A friend of mine is a gruff, but very funny, old goat who has, from time to time, dared me to make him religious. That’s just before he nails me with all the sins of religions to which he attributes nearly all of the world ills. I’ve struggled with this for a couple of years and even wrote out a letter that turned into an essay, and then I stopped and looked back at the record bequeathed to us from Jesus and Paul.
Neither of them tried to make someone else become religious, or at least they didn’t try very hard. The discourses and parables of Jesus are all about coming to know God and the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, but not about being religious. Paul’s letters certainly deal with the problems of newly formed Christian congregations, but once more their power comes from his words that draw the people back from religion and toward a fuller knowledge of the presence in their lives of God in Christ Jesus.
Maybe that is a part of what Bonhoeffer was driving at with his appeal for a religionless religion. Which is not at all to say that I think religion and denominations are unimportant. Just look back at several posts on that subject written months ago. Religion, in the form of the particular practices and teachings of denominations, is what gives shape and meaning to worship, a place in which to grow in knowledge, wisdom and faith, and the community of support and fellowship into which Christ has called us. But before any of that can have meaning in someone’s life there must first be an engagement with God, and, as a Christian I assert that that engagement is best and most fully experienced through Jesus Christ.
So now I no longer want to make my friend religious. I would rather explore with him his questions about God and life, introduce him to Jesus, and be his companion on a journey toward an engagement with them that will have meaning for him. Maybe after that, if he lives long enough, we’ll talk about church, Sundays and the sacraments.