In his comment on my last post, Bob wrote:
“I can appreciate your position, but what good is a religion that tosses aside beliefs to accomplish their mission. If we believe something is wrong it doesn't give us license to be hateful but we certainly ought not condone sinful actions.”
These are great observations. I agree that a religion’s beliefs shouldn’t be thoughtlessly tossed aside, and I agree that religions should not condone sin. I overlook neither of these things.
For me, Bob’s comment illuminates a deeper question - just what is “religion,” anyway? A set of beliefs? An institution? A set of practices? A relationship with God? Some combination thereof?
I define religion at its heart as a relationship with God. And the mission, expressed many different ways, is to offer that relationship to people. In other words, the beliefs and practices of a religion ought to nurture that relationship. The beliefs and practices are subordinate to the relationship. And so when beliefs and practices make that relationship more difficult they need reformation.
This has been the church’s pattern for generations. We have continually been trying to figure out what, exactly, we believe. And not just on “non-essentials,” either. Questions like the identity of Jesus, the nature of God, the relationship between grace and works - big, important beliefs. Each of these, and many others, have been scrutinized and discussed and reformed over the course of Christian history. In fact, the most memorable figures in the history of the church are those who have said, “Wait a minute! What are we saying here? How does this actually help people find God? Maybe we should rethink this.”
And so, if I might reword Bob’s implied question, “Should we rethink what we believe if we find that it hinders our mission of offering people a relationship with God?” I answer unequivocally, “Yes.” We always have, and I see no reason to stop now. Not without prayerful discernment, of course. Not thoughtlessly, not lightly. But certainly it is acceptable to reform.