Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Sermon on the Mount: Radical Religion

Bill Maher is really starting to get on my nerves.

The comedian, who has previously hosted the TV show Politically Incorrect, will star in a documentary called Religulous, scheduled to open October 3. According to an interview Maher gave Larry King, "the title of the film is a portmanteau derived from the words "religion" and "ridiculous," implying the satirical nature of the documentary that is meant to mock the concept of organized religion and the problems it brings about." Indeed, according to Los Angeles Times blogger Patrick Goldstein, the movie presents religion as "a big crock of spit," "a destructive force," and "a neurological disorder."

The problem is that I know plenty of people who agree with Maher before they even see the movie. For them, such a documentary will be preaching to the choir (and that may be the most ironic usage ever of that cliche!). I speak to far too many people who not only have no use for the Church, they actually think our impact on society is more good than bad.

And here's the worst's our fault. Yes, I know Scripture teaches that the world will hate those who follow Christ. But as I read those passages, I realize that Jesus and His early followers were hated for living by what they believed. Their message of universal grace and God's unconditional love were so counter-cultural that, when backed up by lives that were radically concordant with the message, people were disturbed. That's where the hatred and persecution came from.

In our case, however, skeptics seem to hate the Church for the exact opposite reason: Because we don't practice what we preach. Many of Christianity's most strident critics (I can't speak for Maher himself) profess great admiration for the person and the teachings of Jesus. What they see in Christianity, however, is a movement that bears little resemblance to its founder.

Now I know Christians a little better than these critics, most of whom base their judgments on televangelists and other fringe examples of our faith. I know that most Christians are devout, sincere, loving and lovable. They are a pleasure for me to work with. But we should be bothered that so many of the people Christ wants us to reach will not consider following Him because of their negative perception of His followers.

Jesus grew up in a very religious Israelite culture. Yet for all their biblical knowledge and moral rectitude, the religion of His fellow Jews was far from the heart of God. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus stressed how His people should be religious...but in a radical way. What must we do in order to make our religious activities more pleasing to God...and in order to become people who more accurately represent Him? We'll talk about that this week as we study Matthew 6:1-18.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeff--I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes I think we take our right to speak of our beliefs as a license to judge others and that shows up as hypocrisy to many (and understandably so). You said it so well in your sermon yesterday that we have to really look at our motives. Are we speaking from a position of love or condemnation?