By Alex Himaya
Throughout history, well-meaning, intelligent, religious leaders have ignored their own human limitations; consequently, they have created a wealth of dead-end, stifling, and broken religions. When people choose to follow those dead-end journeys, they find themselves feeling damaged and betrayed. When this happens, most people blame God, which results in them moving farther and farther away from Him. What they don’t realize is that God had nothing to do with that journey, and ultimately they miss out on the path He did create—a path of freedom, hope, and security.
Religious leaders will try to convince you their man-made path, typically a list of “dos” and “don’ts” they choose to adhere to, is the only way for God to be experienced. The result is usually a life filled with frustration and guilt, when that journey asks for more than it provides. Generally, a person who lives a life committed to religion will find himself on his deathbed, hoping he did enough to earn God’s favor.
Religion is pride. It’s a human being or a group of human beings looking at the distance between them and God, and then saying, “I can right this wrong.” In other words, they believe there are ways they can be good enough—by filling their lives with love, purity, acts of kindness, social justice, etc.—to earn God’s favor. They walk through life committed to avoiding predetermined “bad” things and to doing enough “good” things that they will somehow be guaranteed a seat in heaven. Ultimately, all of these little paths are arrogance because they’re saying, “I can fix that.”
But when you get away from all of the teachings, all of the preaching, all of the performers, and when you just read the Bible, you’ll find one clear message: it’s not about you being “good” enough . . . it’s about God being enough. Period.
Since most people equate church with religion, it’s important to identify what the Bible actually says is the purpose of the church. One of the purposes God intended for the church is community—a group of people, with a common purpose, doing life together. In Acts 2:42–47, the Bible describes the first New Testament church. The believers, who all held a common belief that Jesus was the Son of God and had been raised from the dead, came together, devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, shared their lives with each other, and found encouragement and support.
As humans, we all desire community. In fact, that’s why Starbucks is so successful: one of its core principles is to create a place where people can gather and converse. Starbucks has replaced the front porches and backyards of neighborhoods across America. People used to talk with their neighbors about what’s going on in their lives. Today, people meet at a café to accomplish the same purpose.
The founder of Starbucks recognized a need for community, and he built an empire fulfilling that need. Outside of cafés, today’s culture comes up short fulfilling people’s needs for community. Perhaps that’s why social networking became so popular so quickly. It fulfilled a need for community—a place where there were no strings attached and people could just do life with other people.
One of the reasons God created the church was to fulfill our need for community, yet people have twisted and perverted the church, to the point it has become a place for people to unite with like-minded believers, who ascribe to a common code of ethics. So, when I say that Jesus hates religion, I’m not saying that God hates the church. He loves the church. He created it!
The church is the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. He hates the perversion of many churches that have added their own rules and standards to His genuine, honest, and simple offer of relationship. Granted, today’s culture generally defines church as a gathering of religious people, which makes me sick because that definition is missing so much. It’s so far away from what God created and purposed for the church. As a pastor, my desire is to see the people who attend church transform from a gathering of religious people creating their own paths to God into a gathering of people who know and believe that without God nothing is possible.
I love the church. There’s something very powerful in being a part of a community of Christ followers with a common purpose, and I believe there are many great churches that exist today. It is powerful when all of the people—from the pastor to the volunteers changing diapers in the nursery—are all striving toward the same purpose: a relationship with God, undefiled by man’s dos and don’ts.
The church is not equal to; it is greater than man-made religion.
Excerpted from Jesus Hates Religion by Alex Himaya (B&H Publishing Group, 2014)