By Ronnie McBrayer
When primitive Christianity first began to take root, it wasn’t known as “Christianity.” The first Christians referred to their movement as “The Way.” The earliest disciples saw themselves, not as part of new religion, but as travelers in the Way of Jesus. This “Way,” consequently, was something active and dynamic, bound to the living Christ. It was not some dead religion seized with rigor mortis. The passing of the centuries, however, has seriously muted this fact.
According to researcher William Hendricks, over a million Christian adults leave the church every year. Many do so “not because the church is too spiritual,” he says, “but because the church is not spiritual enough.” Large swathes of Christianity have traded the untamed vitality of its Founder for something far more domesticated. Somewhere deep within us, we know this is a tragedy. Our spiritual instincts tell us that there is something more, something deeper, more radical and more alive than the safe, sterile, status quo of the religious institution. We know we were born to be wild.
Once, while on a wildlife expedition near Yellowstone, I observed a party of hunters stalking several hundred elk on a game refuge. These animals circled and panicked like proverbial fish in a barrel as the hunters closed in. Finally, one of the big bulls in the herd decided that he had had enough. He stampeded between two of the would-be trophy-takers, the space no wider than a sidewalk, and when he did, the entire herd followed. Hundreds and hundreds of animals ran for daylight, and in minutes, the herd had completely disappeared into the Wyoming woods.
These beautiful animals have lost a good deal of their habitat, but they have not lost their instincts. They still heed the wild and wonderful call of the wilderness, forsaking the false safety of the “refuge” for life with fewer fences. Granted, life in the wild is full of predatory dangers as well; but at least it is life outside of a man-made cage. Jesus, it appears to me, wants us to have this kind of freedom, for he did not come to start a religion. He came to start a spiritual revolution. Jesus did not come to show us how to build cathedrals or ecclesiastical refuges. He came to show us how to live. Jesus did not come to fence us in, but to set us wildly and wonderfully free.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated faith columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit him at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.