Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does God hate religion?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines on the term "religion":

Q:  Can a person to say they hate religion but love Jesus?  Is Christianity a “religion” or not?  Did Jesus come to abolish religion?

This is a question that has been circulating with increasing frequency since the mid-20th century, especially during the first decade of the present century, and which was brought even further into the forefront in past weeks by a YouTube video that quickly made the rounds on the internet through social networking sites. 

The current questions regarding religion and Jesus or religion and Christianity have arisen primarily from two sources.  The first of these can be seen within Christianity as a reaction against the rigid rule-oriented portrayal of religion that had become prevalent in certain denominational circles.  In response to this portrayal, many preachers have begun to contrast this law-oriented focus, which they would characterize as “religious,” against a gospel-oriented message which focuses on grace and the freedom of the Christian.

The second source from which this question finds its origin is a movement outside of Christianity where people consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  Recent demographic studies of religious identity reveal that “none of the above” or “unaffiliated” has become the fastest growing religious identity in the United States.  However, these religiously unaffiliated persons are not primarily atheist or agnostic.  Instead, they have definite spiritual ideas, but do not practice them collectively in a Church or other religious organization or submit to any particular authority or doctrinal system. 

Much of the confusion regarding this question about Jesus and religion can be overcome by nailing down the definition of religion.  Prevailing dictionary definitions of religion describe it as a set of beliefs regarding spiritual things or a devotion to a deity.  When scholars speak of a religion, they use the word to refer to a particular world religion such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Mormonism, while they use the word denomination to refer to the particular organizations that are divisions within Christianity. 

However, the popular use of the term religion by “spiritual but not religious” proponents outside of Christianity or by Christian preachers who want to distinguish faith-based Christianity from rule-oriented religion has initiated a novel view of religion that causes confusion. 

If one wants to say that Jesus is against rule-oriented religion but in favor of a faith which trusts in Him and embraces the freedom of knowing God’s forgiveness, then one could say that Jesus is against “religion”.  In fact, this is the characteristic that distinguishes Christianity from every other religious system in the world.  Every other world religion emphasizes a system of acts which must be carried out by people in order to make things right with their deity, but Christianity proposes that God Himself, in the person of Jesus, already accomplished everything necessary for our spiritual good, and we receive it through trust in Him. 

However, if one wants to say that Jesus is against any form of formal organization to religious practice, that would be a false claim.  The Bible continually emphasizes both that Christians ought to gather together, both for worship of God, through which He speaks to them by His preached Word and forgives their sins through the Sacraments, and for service to others.  We even see that the New Testament constantly urges Christians to cling to pure doctrine as taught by Jesus and the Apostles and to believe the same things rather than each having his own individual spiritual convictions.  In this sense, Jesus is very much in favor of religion—in fact, He is the true religion. 

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