The “Faith” and the “Religion” of Jesus

The recent interview in Rolling Stone of Marcus Mumford of the Grammy awarding winning music group “Mumford and Sons” gets at a developing distinction being made between the “faith” and the “religion” revolving around Jesus Christ.  Marcus was raised by parents who were instrumental in the development of the Vineyard Church in his native land, the U.K.

Increasingly, I’ve been making this distinction over the last couple of years.  This is not the same thing as “spiritual but not religious.”  The “faith” contra “religion” of the endeavor of following Jesus Christ tends to come from those who truly are engaged in their “faith” even if they don’t purport to engage in the “religion.”

Among the attitudes of younger people, generally, this isn’t necessary a negativity toward organized religion per se, though they will certainly point out the hypocrisy of and the negative things about those who call themselves Christians.  Can you blame them?

I found this comment made by a person reading the article interesting:

BRAVO for Marcus Mumford! Jesus’ person and life is the great equalizer and exemplar of FAITH. Not of Church-codified “Christianity” which, while theologically and liturgically may be the “body” of Christ, is NOT the essence of FAITH. An inability to distinguish between these two, and the ignorant over-indulgance in dogmatic, punitive and politicized theology has veritably severed the (Church) body of Christianity from Jesus, its head. Leaving it an amputated appendage bleeding out–useless and fruitless, for those whom Jesus most intended its spiritual, and Religious embrace.

This can be said of both the present-day liberal or conservative churches and para-church organizations.

I think this sums up the attitudes developing within emerging culture.  This doesn’t mean the institutional Church with its “cultic ritual practices” (technical term in theology) and doctrinal stuff involved are rejected out of hand. This does mean, however, that the hypocritical attitudes, words, and behaviors of people within those institutions who call themselves “Christian” are rejected – that which any outside observer knows does not particularly match up with how Jesus calls us to act and be.  That’s the “religion” that is rejected – that which comes from the people calling themselves Christians but doesn’t mirror Jesus.  The “faith” is the authentic engagement with Jesus Christ whether found inside or outside the institution.

Where we are…

I’m reading Proverbs – seek wisdom!

Within the Church (and greater American Christianity) there is much “wisdom” that is going around these days on how to “save the Church” and increase involvement in Christianity among the increasingly disinterested and disaffected.

There is a standard and official, “This is what you have to do to survive and grow…” But, we tend to not really look around to see what is working, instead we tend to want to double-down doing what is subjectively familiar (even if not objectively working).

The parish I’ve served in for the past nine years has nearly doubled its average Sunday attendance within this time frame – and most of the new people are twenty-thirty somethings, singles, young-families.  Yet, if you listen to the “wisdom” of the zeitgeist that is going around concerning how our churches need to be situated, by what we do and focus on, we should have no one attending.  We seem to be the anti-zeitgeist (but not intentionally – we just don’t get caught up in all that “stuff”).

We never talk about inclusion or welcome.  Yet, we have tea-party people and Communists (literally – except for the religion part).  We have Socialist and stanch Capitalists.  We have people who think the next Pope should be a woman and people who think women shouldn’t be priests.  We have gay people marrying and people who think marriage is only between a man and a woman.

We never talk about diversity.  Yet, we have African-Americans, West Indians, and African-nationals; we have Hispanics and Asians and Middle-Easterners.  The majority is now Caucasian, but in the past they weren’t.  We have people who struggle mightily with belief in all this stuff and people who have amazing, deep, and simple faith.  We have people who have been members for literally 80-years and four new babies this past month.

Worse yet, our music is traditional (hymns for the 1982 hymnal with anthems and the like) our liturgy is non-fussy Anglo-Catholic with old fiddle-back chasubles (not all) with maniples, three sacred ministers, and “smells & bells.”  We are absolutely straight Prayer Book.  We use Rite I in our Sunday Mass and don’t change the words.  We celebrate “East-facing” with the priest leading the people all facing “East” together.  Frankly, we should be driving people out of the church screaming.  Yet, we are growing and struggling to keep up with the new people coming in.  Right now, we aren’t doing a good job with youth group ministry.  We don’t glory in all this, we don’t fight to maintain it, we just do it – it is just us.

Our sermons tend to be long for Episcopalians – probably closer to 15-minutes than not.  We don’t use all the buzzwords.  We rely on Scripture to do the talking.  We don’t emote all over the place, we don’t tell people that they should be liberals or conservatives or support the latest, greatest causes – we trust the people do determine for themselves what to be involved in as long as they obey the two great commands of Jesus (which they hear every week in the Rite I liturgy).

We don’t have an agenda, other than being the Body of Christ in this location – loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

If we listen to the “powers that be” in current American Christianity we should stop doing just about everything we do.  Except, that is, if we listen and look around with humble hearts and seeking-to-learn attitudes and with open minds to listen and observe where God is building up His Church – those places that are growing like gang-busters, particularly among younger people – and observe what God is doing.

You see, those in power don’t need to be a block to what is coming.  There doesn’t need to be a “new movement” separate from the established institutions that live into new methods and approaches that resonate with the emerging generation.  They don’t need to be the block or hindrance, but too often they are.  At some point, we will learn or we will fade away.  “How do we not fade away?  Into the wild” we should go!

That, I think, is a good beginning point for employing wisdom.