As a young Christian I began with a love for religiosity — doing things that seemed for the betterment of my faith: serving in campus ministry, sharing my faith, giving up non-Christian music, a host of other things that cocooned me in a nearly exclusively Christian world. My worldview shifted eventually as I questioned evangelicalism as an effective means for the gospel to change all things. Sometimes I would become like a Galatian, thinking my religiosity would save me, bring me closer to God — I was foolish enough to believe in another gospel that was really no gospel at all. Most of us have this sort of love/hate relationship with religion. We cling to it for security, or avoid it desperate as we are to avoid hurt, or reject the denial of our self-determination. Religiosity became an anti-gospel in the struggle between law and grace, or a spiritual cover from criticism from overly-pious believers in the church.
The new Christian fad is to be anti-religion. “We’re about relationship, not religion”, we say, among other cliches. We market a faith devoid of “religion” but the product is still the same.
Deservedly, we ought to struggle against the religious spirit. It was the religious spirit that crucified our Lord. The religious spirit is that counterfeit to the one that is Holy, and is at work in our churches, telling us we have to do more, serve more, act more, say more, hide more in order to be acceptable, righteous, worthy of service and leadership. It teaches us the same about our relationship with God. Following the religious spirit not only denies us the power of the gospel, it drains all power from the cross of Christ, hides his Holy Spirit from us, and wears us out.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go to meet with God? — Psalm 42:1-2
I’ve always wanted to be a monk. I’m happily married however, so it’s quite out of the question. But every now and again I flirt with the idea. I dream of silent days of prayer and work, keeping the night watch, even sporting an itchy wool robe lik St. Francis. I was recently contemplating the oblate life — taking vows to follow the rule of St. Benedict, and live a lay monastic life. The old thoughts came to life again: am I feeling out of control again? Trying to grab a hold of religion to keep me on an even keel? Am I trying to deny the gospel with this religiosity?
My Catholic brothers and sisters would no doubt scold me, but my evangelical ones will know from where I am coming. God showed me something quite liberating, I hope, for us all.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. — Isaiah 43:18-19
Religion isn’t a dirty word, it can be the stream God uses to water our lives. I saw a picture of a finger tracing canals in the sand… I felt the Lord showing me this is what religion can be in my life, canals that connect the rich waters of his grace, hope and love to my sun-scorched and parched soul. If we make such inroads for the Spirit, and make as many as we can, how much more will the grace of God flow to us?
We are creatures of habit and we work well with structure. No wonder the religion God gave the Israelites was such a lived experience — we need our faith to be the same way if we are to survive. It’s the way we were made. Quiet times, the daily office, sabbaths, days of studying or fasting, rules and spiritual exercises, rosaries — whatever you may practice all these can be not just things we do, they can be inroads pulsing with the life of Jesus and the power of his Spirit.
What they must not become are outroads we take to get to the water source, traveling miles upon miles on cracked, sore feet in hot weather, only to find very little water, and then trudge home, finding ourselves thirsty again. They say religion is man attempting to get to God, whereas Christianity is God coming to man. But I think God can use our religiosity to get to us, so long as it is the tool of our salvation, not the means.
Where does this leave us? Or me, for that matter? If we are going to be religious, allow our religiosity to be an inroad for the Spirit to come in and bring the life of Jesus into our lives. If you must, pray at set times, use form prayers, follow rules or spiritual exercises — do what you must to make inroads, not outroads. For me, I plan to seek out a new monastic way of living. Should be exciting, and make for plenty of blog posts.