broken tomb.

— J.S.

17 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Loving Jesus But Hating Religion

  1. Two comments:

    1. Jesus hated legalism without being a legalist. I think we can too.

    2. Your points above are why I pulled out of organized religion altogether – not because I believe I’m better, or ‘get it’, but because I did not want to be one to cause strife and division when I challenged the nonsense I saw that IS nonsense. I could not longer stay in without challenging ‘her’ to change. Right now the organized church is not open to that sort of challenge. My hope and prayer is that one day She will be.


  2. Since this is what I’m about with my blog, my life and my teaching I want to applaud your usual tender balance that pulls us back to Jesus rather than mere opinion. I still say that organized Christianity leading away from Jesus is NO excuse NOT to gather with other believers, whether a small group, a house church, neighbours at the kitchen table, anything. Like you I will risk sounding legalistic, but we need other parts of the body, and if your local congregation worships itself or doctrine is no reason to disobey the Creator’s reality that we are social beings. I challenge Pharisee and Scribe thinking, but I will not stop praying for souls. Jesus condemned them with anger at times, but it was love frustrated by their rebellion, not a desire to punish them, in my opinion.


  3. Good challenge. I think that every criticism of the church should be balanced with a call for the church to get it right on that issue. This needs to begin with the one issuing the call.


  4. As a Christian blogger, I hope that I am not in the 98% that you mentioned above. If I am, I hope that someone will call me on it. I offer my criticism of the organized church as one who is committed to building up that church and I offer it with the proviso that I do not have all of the answers. It is not my goal to stand in judgement of the church but to seek for us to be a more useful tool in the hand of our master, Jesus Christ.


    1. Hey Mark, maybe I shot too high. One thing I’m learning is that most bloggers/pastors/authors just don’t know any other way, because it’s how they were “taught” to write or speak. Even in me saying “98% of bloggers are reactionary” is in itself a reactionary comment, so I pretty much shot myself in the foot. When we see a guilt-trip work so easily, we also implement guilt-trips, and it’s very much a part of our subconscious culture to beat others over the head with our points. Those points might have noble motives, but our methods might be heavy-handed.

      Usually when I get to know a fellow blogger/pastor/author, I find they’re not very much like their blogs or sermons or books. I find they’re very pleasant individuals with children and insecurities and hopes like the rest of us, but they only know how to communicate in simplistic terms because such is the nature of our learned behavior. So I definitely understand (and I am not above my own criticism). My only hope, as yours, is to transcend those imprisoning attitudes and to really grieve for healing and restoration.


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