A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ,”Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?” Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition! – Tevye
Years ago, I brought a friend to a Baptist church. I had been talking to this friend for a while about my faith, the best way I knew how as a high school student. Two years older than I, my friend attended a local Jesuit college. He also had a nominal Roman Catholic background.
One distinction I made sure to press during our religious conversations was the emptiness of traditions. I wasn’t slamming empty traditions; I was slamming traditions in general. In my mind traditions were contrived, manufactured, man-made attempts to earn favor with God while true Christianity was a personal faith in Jesus Christ. I thought that everything I believed came from the plain teaching of scripture and nothing else. Even the very practices and methods used in my faith were authentically biblical, not traditional.
My friend told one of his professors he went to a Baptist church for the first time. He told me the conversation went something like this:
“Did they say they have no traditions?”
“Did they ask you, as a visitor, to fill out a card and drop it in the plate?”
“Yes! How did you know?”
Yes, Baptists have traditions. Evangelicals at large have traditions. We all do. To deny such a thing is to deny reality.
The evangelical world has traveled the trajectory of the ice cube.
Really, we have. In Holy Ground, Chris Castaldo explains:
“Ice cubes have come a long way. A century ago, cubes were delivered in one enormous block. When I was a child, my family used ice-cube trays. Today, however, if you need to fill a beverage cooler before a picnic or ballgame, you needn’t even touch a tray. Many refrigerators produce cubes one at a time. Simply position your cooler below the dispenser, push the button, and watch individual pieces of rice roll out of the door.
“As the ice cube has gone, so has the Evangelical church. This is true at least in Western culture, where one’s identity is no longer defined by the block (the Catholic Church) or the tray (a denomination in which there’s a shared ecclesial structure). Instead, Evangelicals are individuals who roll out the door with little-to-no commitment to church membership.”
Indeed, we have seen this course played out in church history. We’ve come along way from Cyprian’s famous 3rd century maxim:
“Outside the church there is no salvation.” (Epistle to Jabaianus)
Early Christians understood their roles as parts of a whole. We find in the book of Acts a commitment to a strong, tightly united community:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
What happened since apostolic times?
I’ve been toying around with the idea for this blog for almost a year, but a recent viral video prompted me to begin now. On January 10th, Jefferson Bethke posted a video of a poem he recites called, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” At the time of this blog post, the video already has over 3 million hits and his been linked to and commented on from a variety of online sources.
Let me say at the outset, I am primarily satisfied with the message of the video and happy that it has reached so many people and caused us all to think. I took special notice of it the day after it went viral, in which many of my friends on Facebook were sharing the video, most favorably. Some other friends commented on the poet’s misuse of the word “religion,” and several discussions ensued.
Here is the video:
Before delving into the issue about the word “religion,” I want to note the things I enjoyed from brother Bethke’s poem.