I’ve been a Christian for over 12 years, if I was to do a rough calculation that would equal to hearing over 2000 sermons, answering over a 1000 altar calls and attending over 1500 church programmes. I would therefore think it’s safe to say that I’ve heard enough versions of God to last me a lifetime.
For the past 4 years I’ve battled between having a genuine relationship with God and simply being an individual with a religious affiliation to an institution. When I became a Christian for the first time, I was completely engrossed in the God that was on display as well as being completely consumed by church activity and ministry. This certainly was not a bad thing because I found that a busy Christian has less time to be consumed by that which “the world” has to offer, however, my desire to be busy meant I had no time for the very same thing I thought I was consumed by.
What I knew of God as a young man was very simply ‘work for me and I’ll be good to you’. This particular blueprint became a way of life for me, and while of course I heard on countless occasions that there is nothing i could do to make God love me, I saw the total opposite in my Christian walk.
As I grew, my idealisms became warped. I felt as though all of my sins, mistakes and transgressions were apparent because I wasn’t a “good enough” Christian, and that I wasn’t doing enough to resist temptations. This in turn caused me to try and do more to be better, but it just created a dangerous cycle. It also caused me to somewhat resent God because it became apparent to me that no matter how much I tried and how much I did, I was still well and truly flawed.
Religion became almost a drug for me. I saw the work I was doing as a relief for my misdemeanours. If I did enough then this God I had formed would truly love me. Religion moulded the God I served, and duty created this idea that if you’re not doing something then you are useless for God as well as the kingdom.
As a young Christian I became very legalistic in my ways. I judged men and women for how they looked, what they wore and how they spoke. I deemed myself a judge, making the final conclusion on an individual as to whether they were truly saved. Religion was the disease while I thought it was the cure. Sadly, this was “the standard” I saw in church culture.
The religion I speak of isn’t that which the bible well and truly certifies. The religion I’m referring to is Pharisee to the core while being clothed in garments Jesus would wear. It’s telling a man you can be saved but only if you become like one of us. It’s conditional love based on how much you do for the purpose of the kingdom. And to be frank, it is what I and many Christians thrived on.
Religion looks down on others without a care of their story or past. It is pure arrogance clothed in a perceived holiness. It tells you to ‘Come as you are’, but change whom God has made you to be.
This past year I well and truly broke up with religion. I ended a relationship that was damaging my heart and soul. To be honest It was the best decision I had made in a very long time.
The problem is we can never find a balance between religion and a genuine relationship as somewhere along the way we tend to lean to one extreme. The lines are blurred and we will either become rigid in our concepts or be totally captivated by intimacy with God without realising the need to serve those around us.
So what does this breakup entail? It’s learning to know God from a biblical perspective, having assurance that God does and always will love you regardless of what you’ve done or what you will do, and it’s not basing your concept of God solely on the words of mere men.
2016 for me was the death of the institutional creature that was bound to a mindset that service breeds salvation. This is not to say a man will not serve in any capacity but rather you serve because of God not in spite of him. This death also means we look on our fellow humans through eyes of love, seeing that every man and woman no matter how far gone they may be can well and truly know God as well as be loved by him.
Unfortunately, the church world has created a communistic approach to the Gospel. Wanting to keep the good news enclosed, and only given to a select few that live up to the criteria that they have set. All the while completely forgetting that we were grafted into this great love because we were once outsiders.
I had to come to the realisation that someone may not serve God the same way I do, or worship the way I do or even speak about Christ the way I do but that’s absolutely ok because we are all made differently. They may not dress the way an organisation does, or pray the way a body of believers has been taught but that does not make them any less of a Christian and to think as such is to miss the entire point of why we are saved in the first place.
For me, the most important lesson I learnt is to treat everyone the same whether they do or don’t know God. My job isn’t to scream Jesus down their throat but love them as if they were my own family, all the while still telling them about the goodness of God.
I eventually dropped the charade and stopped pretending to be someone I was not. I cut out the “This is how a real Christian should speak” malarkey and decided I wasn’t going to follow a man-made concept of Christianity. (Man-made = A man’s version of Christianity that neglect’s a genuine biblical foundation)
Most importantly, Jesus found me.
“He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less.”
– C.S. Lewis
Do I struggle? Absolutely
Am I perfect? Not in the slightest
Do i have questions? Many
Do I hate the church? Certainly not
But regardless of the above I know God loves me, even at this point in my life when I’m trying to find who I am, that is the only assurance I have, that I am loved by the one that gave his life for me.
So in a nutshell, this is my breakup letter with religion. It’s been an interesting journey, but may we never cross paths again.
Words by Daniel (db)