No matter what label you put on it, religion is something we practice. Much the same way doctors practice medicine. When you come up on a problem, you apply the best methods you know, and hope everything works out all right. Sometimes it does. Sometimes, not so much (because religion is not perfect and religion is not God).
Like medicine, when we decide our methods of practice are perfect and complete and immune from scrutiny or question, we run the risk of becoming autocratic despots over our own practices.
In the days before germs were widely accepted as the cause of disease, physicians who insisted on cleaning their surgical tools were ridiculed by their peers. Why? It didn’t fit with the “practice” of medicine at the time.
On the television serious “House,” Hugh Laurie’s character is frequently put at odds with the hospital administration because the way he practices medicine is unorthodox, not the same way “they” practice.
Religion is much the same.
When Martin Luther tacked his “95 theses” to the door of that German church, he willingly subjected himself to ridicule, persecution, and torment. Because what he stated was wrong? No, because what he wrote was contrary to the religious practice of the day in which he lived.
He wasn’t the first. Jesus repeatedly did things that went against the grain of the religious community in which He lived and operated. He instituted new “practices” for everything from what to do with the Sabbath to how to handle blind men and lepers and how to deal with a food shortage at the church potluck. And he was persecuted for changing those practices.
Whatever our religious persuasions, we are responsible for our own practice of what we believe to be true and right. At the same time, we are responsible to uphold the highest law at all times (even in our practice of our religion): Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. No matter what format our religious practice takes in matters of food and drink, attire and appearance, methods and styles of worship or prayer, etc., we’re to PRACTICE loving God and loving our fellow man. (The fact that it’s a practice means we will make mistakes, and should be prepared to pick up and begin again.)
When our practice differs from someone else’s practice, that’s not a call to arms. It’s not a time to condemn and reject and judge. It’s time to go back to that ultimate law (the one that is, surprisingly, the same across the board) and apply it.
When it comes down to it, the practice of our religion should be a matter of the heart, actions that spring organically from what you believe to be the truth about God, about the human soul, about creation and eternity. And it’s frighteningly individual, personal, and unique. In other words, we don’t get to judge someone else’s practice, and we shouldn’t let someone else judge ours.