When Madonna and the Church have the Same Message

1035x1035-rebelheartDo Madonna and the church offer the same message of hope?

Living for Love

These are the opening lyrics and the chorus for a song by Madonna titled “Living for Love” that hit #1 on music charts in 41 countries this week:

First you love me and I let you in
Made me feel like I was born again
You empowered me, you made me strong
Built me up and I can do no wrong
I let down my guard, I fell into your arms
Forgot who I was, I didn’t hear the alarms
Now I’m down on my knees, alone in the dark
I was blind to your game
You fired a shot in my heart

Took me to heaven and let me fall down
Now that it’s over
I’m gonna carry on
Lifted me up, and watched me stumble
After the heartache, I’m gonna carry on
Living for love
Living for love
I’m not giving up
I’m gonna carry on
Living for love
I’m Living for love
Not gonna stop
Love’s gonna lift me up

Here is what Madonna said about this song:

The way we’re going to change the world, or the way we’re going to ultimately feel joy, is through unity. I’m certainly not encouraging religious behavior; when I say people are thinking in a religious way, I think they’re thinking about rules and dogma and laws that separate. When I say spirituality, I mean a consciousness that has an understanding that we are all in this together, that we are all one. We have to find a way to feel joy and to bring joy to the world together.1

Jesus Hates Religion

Now, here is a quote from a well-known pastor, Alex Himaya, about his book “Jesus Hates Religion”:

I think we as Christians have a reputation as conversation stoppers. When we engage people on the other side of an issue, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t end the way we want it to. It gets stopped short or our side of the issue ends up being misrepresented. And that’s largely our fault. We prefer to be heard, as opposed to actually listening. We want the benefit of the doubt, but we’re reluctant to give it. Instead, we lead with our idea of what’s right and wrong – our belief – instead of leading with love.

The best way to stop a conversation short is by being judgmental and “religious.” By that, I mean we come off as confrontational and condemning, rather than relational and loving. Religion, for me, is a man-made path to God.2

Jesus’ Message: Salvation

The reason I was drawn to this issue this week is because I am preaching this Sunday on John 6: Jesus feeding the five thousand. Jesus was a really popular guy at the beginning of John 6. Thousands of people were following him. He was doing everything right: healing, loving, caring, bringing a message of hope and love to all of Israel. And then these words: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… do you take offence at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:53; 61-62)

Why would Jesus says these things? These words caused all but twelve people to stop following him. They were very unpopular words. Telling Jews to eat the flesh and drink the blood of himself is not the way to win over followers. Performing miracles, however, did wonderfully well. Yet, he didn’t give them another miracle. He gave them a message that offended them and scared them off.

The reason Jesus did not give the people more bread and more miracles is because he wasn’t out to satisfy the appetites of the human nature. He was out to change the appetites of the human nature. The people wanted bread, but Jesus offers salvation. We want miracles, healing, provision. But Jesus offers something better: a new nature.

I compared the two examples above not to show that Dr. Himaya is wrong. His message is quite accurate. Jesus hates when we try to get to God on our own. However, as a pastor, I am cautious about implying that the Christian message can be a popular one in our world. Our message tells people that they are sinners, that they need to repent and believe in Jesus. This is, unapologetically, a religious thing in the eyes of the world. The world sees the gospel message as religion, and we should not be sorry for that. 

Madonna is close to understanding the gospel. We will change the world through unity. However, I pray she will see that the only thing that truly unites us is fellowship with our Creator. And the only one who offers that is Jesus, through a religious act: repentance and belief.

  1. from: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/rebel-heart-madonna-reveals-the-story-behind-six-surprise-songs-20141221?page=2 []
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/06/15/jesus-hates-religion-really-does []

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