In my youth, it seemed as though entire church denominations were at war with one another. Evangelicals were certain Catholics had it completely wrong. High Anglicans looked down upon low expressions of church. Baptists thought Pentecostals were from another planet. God’s people focussed on their theological differences, rather than the core beliefs that drew them all to the same God. The world looked on in dismay, and quietly retracted any expectation of discovering God through this violent, divided “religion”.
Theology is a funny thing. Each one of us has our own theology, in the same way that we each have our own world view – influenced by our culture, traditions, education, personalities and life experiences. Not one of us can understand the fullness of God in this life – and even if we could, we’d never be able to adequately communicate it to others. It’s ok though – at its core, the “good news” is that God didn’t require us to meet Him on His terms, at His level of holiness and perfection, but that He met us where we were at, at the level we could handle. God is big enough to cope with our inadequate theologies.
Without doubt, the Pope is the most public human face of Christianity worldwide. This year, I am greatly encouraged by the words and actions of Pope Francis, who has, in a very short space of time, challenged both the establishment and the world’s view of the church. I am not a Catholic (although I love and appreciate my Catholic brothers and sisters), but I join Pope Francis in “longing for a poor church, and a church for the poor.”
Outsiders have a point when they blame wars and immoral power struggles on “religion”. However, the Bible writer James had something to say on this matter. He wrote; “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). As Jesus-followers, we have a role to play in bringing justice to the oppressed, hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, mercy to the fallen, and grace to the disempowered. This year, let us set aside our theological differences and practise true religion, side-by-side – we might find that God’s definition of “religion” is one that nobody can argue with.