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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

War Against Religion

I regularly see the following type of sentiment posted online as it concerns religion. "I don't believe in a religion, I believe in Christ and a relationship with Him. Religion kills faith." Or something along those lines, perhaps put more eloquently than I just did here. Lately, maybe for some time, religion has been under attack. Consider it some have a war against religion. But any type of the above statement is self-contradictory. first definition of religion is:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

So logically, to say you reject religion while holding onto a faith in Christ, is the same as saying, "I believe in a relationship with Christ, but I don't actually want to have one." Because religion is, by definition, the structure and practices and beliefs by which you have that relationship. Without it, you cannot have a relationship.

Just as faith without works is dead, a relationship with God minus a religion is called an annulment.

"No, no! You don't understand," I can hear some people saying, "I'm talking about organized religions."

We still have a big problem. Because what you are saying is you don't like how the organized religions do it, so you'd rather ditch them and create your own thing out of thin air, or in some sort of pick and choose religion buffet. Because the question isn't whether you'll have a religion or not, but what religion one will have. One established by Christ, by a person like Zwingli, or by your own created religion?

"Oh, but what I'm doing is based on the biblical model of the early church." Oh, really? I think there are some big assumptions going on there. For some reason, there is a common picture that the early Christians ditched Judiaism and completely started over. That they sat around a big circle, sang a few popular songs someone had written shortly after Christ ascended, and then passed around the bread and wine, freestyled the words based what was on their hearts. That all the rituals and structure came later when Christianity became a legal religion.

But where in the Scriptures do you ever find Jesus preaching to the disciples to ditch Judaism? You don't. Indeed, you have Him teaching for his followers to "Do what they say, but not what they do." Because he railed against their hypocrisy and drove out their money changers from the temple. But He also taught them how to really be Jews. He came to fulfill the religion, not eject it. He not only taught them to follow it, He followed it himself except where it deviated from His original intent, like a lot of the Sabbath laws created to define what "work" was that could not be done.

So naturally when He ascended, the disciples continued worshiping not only on the Sabbath (Saturday), but on the "Lord's Day," the "New Passover," or also known as the "Eighth day of creation." And if you even today go to a Jewish synagogue and then a church that practices the oldest form of Christian worship, you'll see many similarities. This is because the early Biblical church didn't create a religion out of nothing. It took what it knew in Judaism and modified it according to how Christ fulfilled it.

You see this clearly in the first council of Acts, where it was obvious that the early church was very Jewish in its beliefs and culture and worship. Because their arose a debate over whether the Gentile converts coming in had to become Jews. And the decision was they didn't. But you would not have had that discussion if Judaism was rejected by Christ and the Apostles. Their worship would naturally reflect the rituals of a Jewish nature, modified to Christ's fulfillment of it, because that's what He said he came to do, just as the Jewish council modified what of the Jewish laws the Gentiles would have to follow.

So if we're going to use the early church model in the Bible, we would have deacons, bishops, and rituals, and unity of faith as they did in the early church. Bishops? Yes. It is generally translated as "overseer" or "elder" but that is the same Greek word bishop was derived from. And this is the religion that God established. First with the Jews, where God specified all sorts of religious rituals and practices they had to follow. Then with Christ who fulfilled and thus brought to an end, and established some new rituals, like the Lord's Supper, which was really a modification of the Passover itself, and why it was called then (and still in some communions) the "New Passover." And why Christ is described as the Passover Lamb, slain for the salvation of the world.

"Yeah, but, I've experienced a lot of legalism, hypocrisy, and people just going through the motions. That's why I'm ditching religion. It just isn't working."

So, since well over 50% of most marriages experience infidelity and divorce, we should just ditch the concept of marriage? Make up our own concept of marriage? I guess there are some in secular society that do think that way. But most of us don't see it as a problem of being married, but a problem of abusing and misusing the institution of marriage. Likewise, because some abuse or fail to take advantage of the religion doesn't invalidate that religion. It is a statement about the individual's lack of commitment to investing themselves into a relationship with God, or seeing the religion as the end goal instead of a tool to foster a deeper relationship with God. The solution then isn't to ditch the religion, but use it the correct way.

When it comes down to it, it isn't religion vs. real faith and relationship with God. It is embracing religion to have a real faith and relationship with God, vs. doing your own thing without accountability and hoping you get it right.

Be like Jesus. Embrace religion as the path to a relationship with God, not as a hindrance.

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