Religion in the Balance is a fan of Christian theologian Douglas John Hall, whose perspective on religion is summed nicely in Karl Barth’s dictum that the “the message of the Bible is that God hates religion.” The falsehood that Barth’s dictum reveals, is the human propensity to mistake representations of mystery with the living reality of mystery itself; to mistake beliefs about God with the living reality of God’s presence. Of all people, religious people ought to know better. God is not able to be captured in a system.
This is not to say that religion is useless. It is just to recognize the limits of religion, and to remember that the purpose of religion is to point us toward– and give us an encouraging nudge to move toward– living more fully into the deeper mysteries of life and death, and acting out of a love that includes and transcends family, clan, and nation.
Rev. Gary Schulte, leading the United Church of Christ in New Hampshire, reminds us that churches themselves derive their life from the Holy One: properly understood, churches are not, to use Hall’s rhetoric, part of the “entire human project of possession.” Once we unclench from the mistaken belief that the future of churches is up to us, we are free to listen for a call from God, and to be disciples of Christ, re-configured for a new day. Here are Schulte’s words:
Perhaps we need to remember a text, attributed to Jesus, first spoken to Simon Peter back at the beginning: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, NRSV). It is not so much about Peter or his profession of faith, but about the promise of the One who does the building: I will build my church! I think it is time for a breath–the deep, life-giving breath of the Spirit–in a new day. It is time for the return of joy, rather than seriousness and dire predictions of our demise. It is time to confront our dragons and demons and be free of the heavy burdens we try to carry in the name of Christ. It is time for listening for a call, for being disciples who can be surprised and inspired, for serving in the midst of God’s beautiful and broken world.