teaching human precepts as doctrine

My favorite word these days continues to be “adiaphora,”  a Greek word that means, “things indifferent.”  It was a favorite term of the early reformers, and held a big place in one of Anglicanism’s great “-isms”, Latitudinarianism.

For me, there are a lot of “things indifferent” in the Church.  I got a few lashes several weeks ago when I posted this on Facebook.

Sorry Facebook, I think you’ve misunderstood my shtick. I like Jesus, not perpetuating the institution of the Church.

The feedback I got was mostly stuff like, “so Jesus signs your paycheck,” and “these aren’t mutually exclusive.”  I get that, but then I read our Gospel lesson for Sunday whereJesus quotes Isaiah in calling the Pharisees and Scribes to the carpet for exactly what the Church has spent years fighting over.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”  Over the course of the last, Oh, two-thousand or so years, the Church has done a lot to makes sure that human precepts became doctrine so that the Church as an institution, represented here as a big fancy steeple, can keep going.  The Great Schism might have been a theological argument over the filioque clause, but it was just as much about the power of competing bishops and the prestige of rival cities in constantly fighting empires.  Every split of the Church thereafter has been the result of adiaphora stuff taking the place of the things that really matter.

This Sunday, when we pray that God might “increase in us true religion,” let’s think about what that really means.  Let’s get away from the adiaphora and get back to basics, back to religio as Diana Butler Bass argues in her most recent book, Christianity after Religion.

“Unlike religion as system of belief, religio meant faith— living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature, or, as Smith describes, a ‘particular way of seeing and feeling the world.’ Accordingly, ‘the archaic meaning of religio [w]as that awe that men felt in the presence of an uncanny and dreadful power of the unknown…. That religio is something within men’s hearts.’

Bass, Diana Butler (2012-03-13). Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (p. 97). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.