Friday, June 28, 2019

Bad Religion / 'Get Right With God'

Early 90s American punk isn't everybody's thing but I re-listened to this track a few weeks ago, 'American Jesus' by a band called Bad Religion. The lyrics pack a serious punch.

There is a lot of bad religion in the world. As our pastor at Millisle Baptist, Andrew Roycroft, has often said, that kind of stuff makes a church service feel like yet another 'brick in the rucksack', another burden to bear.

Bad religion is advice about what you need to do, and demands that you get on with it. And if you do it well enough then you might just 'get right with God'. Its message is 'Do more, try harder'. The brilliant Lucinda Williams track below (thanks Sean!) explains it - a whole big list of stuff that various religious systems insist that you must do, from snake handling to fire walking to lying on beds of nails to even a warped kind of animal sacrifice. Add your own to the list - do this, don't do that. But none of it works.

Because there is this other thing called the Gospel.

The gospel is news about what Christ has already done for you. It firstly declares the impossible required standard – absolute perfection in deed, word, thought and motive. Nobody makes the cut and religious observance won't get you over the line. Plumb your own depths – ask yourself 'what's the worst thing I would do if I would be guaranteed to get away with it?'.  Any notions you have of self-righteousness are atomised when you are faced with just how bad you really are. The pretence you put on to function in public just disintegrates. But then comes the good news, for the gospel then tells you that Christ is the only one who has ever made the grade, and that he did so on your behalf. You have a Substitute.

But we all like to 'deserve' by our own efforts. It makes us feel good. Protestant churches who really should know better are rife with 'works religion' and 'self righteousness'. Or even worse, a polluted, contaminated cocktail of the bad stuff and some of the vocabulary from the good stuff. The actual pure, neat, single malt Gospel is a whole different operating system.

One insists that you behave. Even worse, it insists that everyone must behave. But 'behave' isn't the point. Respectability isn't the point. Perfection is the requirement.

The other implores you to believe. To come to terms with your own spectacular failure but to rest on the truth that all that is required has already been done for you by Christ - and in what Martin Luther called a 'great exchange' you receive the credit for it all, as an unearned, undeserved, gift.

Jean Calvin was a bright young lawyer from Noyon in 1500s France. His cousin, Pierre-Robert Oliv├ętan, was working away on translating the Bible into French, from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The penny dropped and he rushed to Jean –

'.... "There are but two religions in the world," we hear Olivetan saying.
"The one class of religions are those which men have invented, in all of which man saves himself by ceremonies and good works.
The other is that one religion which is revealed in the Bible, and which teaches man to look for salvation solely from the free grace of God."