We don't need religion. But we do need God.
I stood there in the cool, bright room, among over a hundred other people. The minister had finished talking, and he said we should pray. We all stood up and the chairs were removed. He started praying for each person, laying his hands on their heads as he did. Each one, after a few seconds, fell over; not a bad fall like they were unwell, but as if something had happened to them that was unusual. It seemed to be good.
As each one fell to the floor, I thought, 'I'm not letting this happen to me.' Yet one by one the people fell, and finally he approached me. He placed his hands gently on my head, and the most amazing thing happened. A sensation ripped through my body that I cannot explain. A tingling, heavy, powerful sensation that simply took over. I had no way of resisting it. It wasn’t sexual, but it was good, like a heavy, soothing, restoring weight laying on you. I could not stand up. It felt like I was encountering God face to face, that incredible, raw power surging through my body. I lay there for half an hour, unable to move, not wanting to resist. It was wonderful.
Something happened that day. Something real.
There are countless millions of stories from around the world and from every culture of people experiencing something similar. And other stories abound too, some dramatic where people are healed; some less dramatic, but just as meaningful to the recipient.
Some stories exist from the very beginning of the church; 2000 years ago, where people were having incredible, awe-inspiring experiences of God that changed their lives, experiences so awesome that people stood in wonder, amazed at what was going on. The desire to collectively experience these things and to enable others to have them led to the formation of the church.
Yet, today, the church is known more for its dusty, cold, dark walls and boring services, somewhere most people simply don't want to hang around, than for incredible experiences of God that make a real difference to our lives. Yet those times with God; those moments where you encounter God face to face and feel his love and power wash over you is what we need, and what we want. We don't want the dry dusty remnants of religion, we want God.
When we explore the evolution of the church, Christianity and religion we tend to find that aspects of the faith were developed based on decisions and understanding that was right for their time. So, the design of a traditional church building was introduced by the Romans. They kept the basic design for their public meeting place and added an extra section transecting the main part so it formed the shape of a cross. Lovely idea; but we don't need to keep that design today - God didn't design it that way, the Romans did. The problem is many things like this became embedded in Christianity, and came to define and dictate the way to find God. Things invented by people came, over time to be seen as essential parts of the Christian faith and necessary for knowing God.
It is the same with a multitude of other things that define Christianity and religion, from the way we pray, to beliefs about God and everything into eternity. And when we explore why they were introduced and why the church and religion evolved to be what it is today, we can determine that we might not need them in order to know God.
Yet, many hang on to them even today and insist others do them if they want to know God. And so Christianity, born on those eventful days 2000 years ago, became a fully grown and rather ugly being.
We need God, not religion.
I had a lot of anger inside me from the various experiences I'd had until that day when God sat on me for half an hour. Love had not been in plentiful supply in my life. But that evening, laying there on the floor, it felt as though raw, pure, powerful love was washing over me, healing those hurts, making me whole again, dealing with all the years of pain. It felt amazing. And I was different afterwards.
The multitude of stories describing encounters with this God-being suggest there is something in existence; many believe in something. People tend to call it God but I don't believe we have to be concerned about what labels we give it. I also don't believe we can assign this thing a gender. Christianity and other religions will define it as male, but I don't there is any genitalia to warrant such a definition. This is usually an historic label; left over from patriarchal societies who defined faith. One of those remnants that needs stripping away.
Whatever it is, it is flipping incredible; when your tired, angry and frustrated heart feels that love and power washing over it, bringing feelings of new life and energy you thought had gone forever. When experiencing it for yourself is so incredible that the struggles and worries of life don't seem so big any more.
Religion is not what I encountered that day. It was God, pure and real. And that is what we need today, Gods refreshing power to break into our lives and change us forever. Of course churches, Christianity and religion have so many variations and many are very good. Some do wonderful work! But even in the best ones remnants from the past hinder the way to God; all the things they say we must do to know God, that under examination they crumble.
Church is not for everyone. But God is.