Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Opinion is not Religion

One of the shortest John Wesley sermons that I have read is his sermon "On the Trinity" where he starts out with this statement:
"Whatsoever the generality of people may think, it is certain that opinion is not religion... Persons may be quite right in their opinions, and yet have no religion at all; and, on the other hand, persons may be truly religious, who hold many wrong opinions."
Wesley was talking about people who had a hard time believing in the Trinity (the 3 in 1 of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) because they couldn't fully explain or understand it.  But I think his statement, taken in a broader context, can sum up pretty precisely why there is so much conflict in our world today.  We have allowed opinions to be turned into quasi religion!  Say it long enough and loud enough and people might just start believing it!

Not that this is a new or modern phenomena.  Ah yes, history does love to repeat itself because we choose to ignore the past!  In Luke 18, Jesus is telling the story of the Tax Man and the Pharisee.  I like how The Message Paraphrase words it because I can clearly picture it in my head:
"The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people-robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man.  I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.' Meanwhile, the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy.  Forgive me, a sinner.'"
What a contrast in approach!  Here's the kicker:
"Jesus commented, 'This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God.  If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.'"
God's view or the world view? Time and again, we are asked to choose our source.  This occurs all the time, whether it is at church, or in politics, or science, or life in general.  Getting to know God's view, choosing him as our source takes work, especially if you want to become more than yourself! 

The tax man knew who he was and didn't make excuses or try to deny the truth.  He knew he was a sinner!  We don't know the rest of the story but if you look at your own life, change happens from within when you get honest and choose to simply be yourself.  When you acknowledge your shortcomings and ask God to work through you, inward change is reflected by your outward response to the world around you! 

The Pharisee on the other hand was living in the world of opinion that became his "religion".  He "posed" before starting his prayer, he was "all that" and he knew it because he was an "expert" he was "high class" he was obviously better than the common man!  But who did Jesus say was made right with God that day? 

So where are the modern day examples you ask?  Let's start with church.  How many people stay away from church because they think they are not good enough to be there in the first place?  They make a statement like "I will go to church when I..." (insert whatever various reason they give for not being good enough to go in the first place).  And let's be honest, the church hasn't done a lot to change that perception!  Somehow we have managed to make people outside the church think that they are not welcome unless they have it all together.    

Then there is politics.  Agreements can not be reached nor plans made because the latest opinion poll shows that compromise might effect the possibility of being re-elected.  So they do TV interviews and make speeches about how right they are and how wrong the other person is without regard to what is best for the country.  They do nothing but try to look good while we teeter closer and closer with the cliff edge.

In science you have individuals who have researched and have formed opinions but they haven't been able to prove them yet.  The good scientist clearly state that it is simply an idea that they haven't proven.  They are humble enough to admit that they could be wrong.  The arrogant scientist will word their opinion as fact even though it hasn't been proven.  And heaven help the individual within the field who might disagree because they stand a good chance of being ostracized because they are not in the same league as the "great and mighty one!" 

Oh how the mighty will fall if they continue to walk around with their nose in the air!  They take their opinions and proclaim them with a religious zeal that would be the envy of any great camp meeting preacher!  The religion of opinion?  World view prevailing over God's view?  On the surface, it may look like a hopeless situation, but it's not.  There is always hope with God!

I have a choice.  I can start with me.  I can start with simply being who I am.  I can study the Bible and pray and follow in the way that God leads.  I can do what God asks me to do and I can strive to change what I can for the better.  I can treat others with dignity and respect even if we differ in opinion.  I can look for common ground and work to find solutions. We all have that God given power!  We don't have to bow to the religion of opinion!  One person can make a difference!  And the change will happen when we start with being who we are and confess just like the tax man "God give mercy.  Forgive me a sinner." 

The difference between the tax man and the Pharisee comes down to humility.  One chose to listen to opinion, the other chose God as his source.  Each of us has the same choice as to who we will listen to and what path we will follow.  Choose your source!  Choose wisely!

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