Religion vs. Relationship

I hate being called ‘religious’.

I regard myself as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, not as a religious person.

I guess the reason I don’t like being called religious is that I associate the word with things like traditions, rituals, and rites that seem more man-made than God-given. Some speak approvingly of ‘true religion’, or ‘pure religion’, but to me the word, other than in the sense of James 1:26-27, is entirely negative.

I define religion as any human attempt to find a way, on his or her terms, to God.

The Tower of Babel was an early example of this (Genesis 11:4). The people of that day wanted a way to relate to God that suited and served them. So they built a stepped pyramid, a ziggurat ‘tower’ so they could climb up to the heavens. They constructed a temple on the top of the pyramid filled with representations of the sun, moon, and stars. Then they developed a religious system of worship to these celestial objects, these ‘gods’.  This is typical of religion.

Things haven’t changed much since then. There are many religions in the world, ranging from Islam to New Age spiritualism with all of them claiming some sort of divine origin. Islam professes that an angel revealed the contents of the Koran (Quràn) to Mohammed, and New Age practitioners would like us to believe that disembodied higher beings channel wisdom through them. However, when we get right down to the basic issue of validation, only Mohammed heard the angel and only the New Agers personally experience the ‘channelling’. It is all very subjective.

Religion originates on Earth in the minds of men and women, while Christianity originates in Heaven in the trinity of God.

Jesus did not appear only to one prophetic figure, but to tens of thousands of ordinary people. He himself did not claim to have received divine revelation; he claimed to be the very source of divine revelation. He didn’t say “I have come to teach you the truth”. Instead, he said “I am the truth” (John 14:6). Joseph Smith, of Mormon fame, sat in a tent transcribing what he claimed to be the oracles of God written in hieroglyphics on gold plates delivered to him by the angel Moroni. When he emerged from the tent the angel and the gold plates had conveniently disappeared. Jesus, on the other hand, dwelt in the ‘tent’ of humanity (John 1:14) from birth to the age of over thirty. He taught in full sight, died before witnesses, rose from the dead and was then seen by hundreds, and finally ascended bodily into heaven in full view of his disciples.

I don’t regard Christianity as a religion at all, at least not as I have defined ‘religion’. However, with sadness I have to concede that religion has infiltrated Christianity. I bailed out of the church when I was thirteen years old because I saw only tradition, rite and ritual, and not Jesus. Now, five decades later, I am hopelessly committed to the church because I see it as the household of God, the family of Jesus Christ, and not as a temple to tradition.

Jesus was patient most of the time and compassionate all of the time, but the people who really angered Him were the religious ones.

He told them that they were hypocrites, white-washed tombs, and that their traditions nullified the Word of God.  He saw the Pharisees as standing between the people and God, as offering not life but religion. Would He say the same to the religious people of our day? I believe He would.

I have no criticism of the church. The church, the Body of Christ, in all its local expressions, is a wonderful and precious thing. I just can’t stand the religiosity that creeps into her thinking and practices. Things like the special classes of ‘priests’ who wear archaic costumes and conduct their religious practices behind a separating rail; or expensively suited ‘Pastors’ who sit on special chairs on a raised platform. Things like the muttered formula prayers spoken in Elizabethan English, or Latin; or the exhortations to “Give the Lord an applause offering” as the preacher bounds up to the Perspex pulpit.

If you are a church leader then you can influence these things. If you are not you can still abstain, pray, and speak when the time is right. Anything that seeks to express the truth that Jesus embodied brings life. All that expresses religious tradition might bring nostalgia but will not impart life-changing truth.

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