Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Sometimes-Beauty of Religion

As I sit here at my desk, I have to pause in my writing and simply enjoy the music flowing from my speakers. The song is O Bone Jesu, a Gregorian chant. Pure voices blend in perfect, complex harmony, like a well-woven tapestry. The words are Latin, but translated, they are as follows:

O good Jesus,
Have mercy on us
Because you created us
You have redeemed us
With Your most precious Blood.

While I enjoy the song, I also feel a tinge of sadness, knowing that great songs like this are almost never played in churches anymore. Why? Well, because they’re “religious.” Well, isn’t any song played in church technically “religious?” Well, yes and no, depending on the way you look at it. You see, while the term “religious” simply used to mean “one who has or shows a belief in and reverence for God or a deity,” it’s now taken to mean something like, “governed by laws, ordinances, and rules pertaining to God.” For example, you might have heard the expression, “Religion is a list of do’s and don’ts, while Christianity is a relationship with God.” Or, “Jesus is my Saviour, not my religion,” or even, “I’m not religious, I’m a Christian!” I’ve heard people get extremely offended if you refer to them as religious. Why? Because “religious” is often seen as a code word for “Old-fashioned, narrow-minded, judgemental, backwards, behind the times, hypocritical, doom-saying,” and what have you. The truth is, Christianity is so different from the world, and we are so desperate to be accepted by the world, that we have almost turned our backs on true Christianity in order to be accepted by the world.

Christians of years ago would say, “We’re being persecuted by our neighbors; the Holy Spirit must be convicting them! Let’s continue to pray and speak the truth, and die for Christ if we must.” Nowadays, we would say, “We’re being persecuted by our neighbors; we must have said something to offend them! Let’s change our message so it doesn’t sound so harsh.” The fact is, no matter how we change our message, we will never be accepted by the world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulations (trials or troubles) but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” John 16:33. Christianity and the world are like oil and water: no matter how you shake them together, they don’t mix and never will!


Take, for instance, this beautiful portrait of Christ, painted by Warner Sallman. I have a print of it that was given to me by my grandmother hanging in my bedroom. I treasure it dearly. But people tend to shy away from “religious art” because “it might offend somebody.” Never mind that it’s a classic, “it looks too religious!”

Take for instance, the book Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. A famous classic. But seldom read because, “It’s too boring and religious and hard-to-understand.”

Take the song that I listed above, “O Bone Jesu.” Or take any Gregorian chant, or even the more contemporary hymns written a mere 50-100 years ago. I’ve heard churches refuse to play the old hymns, because “they are too old-fashioned” (and religious?)

The King James Version of the Bible is seldom read, because, “We need a more modern translation, one that the young people can identify with.” Unfortunately, much of the beauty and meaning of the original has been lost in the switch to modern language.

My dears, Christ is old-fashioned. He walked on earth over 2,000 years ago. He created the earth long before that. In fact, He has always existed, as far back in time as you can possibly go. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has not changed or adapted with the times. His Word remains the same as it always has.

Now, let’s compare a couple of songs. The first is a modern song. I’m not even going to mention the name of the band, because the purpose of this is not to bash anybody personally, but simply to make a comparison.

It's a big big house
with lots and lots a room
A big big table
with lots and lots of food
A big big yard
where we can play football
A big big house
It’s my Father’s house

Hmmm, I didn’t know we’ll be playing football in Heaven…

Now, compare the song “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Remember, it’s a religious song; that’s why it’s not played anymore.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for Thee.

I’m not saying that everything modern is bad; there are many modern songs, paintings, and books that are worth listening to, looking at, or reading. But I just think it’s sad when the very foundations of our Christian and yes, religious heritage are thrown down the drain. Being religious isn’t always a bad thing… I’m not offended at all if someone calls me religious. I think it’s a beautiful way of identifying with other people who have a deep and reverential respect for God.

Why don’t you take some time this week? Read a Christian classic. Listen to some choral music or hymns of the church, such as the hymn below (When I survey the Wondrous Cross, performed acapella by the Gaither Vocal Band) Admire some religious art. You might be surprised at the ancient and enduring beauty and wisdom that you find therein.

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