Something that has been on my mind a lot lately has been religion. By religion, I'm talking about the "denomination" or "religious following" that we practice, in contrast to the faith values we hold to and live out in our daily lives. I think believers, especially the younger generation, today find themselves experiencing a paradigm shift in how we view our practices. We are coming to realize that the practice of religion isn't always all it's cracked up to be.
Growing up, I remember being taught in church that other denominations hold faulty beliefs, that we need to be at church every week or we were in danger of falling away from the faith, that we need to fully adhere to the "tenants of our faith," and that it is bad to "pick and choose" different things from different denominations; sound familiar? I think when congregational leaders tell us these things, they have the best of intentions, however these things couldn't be farther from the truth. Even new believers shouldn't blindly follow...they should work out the beliefs they hold to be true by studying for themselves.
When Jesus wanted to be nearer to God, He went out alone. If He wanted to spend time with the Father, He would separate Himself from the crowds, and oftentimes even from His closest disciples, to pray. After His baptism, He spent 40 days in the wilderness, alone. My times of greatest growth have been when I have separated from the institution of church. These are the times when we are able to shift our focus from "church participation" to true fellowship. Now don't get me wrong, it is indeed a wonderful thing to be able to commune with other believers, however, we are called to fellowship with our Father first and foremost. He alone is our true source of strength and sanctification. Shouldn't "church" be just about that? Fellowship with other believers together with our Father...a means of worshipping God as a group? When did it become a podium (or pulpit) for teaching others what they should think about what the Bible says? Why do we have to make a separate set of rules that each must follow in order to be part of each fellowship? I believe all these things are done to try to protect us from falling into sin, but in the end, our own ignorance has caused that very thing.
Our faith-walk really has nothing to do with what denomination we choose. Each has it's strengths and it's weaknesses...we really should all be united in the Source of our faith. This is the weakness of mankind and it plagues every one of the worlds largest religions. Every form of the Judeo/Christian faith believes that it alone is the correct one. That is precisely why the Pharisees wanted to destroy Jesus...He was bringing unity under Himself where man wanted division.
The first believers in Jesus were Jewish and non-Jew alike. They were hungry for His teaching and, no matter their background, just wanted to be with Him. Once they recognized Him as the Messiah, they were taught, in a nutshell, to learn to love--God's way. It was that simple. After Messiah's ascention, the dissentions among those first believers arose very quickly because of their own notions of how things should work or be done or because of their lack of repentance and love. Religious disagreement is much of what crucified Christ! Our Messiah died because we can't just all get along and love God and our brother. Didn't we learn the first time?
Jesus said it all when He taught us to "Love the Lord our God" and to "Love our neighbor as ourselves." On these two--very basic--things hinge all the law and the prophets. After all, it isn't about religion or denomination, it's about relationship with our Creator.