“Religion”: My Two Cents

This video appears to be going viral:

Some various people are weighing in, many praising the video, others not so much, including this critique suggesting that Jesus, the gospel and religion can’t be separated, and Jesus vs. Religion is a “false dichotomy”.

My response: that’s only partly true. Nowhere does Jesus call on an abolition of religion. Many have suggested that Jesus ushers in the “End of Religion” (the title of Bruxy Cavey’s book). Jesus states that he did not come to over turn the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20). Does fulfilling the law mean an end to religion?

Well, the problem is actually this; what do you mean by “religion”. The issue here is that the “religion” that this video, and folks like Bruxy Cavey are denouncing is not the same as the religion folks like Brian LaPort and my friend Jake Belder are supporting.

Oddly, the word “religion” doesn’t show up that much in Scripture (the Greek θρησκείᾳ occurs 3 times in the New Testament- Colossians 2:18, James 1:26 & 1:27; θρησκείας occurs once- Acts 26:5; θρησκὸς [religious] occurs once- James 1:26. δεισιδαιμονίας also translated as “religion” has one occurance in Acts 25:19, and the adjectival δεισιδαιμονεστέρους occurs once in Acts 17:22). In most of these instances, what is being referred to is unprofitable religion- superstitious observance of the pagans or practices resembling their attempts to placate God/gods or observe allegedly magical or mystical rituals. What Scripture says about real religion is this, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). In other words, Jesus doesn’t end religion, but redeems it. When Jesus criticizes the Jews, it is not saying they should abandon religion and be in relationship with him, but rather, they’re doing religion wrong.

Is Jesus against religion? Depends what you mean by religion. If by religion we mean a system of superstitions, rituals and festivals and dogmas, then yes, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is not a religion. If by religion you mean the conviction that all people are called to respond to God by serving in the world with charity, compassion, prayer and worship, then Christianity is very much a religion. God called the people of Israel to place justice and compassion before ritual observance long before Christ’s nativity; here’s Amos 5:21-24 (NASB) from the 8th century B.C.:

 21 “I hate, I reject your festivals,
Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
24 “But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Many translations render the Hebrew חַגֵּיכֶ֑ם as “religious festival” (e.g. NIV). It doesn’t have to mean that, but in this context it can probably be concluded Amos is referring to festivals of “religious” nature. Religious observance is not what God is focused on. The “religious” aspects of Christianity are not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the person of Jesus. Consider Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Just last night, our Bible study spent an hour and a half unpacking what that means. The gospel is Jesus. Not communion, baptism, etc.; it’s Jesus. Is this video right to say that they reject the religious trappings of Christendom for the person of Jesus? Perhaps. My challenge to him is “now what are you going to do with this Jesus?”

Whenever I get asked, “so you’re religious?” half of me cringes, because I’m being lumped in a group perceived negatively- superstitious fools who chucked their brains in favour of the ignorant bliss of servitude to dogmatic idiocy- the other half rejoices because I can launch a discussion- “what do mean by religious?”, which leads to an opportunity to say, Jesus is good news, not someone wanting to enslave you to rules and rituals and take your money.

The “religious” aspects of Christian practice (e.g. communion, baptism, tithing, Sunday worship, etc.) are so often misinterpreted as the stuff we do to please God. Instead, it is meant to be a response, a thanksgiving (communion is called the eucharist- which means giving thanks; an aspect not usually emphasized). We don’t do those things to obey God and please him and get to heaven, but to show our gratefulness for what he has done and is doing. Religion proceeds out of reconciliation with God, it doesn’t pave the way to it (See 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

This entry was posted in practical theology, reflection, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “Religion”: My Two Cents

  1. Sid says:

    Amen! Well said!

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