As I transition into a study of the book of John, I feel the need to pause. Over the past 24 hours I feel as though God has been opening my eyes to something. Until now, I’ve always classified the term “religion” as man’s way of trying to define God. Whether that is actually describing Him, or more accurately, describing how He plays a part in our lives. I’ve always struggled with this because I truly believe God doesn’t play a part in our lives (in the perspective that we are the center of things) but rather we play a part in His plan.
I’m currently reading a book called “Servant Leadership” and I just got to the section talking about churches and their duty or service that is expected of them in relation to society. He introduces the thought that the word “religion” comes from the root word “religio” which means “to rebind.” As I think about it, I realize that my long standing definition of the word fits, if you look at it in the right context: man is trying to rebind himself with God according to man-made ideals. In terms of the church’s purpose, then, he proposes that it is the duty of the church to facilitate this rebinding of man to God, which he alludes to being a “healer” of sorts, one who helps bridge the gap or at least provide insight into how to reconnect with God and alleviate the “pervasive alienation” as he calls it. This is all laid out through the eyes of being a servant leader, under the pretenses he took 230 pages to preface this chapter with. I won’t go further into details, if you are intrigued, I suggest you check it out.
The interesting thing about this is that his point in being a part of “the church” and being “religious” is that at the root of the meaning, it is to be a servant to society. He even admits that of the organizations he discusses in the book, the church is in the best place to exemplify what it means to be a servant leader. So how does this relate to the bible? Well, we read in James 1:27, which is a book that shows the practical ways we can live out our faith. It defines religion this way:
27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
So what is “religion”? It is being a servant, first and foremost. Do you think that this is the reason Christ called out the Pharisees so much during his ministry? Their piety was for the benefit of their own self righteousness. We see that throughout the gospels and even afterwards, the “religious zealots” of the time scoffed the poor, mocked the “sinners,” and did what they could to look good and superior in the eyes of the world, not of God. They were not servants of society, they were servants of themselves.
Recently I’ve had a someone ask me “what constitutes a ‘Christian’?” That’s a good question! In my current research project for school about the effectiveness of world missions and foreign aid, I stumbled upon an article that discusses the difficulty of linguistics and relating to someone else (whether they speak the same language or not). The discussion is focused on going to another country to teach the gospel to the indigenous citizens and if it really makes a difference because of the difference in language. Past attempts at this have involved teaching the target country English so they could understand the bible. What is missing here, however is the fact that one word can mean something to me and it means something completely different to you. Words, the author explains, are only as good as the meaning they hold with the one saying them AND the person receiving them, in the hopes that the same feeling is incited in both persons so that the meaning is appropriately conveyed. Herein lies the difference between interpretation and translation. It’s easy to swap out one language for another, but is the meaning conveyed? I think sometimes we would do better to convey meaning via hand signals and pictures.
In reference to what it means to be a Christian, I hardly feel qualified to answer such a question, but maybe that is because of what the word means to me. A Christian, I believe, is a “believer and follower of Christ.” The difficult part is recognizing what a true follower of Christ is. Is it merely the desire to follow Him, or is it the action of doing so. In “Servant Leadership,” the author provides a quote that has helped me to better focus my studies:
Do not seek to follow the footsteps of men of old. Seek what they sought! – Basho
The authors of the New Testament repeat throughout their letters that their mission is to provide an example of how to follow Christ, not that anyone would follow them, but rather be inspired to follow Him. Too often we get caught up in following a man (or woman), because we feel that we are inferior and they are “better than us” in whatever discipline we seek out to achieve. Those that set the example for us, however, are but propellants or slingshots to accelerate and facilitate our following of Him, our God, not that they would be followed for anything they have done or currently do. So then, as we seek out reconciliation, reunion, and a relationship with God, while we can look to others for help, it is God Himself we should follow after and seek after. Instead of listening to what a man (or woman) has to say about God, or even the bible if you cannot believe it is of God, ask Him yourself! We see examples of people praying to God and think there is some sort of magic code or key we have to follow, rather the only “secret” is to suck it up and speak to Him! How else will we know what He wants, unless we prefer to get lost in the translation.
Interestingly enough, this all ties into the book of John. Different than the other three gospels in the New Testament, John here tries to capture Jesus as the person and the mission. The other three gospels simply lay out the chain of events, from their point of view, to explain everything that happened in His ministry on earth. John, on the other hand, uses carefully chosen events in order to accurately relate to us who Jesus is. Certainly, every word that John wrote in this book could have different meaning for you and me than it did for himself, however, I believe that it is written in a way with enough words that will give us a collective understanding of who Jesus is and why He is so important. Ironically, the opening verse creates even more discussion about the meaning of words, translation, interpretation, and the true essence of God:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.