As a Christian, the distinction between religion and faith is of great importance to how I view my relationship with God. Religion is based on rules and behaving in a certain way so as to receive mercy from God. Religion involves guilt and the thought that we are unworthy to come before God. By contrast, faith is based on lifestyle and knowing that the mercy of God is always available to us. Faith involves hope and the thought that no matter how far we have strayed from God, He always wants us to come to Him. This distinction is vital because it changes the way we view our relationship with God. Religion will cause us to focus on how much we sin and how unfaithful we are. Faith will cause us to focus on how faithful and just God is.
Where the black community has gone wrong is that we have mixed our culture with our faith to create our own version of religion. We use the Bible to confirm existing cultural practices and beliefs rather than allowing the Bible to transform our understanding of the world and ourselves. These beliefs permeate into the church and we almost create extra Old Testament style commandments that we must abide by. The issue with this is that faith is not meant to be this rigid. Having requirements for church membership and making people believe that they must dress or behave in a certain way to have a relationship with God pushes people away from the church and from Christ. Our driving force for our faith should simply be our love for the Lord and for other people, rather than our obedience to certain rules.
Although we are supposed to have a personal relationship with God and not depend on the church, it is undeniable that the church will affect how we personally view and relate with God. The doctrine of the church we attend should be in line with our level of faith and our belief and experience of the Word. Growing up in an African church, what struck me was that many members did not embody the church doctrine in their everyday lives but on Sundays they were jealously upholding these same values. This made me think that these rules were not as important and then I came to question the whole doctrine of the church.
Church should be an environment where we learn and grow. This is made difficult where the rules and expectations of the church are overbearing and not in line with your understanding of the Word. As Christians we should strive to accept all people into the church and allow the Word to speak to them.