In reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I became fascinated at this notion (and fact, in fact) that Christianity is not the contrived religiosity that society can see. It is not the legalism, the creeds or the rituals. It’s not liturgy. It is not doctrine. It is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the man, the deity, the savior. Christianity is a spiritual connection with the creator of the universe–NOT a code of conduct nor moral relativism.
The following essay attempts to set forth the immutable truths that affirm this notion. FAITH ALONE.
Christianity is NOT Religion
The Latin word from which the English word “religion” is derived means “to bind up.” Jesus did not come to bind us up in rules and regulations or rituals of devotion, but to set us free to be man as God intended.
The need of the hour is to distinguish and differentiate between “religion” and Christianity. Most people in the Western world have so long identified these terms and thought them to be synonymous and equivalent, that it takes a sharp can-opener of rational argument, or the sharper still “word of God” (Heb. 4:12), to reveal the contrasting dichotomy between Christianity and “religion.” This attempt to differentiate between the two may indeed be presumptuous, but on the other hand it might be used of God to bring the revelation of spiritual understanding that would allow someone to make the important distinction and enjoy the reality of Jesus’ life.
Many erstwhile Christian thinkers have made the distinction between “religion” and Christianity. In confronting the sixteenth century religionism of Roman Catholicism, Martin Luther explained, “I have often said that to speak and judge rightly in this matter we must carefully distinguish between a pious (religious) man and a Christian.”1 The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, was exposing the nineteenth century religionism of the state church in Denmark in his work entitled Attack on Christendom, wherein he noted that it is most difficult to explain to someone who thinks that they are a Christian already, what it means to be a Christian.2 German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stood up to the spineless religionism of the German Lutheran Church during World War II and was killed by the Nazis. In his Letters and Papers from Prison he sets up the antinomy between faith and religion and argues for a “nonreligious” or “religionless Christianity.” 3
Far and away the clearest delineation between “religion” and Christianity is drawn by the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, who was without a doubt the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. In his voluminous Church Dogmatics, Barth wrote that
“the revelation of God is the abolition of religion.” 4
“It is always the sign of definite misunderstanding when an attempt is made to systematically coordinate revelation and religion…to fix their mutual relationship. 5
“In opposition to all ‘religionism’ the proclamation of the grace of God is introduced as the truth…” 6
“Religion is unbelief. It is a concern of…godless man.” 7
“Religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture.” 8
“It is a feeble but defiant, an arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do. In religion man bolts and bars himself against revelation by providing a substitute, by taking away in advance the very thing which has to be given by God. It is never the truth. It is a complete fiction, which has not only little but no relation to God.”9
“What is the purpose of the universal attempt of religions but to anticipate God, to foist a human product into the place of His word, to make our own images of the One who is known only where He gives Himself to be known.”10
“The revelation of God denies that any religion is true. No religion can stand before the grace of God as true religion.”11
French sociologist, legal scholar and theologian, Jacques Ellul, in like manner affirms that,
“There is no path leading from a little bit of religion (of whatever kind) to a little more and finally to faith. Faith shatters all religion…” 12
“The opposition between religion and revelation can really be understood quite simply. We can reduce it to a maxim: religion goes up, revelation comes down. 13
“The central fact of the revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ, is that God descends to humankind. Never in any way, under any circumstances can we ascend to God, howsoever slightly.” 14
The American Episcopalian priest, Robert Capon, has an inimical straight-forward way of explaining the difference between religion and Christianity.
“Almost all people, inside as well as outside the church, find that the notion of grace stands in contradiction to everything they understand by religion.”15
“The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race’s perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: man’s well-meant but dim-witted attempt to approve of his unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs he thinks some important Something will thank him for.
“Religion, therefore, is a loser, a strictly fallen activity. It has a failed past and a bankrupt future. There was no religion in Eden and there won’t be any in heaven; and in the meantime Jesus has died and risen to persuade us to knock it all off right now.”16
“I want you to set aside the notion of the Christian religion, because it’s a contradiction in terms. You won’t learn anything positive about religion from Christianity, and if you look for Christianity in religion, you’ll never find it. To be sure, Christianity uses the forms of religion, and, to be dismally honest, too many of its adherents act as if it were a religion; but it isn’t one, and that’s that. The church is not in the religion business; it is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. And the gospel is the good news that all man’s fuss and feathers over his relationship with God is unnecessary because God, in the mystery of the Word who is Jesus, has gone and fixed it up Himself. So let that pass.”17
Many other statements from Christian writers could be adduced, but these will suffice to represent the awareness of the differentiation between “religion” and Christianity.
Background of the word “religion”
A brief study of the etymology of our English word “religion” will reveal that we might not want to allow the word “religion” to be associated with Christianity. There are several Latin words which may have served as the origin of our English word “religion.” The Latin word religo meant “to tie or fasten.”18 A similar word, religio, was used to refer to “respect, devotion or superstition.”19 Religio was a recognition that men are often tied or bound to God in reverence or devotion. It can also convey the meaning of being bound or tied to a set of rules and regulations, to rituals of devotion, to a creedal belief-system, or to a cause, ideology, or routine. Some have suggested that “religion” may be derived from the Latin word relegere, which refers to re-reading. There is no doubt that “religion” is often associated with repetitious rites of liturgy and litany, and the reproduction of creedal formulas and expressions. Most etymologists, however, regard the English word “religion” to be derived from the Latin word religare which is closely aligned with the root word religo. 20 The prefix re- means “back” or “again,” and the word ligare refers to “binding, tying or attaching.” Other English words such as “ligature,” referring to “something that is used to bind,” and “ligament” which “binds things together,” evidence the same root in the Latin word ligare. The Latin word religare, from which our English word “religion” is most likely derived, meant “to tie back” or “to bind up.”
The purpose of Jesus’ coming was not to “bind us” or “tie us” to anything or anyone, though it might be argued that in the reception of Jesus Christ by faith there is a spiritual attachment of our identity with Him. Jesus clearly indicates that He came to set us free free to be functional humanity in the fullest sense, by allowing God to function through us to His glory. To some believing Jews, Jesus explained that “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Further explanation of the personification of that “truth” in Himself was then made when Jesus said, “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” To the Galatians Paul affirms that, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” by reverting back to the bondage of Jewish religion (Gal. 5:1). “You were called to freedom, brethren” (Gal. 5:13), Paul exclaims. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17).
Jesus did not say, “I came that you might have religion, and practice it more faithfully,” or “I came that you might have religion, and adhere to it more commitedly,” or “I came that you might have religion, and define it more dogmatically,” or “I came that you might have religion, and defend it more vehemently,” or “I came that you might have religion, and thus behave more morally.” What Jesus said was, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The life that He came to bring and express within us and through us is His life. “I AM the way, the truth and the life,” declared Jesus to His disciples (John 14:6). The apostle John wrote that “He that has the Son has life; he that does not have the Son does not have life” (I John 5:12). “Christ is our life,” is the phrase Paul uses in writing to the Colossians (Col. 3:4), for Christianity is not “religion,” but the life of Jesus Christ expressed in receptive humanity.
Biblical usage of the word “religion”
A closer look at the biblical usage of the word “religion” will demonstrate that the word is seldom used with any positive implication, but generally has a negative connotation.
When Paul traveled to Athens he observed an abundance of idols, even an idol to an “unknown god,” lest they might have missed any. Paul stands up and declares, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects” (Acts 17:22). What does Paul mean by referring to their pervasive idolatry as being “religious?” The Greek word that Paul used was deisidaimon, which is derived from two other Greek words: deido, meaning “to fear or respect,” anddaimon, the word for “demon.” What Paul was saying was that he had observed that they had “great fear or respect for demons,” and were thus very religious or superstitious. Festus used the same Greek word to pejoratively refer to the Jewish religion, when he explained to King Agrippa that the Jews who brought charges against Paul “had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion” (Acts 25:19).
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul was confronting the regional religionism of Asia as well as the Judaizing religionism that constantly followed his ministry. He wanted to show the superiority of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ over all religion. In referring to the moralistic activities that religionists were attempting to impose upon the Christian believers in Colossae, Paul asks, “Why do you submit yourself to decrees, such as ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’? These are matters which have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23). The word translated “religion” is the Greek word ethelothreskia, which is a combination of two other Greek words: ethelomeaning “will, desire, delight or pleasure,” and threskeia meaning “worship or religion.” Paul is describing such moralistic religious actions as “will-worship” of “self-made religion;” activities which man imposes upon himself and others, believing that such willed self-effort serves as a benefit before God in moralistic performance. Paul denies the veracity of such thinking, regarding such as mere “self-made religion,” and of no benefit against the selfish patterns of fleshly indulgence.
James explains that, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26,27). The Greek word that he uses is threskeia, meaning “worship or religion.” Misrepresentation of the character of God in our behavior often indicates that we are engaging in “worthless religion.” James continues, though, to use threskeia in a positive way when he refers to “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27), wherein the worth-ship of God’s character is genuinely expressed in practical ministry to orphans and widows, and in the expression of the purity of God’s character. In that case genuine Christian worship transpires as we are receptive to the activity of God and express the worth-ship of His character in our behavior.
In light of the predominantly negative inferences of the word “religion” in the New Testament, we should avoid applying this word to Christianity.
Christianity and “world religions”
Failure to differentiate between Christianity and “religion” has caused many to lump Christianity together as just another “religion” in the study of comparative world religions. Their criteria for the consideration of a “religion” is merely sociological, psychological, creedal, liturgical or organizational, all of which are inadequate to consider the radical uniqueness of Christianity.
The story is told of Guatama Buddha, who lived some four hundred years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. He was dying. Some of his devotees came to Buddha and asked how they should perpetuate his memory. “How should we share with the world the remembrance of you? How shall we memorialize you?” Buddha responded, “Don’t bother! It is not me that matters; it is my teaching that should be propagated and adhered to throughout the world.”
Does that seem to be self-effacing? Does that sound like a noble ideal that attempts to avoid ego-centricity? “Don’t focus on me, just remember my teaching.”
If Jesus had said something like that, it would certainly legitimize much of what we observe all around us today in the so-called “Christian religion.” The “Christian religion” that has formed around the teaching of Christianity is involved in the propagation of various understandings of Jesus’ teaching as determined by various interpretations of the Bible. Most of those who called themselves “Christians” today seem to think that Jesus advocated the same thing that Buddha is alleged to have uttered. “Don’t focus on me, just remember my teaching.”
Jesus did not say anything like that! In fact, what Buddha said is contrary to everything Jesus taught, and everything recorded in the New Testament scriptures. Jesus did not say, “Just remember my teaching.” Jesus said, “I AM the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “I AM the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He did not say, “I will show you the way; I will teach you the truth; I will give you the life.” His own indwelling presence is the only way for man to be man as God intended. The reality of His person is the truth of God. The very personal presence of the risen Lord Jesus is the life of the Living God, the ontological essence of everything He came to bring to this world. In Buddhism the person of Buddha may not be of any importance except for historical observation, but in Christianity the living Person of Jesus Christ is the reality of God’s presence restored to mankind.
Another story is told of Sadhu Sundar Singh, a convert from the religion of Sikhism to Christianity, who eventually became one of India’s most well-known Christians. A European professor of comparative religions (who was himself an agnostic) interviewed the former Sadhu one day, with the evident intention of showing him his mistake in renouncing another religion for what he perceived to be the “Christian religion.”
The professor asked Mr. Singh, “What have you found in the Christian religion that you did not have in your old religion?” Sundar Singh answered, “I have Jesus.” “Yes, I know,” the professor replied somewhat impatiently, “but what particular principles or doctrines have you found that you did not have before?” Sunday Singh replied, “The particular person I have found is Jesus.”
Try as he might, the professor could not budge him from that position. He went away discomfited but thoughtful.
Sundar Singh was right. The religions of the world have some fine teachings, but they lack the person and life of Jesus Christ, the dynamic presence of God in man.
A personal friend of mine, Bill Hekman, was once seated on an airplane and struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated next to him. In their conversation the fellow-passenger explained that he was a professor of Islamic Studies. Bill Hekman indicated that he was a Christian and had been a missionary to Irian Jaya for twenty years, and that he was returning to Indonesia to engage in Christian teaching.
Their conversation eventually included a discussion of the extent to which the peoples of Indonesia had converted from the predominant religion of Islam to Christianity, and a mutual questioning of whether the Indonesian government statistics of the percentages of Muslims and Christians were accurate. Then the professor of Islamic studies said something very surprising. He indicated that he thought that Indonesia would someday be a primarily Christian nation. Bill, though obviously hopeful of such, was taken aback by such a prediction, and asked him why he thought that this would take place. The professor replied, “Because the Christians have Roh Allah.” Roh Allah is the Indonesian expression for the “Spirit of God.” This professor realized that there was a dynamic and power in the “Spirit of God” that was beyond anything that Islam had in their belief-system that traced back to the teaching of Mohammed. Indeed there is, for the “Spirit of Christ” is the vital dynamic of the living Lord Jesus, who as God comes to live in the Christian and empower him for the outworking of God’s character and work. May his surprising prediction prove true!
There are many religions in the world, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Mohammed-anism (Islam), and Judaism. The ideologies of humanism and communism have also been identified as religions, as well as the individualism of “The American religion.” 21 The tenets of Christianity can also be incorporated into a religion of “Christianism,”22 or the “Christian religion” as we are referring to this phenomenon within this study.
Christianity cannot legitimately be compared to any of these religions, however. Religion and Christianity are as different as night and day, death and life, fiction and truth. To attempt to include Christianity in a course on “comparative world religions” is to compare that which cannot be compared, like comparing apples with oranges. Christianity is unique. It is one of a kind. It is the singular reality of God’s activity to restore mankind from their fallen condition through His Son, Jesus Christ. Christianity is not the propagation of a philosophy. It is not the performance of religious procedures. It is not the perpetuation of an organizational program. Christianity is the reception of a Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Himself, into one’s being and behavior.
In all of the world’s religions, you can take away the founder and still have the religion. You can take Buddha out of Buddhism and still have the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path. You can take Mohammed out of Islam, and still have the Five Pillars of Action and the Six Articles of Belief. And yes, tragically, you can take Christ out of that misnomer of “Christian religion,” and still have the doctrines and the programs and the organizational machinery that masquerade as the “church.” Liberal theologians within the “Christian religion” have indicated that it does not matter whether there was ever an “historical Jesus,” as long as the “religion” benefits a person psychologically and ethically. On that premise of subjective religious impact being the existential essence of the “Christian religion,” they go about “demythologizing” the New Testament scriptures to reduce them to psychological and ethical tenets.
The hypothetical question might be asked, “If God could and would die tonight, what would happen to the ‘Christian religion’ tomorrow?” The answer is “Nothing!” The “Christian religion” would keep right on functioning, because Jesus Christ, as God, is not the essence and the dynamic of what they are doing anyway! If God were to die tonight, it would be “business as usual” for religion tomorrow. It does not require God in Christ for the “Christian religion” to function; just man and money!
Genuine Christianity, on the other hand, requires the presence and function of the life and person of the living Lord Jesus. Christianity is Christ! Jesus Christ is not just the historical founder of a “Christian religion;” rather He is the vital spiritual essence of Christianity which is His dynamic ontological function within receptive humanity.
Another hypothetical question might be asked. “If you could take Christ out of Christianity, what would be left?” Again it is possible to answer, “Nothing!” Or it is possible that we might explain that the resultant spiritual vacuum is what we know as the “Christian religion.” It has been suggested that if you take Christ out of Christianity, all you have left is the self-oriented, self-perpetuating religion of “-I-anity.”
South African author, Albert Nolan, explains that
“Jesus cannot be fully identified with that great religious phenomenon of the Western world known as Christianity (Christian religion). He was much more than the founder of one of the world’s great religions. He stands about Christianity (Christian religion) as the judge of all it has done in His name.”23
The “Christian religion” is a misnomer. Christianity is not religion! It is so radically different from all religion that it cannot properly be compared with the “world religions.” All attempts to do so have preemptively reduced Christianity into its bastardized counterfeit of “Christian religion.”
Scripture interpretation and “religion”
The new covenant implemented in the Person and work of Jesus Christ was designed to supplant and supersede all of the old forms of religion that had existed since the fall of man. Careful study of the new covenant literature, which we know as the New Testament, evidences the constant exposure of the radical difference between religion and the dynamic life of Jesus Christ in the kingdom of grace.
Beginning in the accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels (cf. Jesus Confronts Religion), it is apparent that Jesus was constantly confronting religion as He proclaimed the kingdom of grace that He came to reveal in Himself. The Pharisees and scribes of Judaism were the religionists who placed themselves in antagonism to all that Jesus did and said. They did not have the spiritual understanding to comprehend what Jesus was proclaiming. Approximately one-third of Jesus’ teaching was in parables, which only served to befuddle the religious teachers for they seldom realized that Jesus was comparing their religious modus operandi with the function of the spiritual reign of God that He came to bring in Himself. Eventually the religious leaders realized that the parables were exposing them, and they began to take measures to silence their nemesis by execution.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke carefully explains that in the earliest history of the church, the initial Christian leaders were progressively made aware of the radical difference between the Christian gospel and all religion. Christianity had to be unencumbered and unhindered from any identification with Judaic religion. Peter’s dream in Joppa, the inclusion of Cornelius and the Gentiles, the antagonism of the Jewish leaders in Judea, all represent pictorial vignettes of the progressive awareness of how Christianity had to break free from all religion.
Paul’s epistles bear the repetitive theme of explaining the difference between religion and Christianity. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul explains that righteousness is not in religious rites or the Law, but in Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. In the epistle we know as First Corinthians, Paul counters the religious excesses that were developing in the young church at Corinth. In the epistle we identify as Second Corinthians, Paul carefully differentiates between gospel ministry by the grace of God and the manipulations of religious method being evidenced by the intrusive pretenders. Writing to the Galatians, Paul pits the gospel versus religion (cf. Gospel versus Religion), forcefully denying that there is “another gospel” as inculcated by legalistic religion. In contrast to religious exclusivism, Paul explains to the Ephesians that all men become a new humanity in Jesus Christ. Combating the effects of the regional religionism of Asia, Paul wrote to the Colossians emphasizing the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, who is our life. In all of Paul’s epistles the theme of Christianity as distinct from and confronting religion is to be found.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews likewise explains how the old and new covenants of God are to be differentiated, and the old tenets of Judaic religion are replaced by the life of Jesus Christ. The epistle of James indicates that merely going through the rituals of religion is vain, but Christian faith is the outworking of the life of Jesus Christ.
The Revelation of Christ as witnessed by John is indeed the climax of the new covenant literature. In pictorial form Jesus reveals that religion will continually attempt to overcome and secularize Christianity as it was doing in the seven churches of Asia. Jesus is the victor over religion (cf. Jesus: Victor Over Religion), though, and will overcome all the onslaughts of conflict that will inevitably come between Christianity and religion.
Throughout the entirety of the New Testament there is a continuous explanation of the difference between Christianity and religion. Why has this not been made more apparent to Christians in order that they might be more discerning and cease to equate the two? Dare we explain that the interpretation of the new covenant scriptures has been done primarily by commentators and theologians who are thoroughly inundated in “Christian religion?” Religious interpreters whose very livelihood is on the line would be hesitant to expose their own religious methods, even if they had the spiritual discernment to recognize that such religious practices were being exposed in the scriptures. We have witnessed a tragic history of misinterpretation of the Bible throughout the history of “Christian religion.”
Evangelism and “religion”
The history of such misinterpretation also serves to explain why the gospel has been received so slowly throughout the world in the last two thousand years. “Christian religion” could only offer their brand of religion which “tied” people to a belief-system and “bound” them to moralistic rules and regulations in “attachment” to the ecclesiastical institution.
Jesus and the early church, on the other hand, proclaimed the gospel by contrasting the grace of God in Jesus Christ with the premises and methodology of religion. They exposed the self-serving practices of religion by manifesting and explaining God’s desire to restore all men in Jesus Christ. They confronted the selfish inequities of religion with the love of God in Christ.
Does it not seem self-evident that the ineffectual efforts of evangelism engaged in by “Christian religion” through these many centuries are a result of proclaiming a belief-system to be assented to and advocating a morality to be adhered to, rather than offering the life of Jesus Christ to be received by faith? “Christian religion” usurped the message of Christianity, complete with all the abominable methods that are indicative of all religion, which are antithetical to God’s functional intent in Jesus Christ.
“Christian religion” has become so thoroughly religionized that it is unable to perceive the contrast between Christianity and religion. They engage in the religious methodology of recruitment by propaganda in order to “bind, tie and attach” increasing numbers of people to the propositional ideology, the activistic cause, and the sociological organization they represent. Their contemporary marketing procedures of “church growth” reveal that they know nothing of the experience of the dynamic of the grace of God expressed in the living Lord Jesus by His Spirit.
Genuine evangelism is witnessing to the “good news” of the life of Jesus Christ as He comes to indwell us by His Spirit and live out the divine character in our behavior in contrast to the performance of religion. When an individual can see the impotence of religion, having experienced the frustration of religious performance, then the grace of God in Jesus Christ will be “good news” indeed. Such was Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3:2-14 when he identified religion as a “total loss” and “nothing but rubbish,” but rejoiced in his personal and spiritual identification with the living Lord Jesus.
Understanding the difference between Christianity and religion will make all the difference in the world in the way that we engage in evangelism. Rather than presenting unbelievers with a package of doctrine to believe in, or a codification of behavior to conform to, or a sociological institution to join and be involved in, Christians will allow the living Lord Jesus to “re-present” Himself to His created human beings through them, contrasting what He came to bring in Himself with all religious method as He did during His personal and historical incarnational ministry here on earth.
The abuse of humanity in “religion”
In his Provincial Letters, Blaise Pascal charges the Jesuits with “sporting with religion, in order to gratify the worst passions of man.” 24 It is inherent within the methodology of all man-made religion to offer a counterfeit fulfillment to the needs of mankind. Religion sets itself up in a self-deified position to extend a false-fulfillment of man’s God-given desires with a “religious” solution. When the basic God-given needs of man are offered false-fulfillment in religious counterfeit, humanity is being used and abused.
Here are some examples of God-given desires being falsely fulfilled by religion. The God-given desire to be loved is offered a cheap imitation of “a thing called love,” wherein one might develop a degree of intimacy with others. The desire to be accepted is appeased as religion offers to accept a person “just as they are,” until further instructed. Our human desire to belong is offered false-fulfillment in the encouragement to “get involved” in the “fellowship” of our “community.” The desire for sociability is stroked when religion invites a person to relate to their group and let them be their “family.” Man’s desire for security is offered the secure provision of “once saved, always saved.” Religion offers uniformity and conformity to satisfy mans need for order. The basic desire to believe and to be correct in that belief is placated with dogmatism, intellectualism, and the absolutism of orthodoxy. Religion offers a raison d’etre and a cause celebre to satisfy our need for meaning. Stimulating emotional “highs” and experiential subjectivism provide for the desire for excitement. The need for uniqueness is provided for in the exclusivism and elitism that posits that “we are the only ones.” If it is identity that you need, join with us and you will be “somebody,” a socialistic identity by association. Religion offers approval and affirmation, often by affirming “I’m OK; you’re OK.” The desire to work can be accommodated by religious activism which encourages adherents to “get involved” and “work for Jesus.” The desire to possess is titillated by the “health and wealth” gospel that falsely asserts that “God wants you rich.” The need to give is a favorite target of religion as they urge people to contribute by tithing ten-percent of their income. Religion promises to fulfill the need for destiny by providing the correct techniques, procedures and formulas whereby a person will be guaranteed a place in heaven.
These religious counterfeits are nothing less that an abuse of humanity. Instead of leading mankind out of the addictive false-fulfillment of their God-given desires, religion offers nothing but another form of addictive dysfunction. Religion is co-dependent to the sins of the people. Religion is an aider and abettor to the sinful dysfunction of humanity, enabling and encouraging mankind to seek their solutions and their “salvation” in religion rather than in Jesus Christ.
The Satanic source of “religion”
Religion is the devil’s playground. The diabolic efforts to inhibit and impede the gospel have been ever so subtle, as they turned Christianity into the “Christian religion,” continuing to use the same vocabulary, and using the very inspired scriptures which were designed to be the written record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the basis of their belief-systems and morality codes.
Major W. Ian Thomas writes,
“It is one of the subtleties of Satan which causes men to flee from God and seek to silence His voice in the very practice of religion. So it is that man, to suit his own convenience, has reduced God to a theological formula, an ethical code, or political program, a theatrical performance in a religious setting, the hero worship of some vivid personality…” 25
In his masterful presentation of diabolic activity, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the senior devil, Screwtape, say to his nephew, Wormwood, “One of our greatest allies at present is the church itself,” 26 i.e. “Christian religion.” In another vignette Screwtape explains that “it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by ‘religion’ ever vanishes from the Earth. It can still send us the truly delicious sins. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.” 27 Blaise Pascal likewise noted that “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” 28
To identify religion with the activity of Satan will seem to be blasphemous to those who have not differentiated between Christianity and religion. Once that distinction has been clearly made however, the antithetical alternative to Christianity that takes place in religion will of necessity be identified with the activity of the Evil One.
Norman Olson explains that
“Satan uses religion and the idea of ‘doing good’ to make people blind to the fact that these have no saving value whatever, to say nothing of spirituality.
“Any system of religion is satanic in nature, no matter how beautiful the package might appear to be. Satan is the author of ‘do good’.”
“Religion is often portrayed by the devil as a mass solution to man’s problem. If he can get everyone into some religion, he knows that he can keep people in some false hope, in some anesthetic, and prevent them from seeing their real need. Nothing that Satan has ever devised has been as successful as religion in blinding men’s minds to the truth.” 29
In like manner, Dave Hunt has written that,
“Satan’s primary tactic in opposing God is not to foster atheism, but religion. A perverted ‘Christianity’ is Satan’s ultimate weapon.” 30
If we are to understand religion correctly we must recognize its satanic source and the spiritual conflict that is taking place between God and Satan in Christianity and religion.
The sociological attachment of “religion”
It might be pointed out that mankind has a natural tendency to develop religious practices, and that every known civilization of man has engaged in some form of religion. Indeed it is “natural” for man to form religions, for “the natural man does not understand spiritual things” (I Cor. 2:14). His “natural” wisdom is demonically inspired (James3:15), for “the prince of the power of the air is the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
Sociologists have on occasion argued that religion serves a beneficial social purpose of attaching people together in group unity. Such social bonding ties a group of people together as they set their sights on a “higher” common goal. Religion thus gives a group of people a collective sense of identity, purpose and meaning, and provides for social continuity. When engaged in such a collective mutual pursuit of religious striving, their religion provides a legitimacy and validity to the rules and regulations that are imposed upon them, and when religion wanes the weight and authority of social and moral law diminishes.
It is indeed possible to analyze religion sociologically or psychologically31, but these are just observations of the phenomena of religion. It cannot be concluded from these observations that religion constitutes a social or moral “good,” or that religion is the “better” or “highest” feature of the natural world system of man, especially when it is abusing people as previously noted. Religion is, on the contrary, the most subtle and insidious feature of the diabolically inspired world of natural men, and as such it is the most abominable and damnable.
There is nothing “good” about religion. Religion relativizes the goodness that is derived from God alone. Religion engages in the relativistic goodness of the “good and evil” game that has been played by natural man ever since man fell by partaking of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 3).
The world’s view of “religion”
Many of those who call themselves “Christians” have been unable to differentiate between Christianity and religion. As they participate in the counterfeit of “Christian religion,” they mistakenly think it is Christianity, and are blinded in the belief that religion is an admirable pursuit.
On the other hand, there are many who are not Christians who view the activities of the “Christian religion,” and who likewise fail to differentiate between religion and Christianity. They in turn reject Christianity, believing it to be equivalent to the “Christian religion” they have observed.
Many abominable activities have taken place under the guise of “Christian religion.” Man-made religion always seeks power and will revert to militaristic warfare to achieve that power. The history of religion, including “Christian religion,” is but a succession of religious wars wherein religionists slaughter one another under the flag of “religion,” usually with political overtones. The Crusades of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries are but one historical example among many.
Religious bigotry has been evident in every century as religious leaders engage in racial, national, sexual, ideological and denominational exclusion, ostracism and persecution. There are always the religious attempts to purge those who disagree, and to punish those who do not conform to legislated morality. The period of the Inquisition is a sad example in the history of “Christian religion.”
People of the world observe the big religious organizations with their huge ecclesiastic superstructures. They are often rich, powerful, tax-evading, and political in nature. They observe the religious fanatics who try to justify any activity from bombing an abortion clinic to murdering a doctor who works therein. Any means seems to be justifiable if it achieves their religiously deified end-cause. They observe the seemingly endless and meaningless religious activities of church services, ceremonies and programs which seem to be just “pomp and circumstance.”
Is it any wonder that many of the people of the world speak derisively of religion? They have read their history books and have heard of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of “religion.” They hear of the vast gold reserves and corporate holdings of religious conglomerates gained through tax-exemptions and unfair advantage. They can see the exploitation of the populace through superstition and fear. They see through the ecclesiastic politicizing and cultural manipulation. They see the people going through their meaningless motions of religious ritual to try to appease God. Often they have come to the conclusion that they do not want anything to do with “religion,” and I, for one, do not blame them! The world has a right, even an intellectual obligation, to reject the religious folderol that is so prevalent, and to demand reality.
Was Marx correct in his appraisal that “religion is the opiate of the people”?
Christianity is not “religion”
Religion emphasizes precepts, propositions, performance, production, programs, promotion, percentages, etc. Christianity emphasizes the Person of Jesus Christ, and His life lived out through the receptive Christian believer.
Religion has to do with form, formalism and formulas; ritual, rules, regulations and rites; legalism, laws and laboring. The “good news” of Christianity is that it is not what we do or perform, but what Jesus has done and is doing in us. Jesus exclaimed from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The performance is hereby accomplished! Jesus has done all the doing that needs doing for our regeneration, and continues to do all the doing that God wants to do in us. “God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Some have tried to explain that “Christianity is not religion; it is a relationship.” Such a statement is too ambiguous, for it is possible to have a “relationship” with religious peoples and practices. Although Christianity does involve a personal relationship between an individual and the living Lord Jesus, it must be pointed out that this is effected by the ontological presence of the Spirit of Christ dwelling within the spirit of a Christian who has received Him by faith, and the Spirit of Christ functioning through that Christian’s behavior. It is not just a casual relationship of acquaintance with the historical Jesus or with the theological formulations of Jesus’ work. Perhaps it would be better to indicate that “Christianity is not religion; it is the reality of Jesus Christ as God coming in the form of His Spirit to indwell man in order to restore him to the functional intent of God whereby the character of God is allowed to be manifested in man’s behavior to the glory of God.
Christianity is not religion! Christianity is Christ! Christianity is “Christ-in-you-ity.” Jesus Christ did not found a religion to remember and reiterate His teaching. Christianity is the personal, spiritual presence of the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ, manifesting His life and character in Christians, i.e. “Christ-ones.” Paul explained, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
1 Luther, Martin, source unknown.
2 Kierkegaard, Soren, Attack on Christendom. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. 1968.
3 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Letters and Papers from Prison..
4 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics. Vol. I, Pt. 2. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. 1956. pg.
5 Ibid., pg 294.
6 Ibid., pg. 298.
7 Ibid., pg. 299.
8 Ibid., pg. 302.
9 Ibid., pg. 303.
10 Ibid., pg. 308.
11 Ibid., pg. 325.
12 Ellul, Jacques, Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World. San Francisco: Harper and Row.1983. pg. 123.
13 Ibid., pg. 129.
14 Ibid., pg. 137.
15 Capon, Robert, Between Noon and Three: A Parable of Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace. San Francisco: Harper and Row. 1982. pg. 136.
16 Ibid., pg. 166.
17 Ibid., pg. 167.
18 Marchant, JRV and Charles, JF, (eds), Cassell’s Latin Dictionary. London: Cassell and Co. pg. 478.
20 Ayto, John, Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Pub., 1990. pg. 438.
21 Bloom, Harold, The American Religion.
22 The French word for “Christianity” is “Christianisme”
23 Nolan, Albert, Jesus Before Christianity. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1976. pg. 3.
24 Pascal, Blaise, Provincial Letters. In The Great Books of the Western World. Vol. 33, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
25 Thomas, W. Ian, The Mystery of Godliness. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. 1964. pg. 42.
26 Lewis, C.S., The Screwtape Letters. New York: Macmillan Co., 1959.
27 Lewis, C.S., The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1960. pg. 70.
28 Pascal, Blaise, as quoted by Charles Colson in Kingdoms in Conflict. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. Co. 1987. pg.43.
29 Olson, Norman, “Good News Broadcaster” magazine, July/Aug 1982. pgs. 36,37.
30 Hunt, Dave, “The Berean Call” newsletter. October 1993.
31 James, William, Varieties of Religious Experience.
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