There he is marching back and forth along a shopping center sidewalk holding a sign reading, "Jesus, not religion!" What's the point, I wondered? Is he on a campaign against organized Christianity because of a personal scar? Is he trying to get attention for his church? I have to admit, as a new church planter, when this question crossed my mind, I wondered if it could be an effective tactic. Although, I've never been much of a sign carrying, protest activist. And yes, I know this is cynical, but I thought, is he thinking clearly, seems a little crazy. Yet, as crazy as such strategies seem to the average person, I am aware the prophets in the Old Testament were known for flamboyant behavior.
As I drove on with the sign carrying image in my mind, the thoughts ran from what is his motivation, which I will never know, to the truth of the statement. Let me suggest a couple.
1) Yes, we sometimes push church and not Jesus. It's not helpful for building disciples, and it often turns the church into an institution, at the expense of its spiritual life presenting and instilling qualities. Jesus is interested in relationship, not just going through the church motions.
2) To pit Jesus and religion as hostile to each other, fails to understand both Jesus and religion. Jesus is the head of the body, the church. His teaching, and the practices of faith it creates and prompts, is represented by the church before the world. In representing His teaching, the church demonstrates how to be reconnected to God, which is what Christian religion is about. Religion literally means "to tie back." Jesus performs a religious function in tying us back to God. To put them on opposite sides of the spectrum of faith is to misunderstand both.
"Jesus, not religion" is a catchy sign, but it's really not very helpful to a life of faith. These are some of my thoughts. What do you think?