25 September 2008

Which Religion Is Right?

Unfortunately, religion is something Christians do wrong, not partly but completely. They can’t even agree on the purpose.

Some suggested purposes are:

  • Provide and maintain a moral framework in society
  • Teach people about God
  • Evangelize the world
  • Glorify God
  • Provide protection for God’s people
  • Resist evil and so on

None of these is wrong but religionists don’t agree on which one is primary? When some do agree on a purpose they don’t agree on how to achieve it or what constitutes evidence that it was done.

All of this, of course, comes from the perspective of religious people. This describes how Christian people understand their purpose. What about the non-religious? How would they define the purpose of religion and how would they characterize its effect?

Well, they see God as One Person and Christian religion as one group representing this One Person. They expect religious people and their churches to be God’s kingdom on earth, His institutional “body” so to speak. One non-religious person noted that Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary says the word “religion…means to bind together.” He considered that an important tenant of religion, especially the Christian religion.

Non-religious people expect religious people to work together mending the faults in society, uplifting people (that is why religion is exempt from taxes) and intriguing the lost. The Christian religion in particular has the numbers to do this. They represent a third of the population of the world but instead of making a unified effort, Christian religious groups can’t even get along.

Non-religious people look at the world of religion and see nothing but confusion. They don’t understand how so many Christian groups, all of whom claim to represent the same person and are so similar, can be antagonistic toward one another at the same time. They see Christian religion as fractious and Christian individuals as contentious (self serving and self absorbed) and they label the Christian religion as divisive. Not only is this observation correct it is substantiated by data.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary says there are 39,000 different Christian denominations in 2008 and they estimate the number will grow to 55,000 by 2025. That represents a growth of over 40% in the next 17 years. The predominance of Christianity is amazing but when you consider the divided nature of Christendom the superior numbers is no reason to be proud.

Where did all this division come from and why is religion this way?

All Christian divisions stem from one common group (Jesus and His disciples) and it is only natural to anticipate a strong inter-connection between them (Jesus did pray for our unity). That isn’t the case. “Unity” has become a four-letter word among Christians and "religion" is the same for the non-religious.

The tendency to divide became popular in the 1500’s with the reformation and has escalated ever since. “Separation” moved from being a possibility (a sad but necessary evil on the odd occasion) to being the evidence of genuine commitment. It is now a primary doctrine. Separation is like baptism, everyone must do it. Going from a few divisions during the reformation to a projected 55,000 in 2025 is evidence we have learned it well. That kind of division rivals the proliferation of cells in the human body. To say religious people are divisive is an understatement. I don’t think that is God’s purpose for religion but it is the reality.

The fallout from all this separation is antagonism between groups (sometimes war) and outsiders notice this first. When questions are raised, religionists become defensive or proud neither of which is a mature response. It is no wonder people ask, “which religion is right?” It is no wonder they approach religion skeptically. If a person wishes to find God, to whom can they turn?

Non-religious people are being fair when they call us “divisive” and it is rational to expect a little more unity.

But, the question is, what does the Bible actually say? Is there some instruction which highlights the purpose of religion? The answer is yes!

In one of only four places where the Greek word for religion (threskeia) is used the Bible says…

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)

This statement provides both the problem and the solution. The problem is the possibility of pollution. Religionists (Christians) need to avoid being engaged in and consumed by the pollutions of this life. But, the focus in this verse is not self or pollution. It is others, particularly those who need us.

This verse is not about keeping yourself “clean” for the sake of being clean. This is about being useful for the sake of those who are desperate. Those in distress are to be helped by those who aren’t. If those who are not distressed ignore those who are their religion is vain and they are susceptible to self-absorption and pollution. You cannot avoid pollution if you don’t work to resolve distress.

From this we can extract a life principle: If you exhaust your energy doing good things you don’t have any left for doing things that pollute; religion at its very best. That is actually a good rule of thumb for raising kids. Keep them exhausted with constructive activities and there is no fuel left for the other stuff. Going to church only will never be enough.

True religion has nothing to do with becoming reclusive or exclusive. Religion doesn’t focus on self or even God. It focuses on being useful in practical down to earth ways for the sake of others. The best way to be religious is to engage in relieving distress.

Would this approach have an evangelistic side effect? Yes! Is it possible that discipleship could occur in this type of environment? Yes! Would people be more open to learn about God in this situation? Yes! Would this type of religion provide an acceptable level of protection? Yes! Would God be glorified? Without question!

To any non-religious person who may be reading this post may I take this opportunity to apologize? I am sorry for the Crusades, the excesses committed during the reformation, the insensitive ways I and other religious people have handled problems in society, for being so bigoted and unreasonable at times and for using God’s name to endorse my personal agendas. ThinkAboutIt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot stand religion or most religous people. Religion more often than not is the enemy of Christ. Look in Scripture to find many times that religous people attempted to find fault with Christ. The main problem with religion is that in its attempt to adhere to traditions and customs, it often fails to adhere to Biblical principles; therefore, I refuse to call myself religious. I would rather be called a "follower of Jesus Christ."