Religion generally makes for bad press these days a good gossip story in the local rag or more serious concerns in the coverage of war and terrorism.
The majority population in UK associate the term ‘Religion’ with negative connotations.
At home I was told “Talking about religion and politics only causes arguments”; while attempting evangelism at my first job (in the early 1960s) it was common the be rebuffed by the older guys; “Religion causes wars”! Who was I to argue with those who had been active in WW2, given the violent history of the world’s religions including the Christian one?
The influence of two world wars in the last century has not featured much here in discussing the decline in religious practice and adherence in the West. Shortly before WW1 there was a major revival in wales in which 100,000 converts entered the Welsh chapels. They did not just lose heart and drift, most of the men were lost in the Great War and their potential for the churches went with them. Prior to 1914 the most prominent work in Christian missions was carried out by Germany and the UK, two ‘Christian nations’, who were to be locked together through two bloody wars.
The effects of liberalism and 18th Century higher criticism seems not to have affected the UK’s evangelical pulpits or congregations but it did affect many Protestant Churches, dumbing down, hardening or disaffecting the populace. Others may have jumped ship and bolstered evangelical churches which were and largely remain well attended.
James mentions a pure religion that is acceptable to God so logically he had in mind another form of religion that was impure and unacceptable (James 1:27). As we have seen the Pharisees of the time for all their preciseness in the Law of God were largely rebuked for their ‘form of religion’ which followed the letter but missed the heart of the Law.
Although their religion used only the ‘right’ and scriptures, ‘right symbols’ and ‘right ‘rituals’ specifically authorised by the Lord ‘their religion’ was void of God’s life and marked as hypocritical, self-serving and full of pride by Christ Lk. 8:9-14, while Paul counted all that he knew of it as dung Phil. 3:8 in comparison to knowing Christ.
It is easy to become like a Pharisees we just have to stop resisting the temptation of our weak egos to put others down to improve our own sense of importance or self-worth, get on a soap box and tell others how they should live. In fact this is exactly how many objectors view our Christian religion. We need to take note – it cannot all be without reason.
For others religion means sets of beliefs, forms of religious rites, symbols and practices which they have no interest in. And if the Pharisee can engage fully with God ordained Law, rites and symbols, it is equally possible to embrace those elements encompassed in Christian religion and yet not to possess anything of the life of God. We may be moved emotionally by ‘High Mass’, ‘Gregorian Chant’ or ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ and be assured that we have the true religion of Jesus while our hearts are far from Him and we are under His condemnation.
It is no wonder given ‘all that’, that some Christians when communicating the gospel, in an attempt to avoid the negative connotations of religion, say they have nothing to do with religion, they are talking of “a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The enjoyment of religion that does not impact our inner motivations and outer works of mercy is not worship; in fact it is idolatry – and the enjoyment or elation is the god. The outward idol may be a statue, the Bible or an icon etc. In reality it is self-worship, we may become ensnared by legalism, ritualism or a host of other-isms and in effect become our own idol doing what is self-pleasing, self-affirming and leaving the Lord at the margins.
I will add a few quotes from: ‘Benefit of the Doubt’ pages 55-56 by Greg Boyd
“In Jn. 5 Jesus confronted some religious leaders … These leaders thought they possessed life by diligently studying scripture. What made these leaders feel accepted and secure before God was that they knew their Bible and were confident they embraced true Bible-based beliefs … Jesus, of course, wasn’t suggesting that there was anything wrong with their diligent study of scripture … the issue wasn’t about ‘what’ they believed: he disputed the way they believed it.”
“He (Jesus) was trying to get them to see that there is no life in knowing the Bible and embracing Bible-based beliefs unless they lead to him. By trying to wring life out of things that have no life apart from Christ, these leaders made an idol out of the Bible and their Bible-based beliefs”.
Religious hypocrisy – religion without reality is dangerous spiritual state. If we play religion without sincere repentance, simple faith and a desire for holiness we are in a bad way. Our religion at best is natural, intellectual and or emotional – ‘such religion’ has an empty form of godliness but denies its power (2 Timothy 3:5). This state of affairs cannot exist for long, ‘nature hates a vacuum’ and ‘devils find work for empty hands’.
Boyd continues:- “There is a demonic self-reinforcing quality about idolatry that can be discerned in these leaders. By trying to derive false life from their confident knowledge of scripture … these leaders made an idol of their knowledge …they were not hungry for the true ‘Bread of Life’ because they had stuffed themselves with the false life of their idol. … The idols that trapped them … looked very spiritual and) made them confident they were OK with God.”
The wisdom of religion that is self-orientated with features identified by James is a religion of this world, earthly and natural in a toxic environment and soon becomes demonic James (3:13-18).
Boyd concludes:- This episode demonstrates the way we believe what we believe can transform what we believe into an idol that actually blocks us from getting life from Christ … this happens whenever we are confident we are OK with God because of what we believe rather than because of our relationship with … (Jesus Christ) … If what makes us feel ok with God is our confidence in the correctness of our beliefs, then our confidence in our beliefs is, in effect, our god.
The same is true of anything else religion that has won our confidence if it is anything other than Christ Himself!
The following link provides a further critique: