Religious scandal threatens to overshadow Jesus

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, December 10, 2011

By Chris Surber

The modern cynic is right. Religion is a social ill.That is how I began a recent ministry publication, “Don’t Go to Church!” You see, though I am the pastor of a church, though I have spent more than the last decade of my life profoundly and personally invested in religious education at the highest levels, even though my wife and I have dedicated the core of our very existence to the propagation of the message of Jesus, I am not a promoter of religion as it is commonly understood.

Crazy, right? Pastors aren’t supposed to talk this way, and if they do, shouldn’t they do it behind closed doors, with the lights off, late at night when nobody is around? Surely they are not supposed to write this way and then publicize it newspapers. Maybe not, but look around the religious world. My heart aches for authenticity in a religious atmosphere chock full of impostors and peddlers of snake oil.

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You don’t have to look far to see that religion is constantly proving itself unworthy of adoration. What makes the religious headlines? Scandal. Some religious leaders may prefer to just blame the media, saying “They only report the scandalous!” But that charge is repudiated, and the media is freed from such accusation by the sheer volume of scandal abounding on the religious landscape. The media is not to blame for pointing out the obvious.

This is Christmas, and my heart breaks over the fact that religious scandal so often detracts from the beauty of the one whose reputation it seeks to promote. Jesus rejected religion because of its potentially corrupting power. He accused the religious leaders of His day of being “white-washed tombs, clean on the outside but inwardly decaying.” (Matthew 23:27) The local church is an imperfect vessel. Nevertheless, it contains the perfect, forgiving, superabundant, love of God.

Jesus came to bring the revelation of the love of God into the world, not the institution of a new religion, at least not in the conventional sense. True Christian religion is revolutionary by nature. It is the story of love so amazing as to be excessive. Jesus crashed into this world with a radical sort of love unparalleled in all of human history. That’s the story of Jesus and on the basis of His extravagant love, authentic concern for humanity, and willingness to sacrifice everything in order to authenticate that love, He, not religion, is worthy of adoration. Religion at its best is a sign pointing to something greater; a roadmap to a location of ostentatious appeal.

Imperfect religion, with its self-exalting attitudes, duplicity, and flawed love can actually be detrimental to the elevation of humanity. On the other hand, Jesus who was highly exalted, the Son of God, lowered Himself all the way to the manger in Bethlehem in order that He might be highly exalted in sacrifice on the cross.

My friend, in light of religions short comings, may I suggest that you look only to the cross to see what the love of God and true religion looks like? It looks like Jesus dying on the cross for the sake of the very ones who put Him there. That’s true religion. That’s the way God loves us in Jesus.

Religion is imperfect, because imperfect men are its fiduciaries. This Christmas season, please don’t permit the imperfections of men to keep you from the perfect love of God. The imperfections of me and my fellow “religious practitioners” are only evidence of our need for the faultless love God offers, and He offers that for free through Jesus, to whom religion points, albeit imperfectly.

CHRIS SURBER is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church. Visit his website at