I was having a conversation with a friend at work last night when he used the term “alternative religion.” It is a phrase that is used quite often, especially when referring to one of the many New Age religions that have become popular in the last few years. It is a phrase that has struck a chord in me over the last few weeks. I am convinced that what this world needs isn’t more “alternative religions,” but rather an “alternative Christianity.”
Let me explain.
I have had countless conversations with people that have rejected Christianity; including many that have done so in favor of a so-called alternative faith. When I engage these people in dialogue I can’t help but notice a common theme. Most of these people seem to take issue with Christianity as an organized church rather than Christ. There are a million such stories and I’m sure everyone has heard them, if not experienced one first hand. Either they were turned off by a particular pastor that told them they were going to Hell every Sunday … or they had a fundamentalist parent that used Christianity as a weapon. Maybe they got tired of “fair weather” Christians that donned halos every Sunday only to sprout horns by Monday afternoon. Perhaps they had Christian friends that were constantly shaming them for not measuring up to some unattainable example. In my case, I shy-ed away from Christianity for much of my life because I felt the church turned men into wimps. Real men weren’t allowed to exist in church without being neutered.
Most people reject Christianity because of reasons like those listed above rather than Christ. A book I am reading puts it this way, “People don’t have a problem with Christ, it is the ‘ianity’ they have a problem with.”
There are several good reasons to reject Christianity as an organized religion. Televangelists. Fake Christians. Sermons packed with shame. Hell used as a threat. Denominations arguing over everything from music to attire. Lets face it … most of the time, Christians can’t get along with each other; why would we expect anyone else to be attracted to our faith?
When I read the story of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, I can’t help but notice that He was the original alternative to religion. One could draw countless comparisons to the pharisees of Jesus’ day with the organized churches of our day. Jesus’ opinion of the organized religion of His day was clear, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25).” Jesus could of been talking to our own church leaders when He said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matthew 23:15)!”
People that are exploring alternative religions need to understand that, in many ways, the organized Christianity they have rejected bears little or no resemblance to the original message of Christ.
I saw a statistic the other day that said 80 churches close every day in the United States. While more people are claiming to be “spiritual” less are claiming to believe in Christ. This frightens me tremendously. There is something about these alternative religions that is attracting people and something about Christianity that is turning them off. The modern church needs to reclaim the original message of Christ as an alternative to what is negative about religion in order to reach people in His name. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but there are several things the church needs to do differently.
1. Reclaim Christ: The church needs to embrace Christ and make sure He is always at the center of its message. Churches have a knack for focusing on morality and politics without ever mentioning Christ. I’ve sat through whole sermons where Christ was never mentioned and Scripture was never read. Christ has got to be the center of everything the Church teaches.
2. Less Discipline and More Discipleship: For most people, church has become a list of “thou shalt nots.” There is a whole grocery list of things that people have to give up to be a Christian, or else face punishment at the hands of the church. Drinking, cussing, sex, gambling … any of these things may leave you in the pastor’s doghouse. Churches do a good job of telling people why they are going to hell when they should be providing opportunities for them to learn how to disciple Christ. As people align themselves with Christ, they need to learn how to live like Christ.
3. Focus on What Makes the Message of Christ Unique: Man-made religions are very similar. Participants must achieve some sort of enlightenment before they are worthy to reach glory (in whatever form that may be). Either they need to live better, meditate more, or achieve higher levels of knowledge. Christ’s message is unique. Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and available for everyone. Christ didn’t require people to accomplish anything before they entered into relationship with Him. Christ accepts people as they are and loves them unconditionally. The only thing he requires is faith and belief. Once someone believes, their eternal ticket is punched … then comes discipleship (see above).
4. Less shame. Too many churches try to shame their members into relationship with Christ. Shame has no business in a life with Christ. There is no room for shame amidst God’s grace and mercy. Guilt that urges one to seek the forgiveness and grace of Christ may be beneficial at times, but shame is never appropriate.
5. Scripture. Church leaders often seem to apologize for and marginalize the Scriptures. Difficult passages are often ignored or altered in an attempt to make Christianity more palatable to our society. I am convinced that Scripture can withstand any criticisms that can be leveled against it. For the Church to survive in our post-modern culture, it must remain true to Scripture and preach the truth with love.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. I am sure that more could be added and maybe I will want to alter some the above as I consider this subject more, but I am convinced the organized church in our country has drifted away from the original mission of Christ. I am encouraged by some of the church leaders in our country. Take Mark Driscoll for example … his church is located in the most un-religious area of our country (Seattle, Washington); however, Driscoll has managed to built a super church while staying true to Christ and Scriptures. I am not intending this site to become a Mark Driscoll fansite, but perhaps his example should be modeled elsewhere.
I hope no one takes this post to be anti-church. I am certainly not against attending church. My wife and I try to attend as often as we can and I truly enjoy our home church. I believe disciples of Christ should join together and worship our God because He deserves it. I believe my home church does a half-way decent job of staying true to Christ and Scriptures … with that said, the church as a whole seems to be in need of a face-lift.
Lord, I pray for your church in the United States and the rest of the world. I pray for its success and ask You to bless it to become more true to Your message and original intent. I pray for all of those people who have felt ostracized, marginalized, or “freaked out” by the church. Father I pray for Your will to be done within the church and pray that all those who are attracted to “alternate religions” consider an “alternative Christianity.”