My sister and her new husband came over to stay over the New Year, one of the things we spoke about was religion and faith. This has been something that has been going around my mind for a few weeks anyway, so it was nice to hear the thoughts of others on this subject.
You see over the last few years I’ve moved away from the idea of religion, at first this started by shaking off common denominational labels that are often associated with Christianity as I decided to pursue Biblical truth rather than man-made truths. My journey led me to different expressions of faith that felt most authentic to my search, most particularly Messianic Christianity which opened my eyes to a non-western approach to the expression of faith.
I think the origin of this shift stemmed from the fact that growing up religion often felt like a prison for me, I grew up Roman Catholic where the prevailing belief around me was that it was “the” true Christian faith and any attempts to learn about anything else were met with ferocious criticisms and even threats. But the sad truth is that as much as I desired it to be the case, and as much as I looked, I never met God at church.
We can easily confuse religion with faith, but there is a difference between the two. As a teacher, one of the subjects that I am qualified to teach is religion but the study of religion has never taught me anything about faith. I have found religion to be about shared beliefs, doctrines and rituals of a particular community whilst faith is a refreshing by-product of relationship and like all relationships, it is personal to those who are intimately involved in it.
It’s this personal aspect that has caused the most offence, or at least that’s what I have observed especially when it stands as a stark contrast against what the majority are doing. As a Christian, I have both seen and experienced this and I think the reason for this stark contrast is that religious knowledge generally speaking comes from the front. It is the leader(s) of the church who pass down information, knowledge and understanding, who set the boundaries and frameworks of what is “of the faith” and what isn’t. Where there have been differences in belief there has been separation, a “them” and an “us” and fear has sprung up in its place.
I think that it’s this fear that drives and cements a need for separation, to hold onto a collective identity without questioning where the identity originally came from. There is a social aspect to religion that we often fail in recognising and accepting the power that it has over us to keep us in order, it binds us to our specific communities and to a particular set of doctrines and makes us hesitant to hold it up to inspection in case we are ostracised and seen as an outsider.
But this is a form of social control, whether the dictates say you can’t wear jewellery or make-up as a woman, who can rise up the ranks of the church or what you can or can’t believe in, the personal journey of faith, the deepening of relationship through God through personal revelation and the expression of it is stifled in the process. This clearly goes against the Bible’s call to not be afraid to think, judge and study for yourself so that we can be approved. Scriptures that stand out to me in relation to this are those such as:
“Come now, let us reason together”(Isaiah 1:18)
“Rightly handling the Word of Truth”(2 Tim 2:15)
“But test all things. Hold fast to the good.”(1 Thess 5:21)
We are each responsible for our own faith and as our own personal brand of faith impacts how we live out our life on earth, we are also responsible for how we spend our time here; we can’t turn around and say, “it’s because I followed so and so person”!
Religion has a way of keeping you focussed on the wrong things and I’ve found that many of the women I’ve coached over the years have had issues with religion. In many ways, their perspective of religion has skewed their ability to live more full, happy and whole lives. Sometimes it’s easier to see the negative impact of being surrounded by religion, we see the pitfalls in the news, but sometimes its harder and only when we’ve fallen into it or come out the other end we might see the wounds it has caused.
If you’re reading this post, then the chances are you’re interested in personal growth and as such one thing you should know is that religion isn’t just about influence exerted from the outside it is also about our own responses, actions, rituals and ways of thinking, we can each be “religious” in nature. We might have a religious perspective of God, which I often find to be the case which can be the most toxic of all religious mindsets. Breaking free from these limiting beliefs, mindsets and rituals is what walking in true liberty and faith is all about and it’s some of the deepest foundational work that I do with my coaching clients.
Whilst religion can often feel like a prison, faith brings with it shalom (liberty, peace, joy, wellbeing, abundance and a sense of security). I think going on this journey myself makes it easier for me to relate to the hidden fears we all face when it comes to leaving the pack behind and embracing something that feels spiritually authentic to ourselves, as I recently overheard someone say, “how can we truly serve God if we are in denial about our own selves”.
We each have our own unique way of expressing our faith, and whilst it’s good to come together corporately to pray, praise and worship we should never feel like we cannot follow the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. Expression of faith is one of the biggest ways we can be courageous about who we are and who God has created us to be so that we can live fuller lives and do greater things.
As I mentioned at the onset, I have been a prisoner of religion and the fear that comes with not being a part of the community when my thoughts and beliefs have not been in alignment with the ways of the church.
That’s why in 2020, I am more conscious about embracing faith and leaving behind religiosity. One scripture that gives me great comfort and conviction in this is from Romans:
…Anything that is not of faith is sin.(Romans 14:23, BLB)
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