It's so cliché to say that you're against organized religion. As if you have some secret gnostic access to God or knowledge of spiritual things that no group could hold. But I get it. In so many ways, I too am against religion. Or maybe it's religious people that I don't like.
I guess you might say that, in the same way Jesus was against the religious establishment of his day, I'm against the religious people of mine. Pharisees and fundamentalists aren't too far apart. Both groups disregard grace and can make anything into a metric for perfection. You're not wearing a suit and tie to our services? To hell with ya!
Jesus lived to give the religious people of his day a hard time. He only ever criticized them, his whole life. He criticized no one else like he did the Pharisees. Their legalistic, duty-bound mindset disgusted him, and the idea that through keeping all these made-up laws they could reach God was offensive to him.
We too chase "degrees of higher perfection" as the London Baptist Confession put it, through lawfulness, holiness, duty—and there's nothing wrong with trying to be a good person. But pharisaical religiosity devoid of compassion, when we're only practicing our morality just to be seen, that's what Jesus rebuked time and time again.
White-washed tombs, he called those people. So clean on the outside yet so dead and stinky on the inside. So many of today's Christians are white-washed tombs. It looks like they have all the answers, they have such perfect lives, but when you get a bit closer you start to smell it. The stink of a spiritually dead person.
It just occurred to me that I use the word 'religiosity' a lot. Do you know what I mean by that? Like, I mean, excessively and publicly religious, like religious to the point of making people around you uncomfortable. I mean like, moral superiority and fakeness on overdrive. It's gross.
Jesus said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" to these people in several different places. He desires that we be kind, genuinely kind, merciful, gracious, giving, forgiving, and patient. The sacrifices, the rituals, the rule-keeping—none of that interested Jesus.
The Bible says it's God's kindness that leads people to repentance. Not God's judgment, chastisement, finger-pointing, or condemnation. Jesus himself said, "If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:27).
Public religious practice without grace is just a big ol' pissing contest and Jesus knew it. It didn't impress him.
Today I was reading about how the Republican party began and BOY WERE THINGS DIFFERENT BACK THEN. Did you know that the Republicans began as an anti-slavery movement? Did you know some Democrats called the Republicans "subhuman" and "lizards" for being against slavery? and compared them to—GASP!—feminists???
Republicans being chastised for siding with African Americans and being accused of feminism. THAT was a different world. Those Republicans were very different from today's Republicans, many of whom are perfectly fine with racism and misogyny (those Tea Partiers who co-opted the Republican party because they wouldn't have been elected otherwise).
In the same way that today's Republicans are a different breed, today's Baptists are a different breed. The Baptist Church began as a religious liberty movement. The early Baptists elevated the role of the conscience and of human agency.
What is Christian liberty? The London Baptists define it as, "freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigor and curse of the law… [and delivery from] this present evil world, bondage to Satan, the dominion of sin, the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation."
They also pointed out that Christian liberty is marked by "free access to God and yielding obedience to him, not out of slavish fear but a child-like love and a willing mind." We're free. We're free to be holy, without beating ourselves up, without the terrors of God's wrath hanging over us. And we've got free access to God, no translator or mediator needed.
We don't need a priest or a presbytery telling us how to read the Bible, we can make up our own minds about spiritual things. We don't need some fancy cathedral, we can worship in a barn if necessary. We don't need to pay your indulgences, we trust in Christ alone—not our wallets—to get us to heaven.
The early Baptists were against making vows and oaths, paying homage, or submitting to any religious authority other than God. They were against the duty-empty-of-grace that they called "popishness" and they were against monasticism. Piety and asceticism didn't interest them. They were a movement that was all about our freedoms to worship however we please and do as we see fit.
I'll quote them one more time because I love this:
"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it.
So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also."
The doctrines of men that you won't find in his word, that sometimes even run contrary to his word, all the made-up rules and regulations and all the work and the duties and the fear and the law; To obey all of those man-made rules is to betray the God who freed you.
Don't turn in your God-given freedom for that religiosity. Don't submit yourself to some authority God never intended for you to submit to, don't ever follow any kind of man-made religion with blind obedience. God gave you a conscience, a consciousness, an agency—don't betray that. Live according to your conscience. Trust yourself. Trust the Spirit inside you.
That's why I read Jesus' words every single day. I follow Jesus. I hesitate to call myself a Christian because of all of the baggage that that word carries with it. So many terrible people working under the guise of Christianity. Complicating Jesus' words with their own metrics for perfection. Jesus commanded us only to love God and love others. That's all.
There's no study guide you've got to buy, no list of checkboxes to check off and rules to maintain everyday, there's no governing body telling you what you can and can't do, you don't have to schedule a number of prayers each day, you don't have to pray on a certain kind of mat facing in the direction of one holy city or another.
You don't have to dress up. You don't have to stand and sing. You don't have to bless your meal. You don't have to cut your hair. You don't have to fast—you can eat whatever you want. Jesus only ever asked us to love.
Put away all of the metrics for perfection—you are literally never going to be perfect. Strive instead to be authentic. To be real. To live according to your conscience. The only thing that you have to be out of a sense of duty is kind. That's all. That's like, religious minimalism. Be real and be kind. By being real and being kind you're doing "the Lord's work."