Before I entered grade school, like everyone else, I followed the state requirement to be vaccinated against smallpox. I still bear the mark/scar on my left shoulder. Obviously, I’m grateful for the benefits of modern science in practically ending any opportunity of smallpox outbreak in North America. In case you don’t know how this works – it’s fascinating. Some scientific experimentation showed that injecting “dead cells” of the smallpox virus into a living person caused the human immune system to kick in gear and actually build a defense system that would ward off and reject any contact with exposure to living smallpox. This discovery has clearly saved countless millions of lives from the painful death of the smallpox contagion.
While considering this amazing scientific accomplishment recently and realizing that every natural phenomenon has a spiritual implication as well, I realized something that made me very uncomfortable. Religion and its attempts to curry favor with the divine through works and form produces nothing but death. Honestly, my biggest battles in the south haven’t been the very real “sin demons” in the lives of people but the “religious demons” that have been injected into them via dead “southern churchianity.” Let me share an example.
I’m sitting at Starbucks recently, doing some reading in preparation for a new series, drinking some great coffee, enjoying the sunshine and minding my own business. Dude next to me decides he wants to tell me his life story. Not wanting to miss a possible providential moment, “divine appointment” I listen. In the monologue, the guy gives hints of his faith in God. After a little while, I begin to inject some very basic ideas about the gospel and its power to transform his life. He starts to argue. I’m practically stunned. He’s just told more intimate details than any stranger should ever think of telling another. I attempt to apply some gospel-grace and he wants to argue theology. There was sin in his life that the gospel could easily deal with, but his Sunday school answers and his need to parade them produced a religious pride that blocked any possibility of the living germ of the gospel getting through.
It was as if he had been inoculated with a dead strain of churchianity (notice I didn’t say Christianity – even that word carries so much religious baggage) and when he came into contact with the living strain, he rejected it – warded it off. Dismissed it with his finer theological points. I finally said, brother, you don’t want help, you want to argue. He got up and left.
Then I realized the same thing happened to Jesus. John 4 – He meets the woman at the well. He tells her about her life story. She’s had 5 husbands, living with the 6th who is not her husband. She has just met the 7th man – (the perfect one) who can actually transform her life and give her what she’s looking for. Jesus reads her mail a little too closely and out comes the religious smoke screen. “I perceive you are a prophet!” Well, duh lady!
Then she loads both barrels. Read John 4 for yourself. She argues about worship style for a while, all the time the One who deserves her only real worship is standing right in front of her. This is the spirit of religion – southern churchianity is eaten up with it. Lest you think I’m looking down my nose at any of my denominational brothers in our area (you are wrong), please know I regularly battle this thing by determining to “keep things real” at Victory – by refusing to play by outward appearances and speaking “Christianese.”
The “woman at the well” story definitely turned out better with Jesus than my Starbucks intervention. I’ve thought of that guy a few times and prayed for him, hoping that a few conversations down the line, some living gospel germs penetrate that heavy religious armor that he’s wearing. God, give me some love-loaded, grace-covered, armor-piercing gospel bullets. Give us an outbreak of such a fresh strain of Holy Spirit power that southern churchianity’s inoculations won’t hold and folk get infected with the life of God and the whole Delta becomes contagious! Grant it Jesus!