authority of the believer, biblical scholarship, Buddhism, calamity, calvinism, christianity, church, death, God's will, Islam, Jesus Christ, Judaism, religion, sickness, sovereignty of God, spiritual authority, theology
One of my pet peeves is people who go around blaming God for killing and/or maiming people, causing disasters, and a bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with the One True God, the Creator of the universe, and with His Son Jesus. The really depressing part it is that one of the major sources of such twaddle is Christian ministers and theologians, the very people who should be getting it right!
The blame for this can be laid at the feet of Christendom. Christendom is the institutionalized and organized expression of what most people call Christianity on this planet. Generally speaking, Christendom is expressed as the many denominations and church organizations who have originally formed due to moves of God in this earth in times past, yet over the years have each become rigidly traditional and institutionalized.
Unfortunately, what Christendom teaches and stands for is often far, far removed from the actual teachings of Jesus and what He stands for. Some denominations have become so corrupt doctrinally that they can no longer be accurately called “Christian.”
Because of this, pop culture looks at Christendom, makes the perfectly reasonable — but totally mistaken — assumption that Christendom equals Christianity, and says, “Sorry, we’re not only not interested by what you have to say, but we are totally offended by it and reject it! You are judgmental, bigoted, intolerant, and hateful.”
Which begs the question: how did Christendom get that way? The short answer is the pervasive encroachment of what I call “Man’s Religion” into the fabric of the doctrines of Christianity.
Jesus took very specific pains — both literally and figuratively — to differentiate Himself from every other religious leader that has ever lived, before or since. Christianity in its purest form is a totally unique departure from every other faith on this planet and God has intended it so from the foundations of the world.
So if we are going to win people to Christ, we have to present the REAL Christ with an attitude reflecting the REAL heart of God, using the methods and principles taught us by the REAL Holy Spirit as He reveals God’s Word to our hearts, rather than the religious concepts, doctrines, and traditions of men.
So let’s take a deeper look at what defines “Man’s Religion.”
Man’s Religion Defined
A quick summary of the man’s religion sounds something like:
- God (whether one or many, male, female, or indifferent) is on some cosmic balcony somewhere looking down on us with a bolt of lightning in his hand.
- He thinks we are low-down dirty-rotten worms who deserve to die horrible, lonely deaths.
- Because of that, he is terribly annoyed with us and is constantly looking for someone to hurl that lightning bolt at, that bolt taking the form of some horrible calamity or death.
- If we do enough stuff that he/she considers ‘good’ or ‘right,’ he just might be appeased enough to not zap us with it.
- If we work really hard at being good, he might even reward us with the odd blessing or two every so often.
- Occasionally, his cosmic practical-joke department draws our number and kills us or our family members, takes our jobs or homes, or smites us and/or our loved ones with various and sundry diseases.
- Everything that happens in this world, good or bad, happens because he directly caused it. We are all helpless victims in his hands.
- And so on and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseum.“
You want to know who were the very first people to practice Man’s Religion? I can tell you precisely who they were and I can even tell you their names: Adam & Eve immediately after the Fall! Let’s turn to the Book of Genesis and read what happened there.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” — Genesis 3:1-13 (emphasis mine)
Man’s Religion is all about fear, guilt and shame, and “fig leaves.” We are afraid of an angry God. Why? Because we are ashamed of ourselves and our behavior, so we hide from Him and look for fig leaves. As we’ve just read, fig leaves were what Adam and Eve vainly tried to cover themselves with after they sinned, representing the first dead religious works ever recorded. And mankind has been trying on various forms of fig leaves ever since.
A fascinating sidelight about fig leaves: 1) the leaves of the fig tree are covered with fine hairs that easily penetrate the skin and cause serious itching, and; 2) the sap of the fig tree is a strong skin irritant. This is why fig pickers need to wear gloves while harvesting.
The really humorous part about these particular agricultural tidbits when associated with man’s religion is that, out of all the trees in the garden, Adam and Eve used these leaves to cover their private parts and hide their nakedness! And the other stupid “fig leaves” mankind has come up with over the millennia since have been no better and in many ways have steadily gotten worse.
Pastor Bob Yandian of Grace Fellowship in Tulsa, Oklahoma once said, “Of all the sins and evils we can think of, religion is by far the worst. Religion has caused more people to miss salvation than all the other sins and evil combined. Not only that, religion has been the worse persecutor of the church in the history of mankind.”
The Attributes of Man’s Religion
So what does Man’s Religion look like in faith and practice? Interestingly enough, every cult and world religion other than Christianity has the same characteristics. Here’s a second checklist for you:
- They have a “book,” sometimes several of them.
- These books list sets of rules of conduct for their followers. These books also define how their god(s) is/are to be worshipped (various rituals, offerings, festivals and feasts, etc.)
- These books say you have to adhere faithfully to those rules to make it into their concept of “heaven,” whether through reincarnation as a higher life-form (Hinduism), achievement of nirvana (Buddhism), or rewarded by God or Allah in heaven (Judaism, Islam, etc.), and so on.
- If you don’t follow the rules (sin), you end up in their concept of “hell,” whether that is reincarnation as a lower life-form (Hinduism) or a life that sucks (Buddhism) or a place of torment (Judaism, Islam, etc.).
- Their followers never know in this life which they are going to end up with. It’s always a crapshoot.
- Their followers are motivated by guilt and shame, rather than love.
- If certain of their followers follow the rules better than their peers, the overachievers judge those underachievers as “less-than” because they don’t measure up to the standard. If roles are reversed, the underachievers feel “less-than” because they aren’t as spiritual as the overachievers.
So no matter which of these other religions we may select, there is a set of rules stating, “Do this, don’t do that, cut this off, grow that out,” etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. As a follower, in the end when I die, I never know what the afterlife will be like, so like all good human beings who fear the unknown, fear is my predominant characteristic.
Every other world religion, philosophy, or cult — other than a Bible-based New Testament understanding of the nature of God — meets those criteria.
The incredible tragedy is that enough of this nonsense has infiltrated mainstream Christianity to the point that Christendom resembles every other world religion, so this includes every so-called Christian denomination that bases a believer’s relationship on following a set of rules, such as Roman Catholicism, the classic Pentecostal “holiness” folks and certain Baptist denominations.
So we have untold thousands of believers and believer-wannabes who may have prayed a salvation prayer, but who differ little from followers of other faiths in terms of their morality, ethics, politics, and world-view. They may faithfully attend various churches, but have little impact on the unsaved other than to run most of them off by being judgmental and hateful, rather than compassionate and loving. And let me hasten to clarify that the Bible’s definition of compassionate and loving does not equate to the spineless and unprincipled tolerance espoused by pop culture.
Biblical Christianity Defined
Biblical Christianity says that God:
- God has a grand narrative for the universe and mankind and invites us to join Him by taking our places in His story.
- He created the world good and mankind very good. God delegated His authority over this world to mankind.
- Man rebelled against God and turned that authority over to Satan who has ruled this world ever since. Mankind has rejected God’s story and assumed the authorship of their own narratives. Our narratives suck because our motives are hopelessly selfish and corrupt, so the world and everyone in it have suffered the consequences of this. War, famine, sickness, and all other forms of evil are directly attributable these human-authored stories and ultimately to God’s psychopath enemy, Satan, and his single-minded desire to steal, kill, and destroy God’s creation. The world groans in agony under his rule.
- God is love and full of mercy. He loves each of us as individual human beings. He desires to have an intensely intimate, personal relationship with each of us.
- He recognized we could never join with Him by merely following a set of rules (indeed the rules just make us want to sin all the more) because we are hopelessly corrupt. No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape our own innate selfishness.
- He sent a His Son Jesus on a rescue mission. Jesus lived a sinless life, then died on the cross, thus taking the punishment for the sins of mankind. Three days later, God raised Him from the dead to be alive forevermore. Because He died an unjust death as a sinless Man, He won back supreme authority over the universe and everything in it.
- God gave us the result of that incredible act as a free gift. All we have to do is accept that gift by faith and submit to His authority whereupon we immediately qualify for heaven, regardless of how heinous our previous behavior has been.
- He empowers us to live a loving, moral life by showering us with grace and inhabiting our physical bodies by the Holy Spirit when we do accept that gift.
- He gave us a “manufacturer’s handbook” (aka the Bible) showing us how to maintain healthy relationships with Him and with one another.
- God guarantees us a place in heaven based solely upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross, not our performance against a set of rules.
- He sends us out to proclaim this Good News (gospel) to everyone. Please note that the Gospel is news, not instructions. This is one of the many things that differentiate Christianity from other faiths. We are given Great News, not a new or revised set of rules.
God’s rules are not standards determining our eternal destiny. They are the boundaries inherent in every healthy relationship — and God always maintains healthy relationships!
Please take note that while the second list is all about our performance and behaviors, the third list is about what He did/does for us.
The Apostle Paul summed up the whole issue quite nicely in his letter to the churches in Galatia:
‘Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
‘What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
‘Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.’ — Galatians 2:17-21 (MSG)
To summarize, man’s religion is all about the rules. Biblical Christianity is all about our relationship with God and, flowing from that, with one another.
That’s a completely different kettle of fish, now isn’t it?
Thanks for reading!