Many years ago I studied the book, “How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It had more influence on me than I ever could realize. Though I do not intend to go through that book here, I do want to search out what this means in living for Jesus now.

The first issue is loyalty.

One of the most pervasive symptoms of the religious syndrome sits in where one finds and feels God.

People identify God with a building or a denominational loyalty, or wearing one’s freedom from such things as a badge of honour.

Ridenour1I vividly recall a person devastated by the closing of the building where their congregation met. The feeling that God abandoned her, and the whole group, overwhelmed her into total discouragement.

Or I think of those who move and always go to a group which has the same name out front as they attended previously. The sense of staying up all night to fast and pray to discern God’s will never rises as a possibility.

Of course, the institution doesn’t teach this kind of discernment. If someone does feel called to change attendance patterns former “friends” put them down, mock them, or outright shun them.

While to this day I respect with fond affection my late father-in-law, he admitted that when we changed from Baptist to United Church of Canada he experienced a “wall” come between us. Over time I think that shrank into a small hedge, but there existed a deep sense that we had lost God because we left the Baptist “faith”. Ironically, in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find community within the United Church, or any traditional group.

People vehemently deny they have such loyalties to an institution, name or rejection of organized religion, but…

If you defend your decision to be a Baptist (or whatever), or your own congregation being above such bureaucratic whims or self-righteous because you “escaped” institutional hierarchy, you are the person I am speaking to.

God is love. If you judge anyone for their religious decisions with anything other than deep compassion, supreme respect or openness to hear facts about your decisions, you have established a loyalty to something other than Jesus.

STOP!

“Never have any other god. Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. Never worship them or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a God who does not tolerate rivals” (Exodus 20:3-5a God’s Word).