To quote Creeper:
"Hi Debbie, hi Radar,
I'm looking forward to seeing Radar try to square this circle. I'm familiar with quite a few people who believe in God in some way but have issues with organized religion - but the two of you'd be the first that I've met that proclaim a beef of this kind while both being extremely active in your local church. What then is the exact problem you have with organized religion?
My apologies, Debbie, if I'm including you unfairly in this btw.
Maybe I'm misunderstanding something, but I guess we'll find out when Radar puts up his next post.
This is the perfect question in the context of our discussion of worldviews on this blog. As we have covered in great detail, your worldview is the set of preconceptions and the values and beliefs that you begin with when you look at the world and consider problems. Those of us who believe in God include Him in the realm of possibilities and atheists do not, which makes an atheist an inferior scientist in my view. We have had this discussion for some time.
Religion is another thing. A religion is an applied belief system and let us first use an online dictionary to consider just what it is from Dictionary.com. I will make notes in between in italics.
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
This could also be a definition of worldview, but okay this fits in many cases.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
Organized worldview also an aspect of religion although not quite.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
Now we have committees!
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
Hmmm not sure if this belongs here.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
Now we are getting somewhere again.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
I think this is more like it.
7. religions, Archaic. religious rites.
8. Archaic. strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one's vow.
I would go to this extent: When I talk about religion, I talk about the idea of what people believe will define their lives or will bring them to an afterlife. To be very specific, I believe that religion as applied is a system of rules and regulations that, if you obey them, take you to heaven or paradise or nirvana or (fill in the blank).
We have seen this definition lived out before our eyes. When the Twin Towers fell, when the plane hit the Pentagon and even the jet that crashed in the wilderness because the passengers rose up to stop the terrorists, these were religious acts. The men involved believed that they were acting on behalf of Allah and that the one way to guarantee access to Paradise is to die in the cause of Muhammad, to die a martyr in the act of killing infidels.
The Nation of Israel is well acquainted with this phenomenon. Little Palestinian children are taught that to die in the process of killing innocent Jews is an act of great patriotism and godliness. Remember the old posts where I linked the Palestinian equivalent of The Mickey Mouse Club in which little kids were taught to chant songs and poems about killing Jews and Americans, in which they were drawing crayon pictures of buses blowing up and showing "cartoons" featuring young people strapping bombs on their bodies to kill people? Religion.
Religion in many churches in this country is a matter of adherence to traditions and codes. Go to the correct services, say the right things, wear your hair or clothes in a certain way, go to Heaven. Early in my Christian life I went to a center of Fundamentalism where I soon saw that people were judged (by others) based upon their clothes and their hair style, the size of their Bible, how loud they said, "Amen" and how often they went forward to repent and rededicate themselves to God. If you went up too often you were just not right with God. If you did not go often enough you were hard of heart.
Now, at first I was just a dedicated new convert just reading my Bible and trying to learn how best to serve God. I was a transformed junkie/drunk/wastrel and I had tunnel vision. I was learning to be a pastor or possibly a school administrator depending on God's calling. I had come from an active church in which the Bible was taught as the basis for a Christian lifestyle and I expected to find the same in seminary. I was wrong. I attended college for two and one half years and began that second half of year three when it all came crashing in on me. I understood that the religion being taught at the school I was attending was a system of works and rules and that appearances were valued above the state of the heart.
Of course my realization happened just as I was offered a nationwide singing ministry. This is ironic, as I had just become the lead singer in a hard rock band when I met Christ. For the second time possible fame as a singer was laid at my feet...or I could do what I thought was right to do. Both times the decision was exceedingly hard. First I had to lay aside the chance to be Robert Plant and then I had to give up the opportunity to be Ray Hart (you may not know that is but he was big in his circle and a regular on the Johnny Carson show). My mother was a professional singer, I was a good songwriter and singer (in my opinion) and yet I had to walk away from this portion of my being.
Now these events and decisions led to a time of personal crisis as I found myself reevaluating my relationship with God and Christianity. I am very glad of this now.
The pastor of the church I attended wound up being involved in a terrible sex scandal and his son lost his wife and his church when his briefcase was stolen and wound up filled with pictures of him and another man's wife with less than adequate clothing and etc. The church I went to right after that? The pastor went to jail for abusing underage girls, including his own daughter! The head Bible teacher at the college and his wife went to jail for keeping a young girl as a slave in the basement of their home. There were kickbacks being paid to people for directing students to jobs and housing. I know way too much about way too many things that were happening behind suits and ties and skirts that ended at or below the knees.
I believe now that this is what Jesus saw when He came to Jerusalem and took at look at the Pharisees. They wore their fancy robes and big phylacteries and kept up the appearance of righteousness while being kept in cushy luxury on the backs of the common man and with the help of the ruling Romans. The common man was unimportant to them and the will of God was unimportant to them. Adherence to a lengthy set of rules and regulations was all that concerned them. Moreover, it was the long treatises written by generations of priests, the Torah and the Talmud, that most concerned these Pharisees and Sadducees. Whether someone was starving to death was of no concern but everyone in the priesthood would be horrified if this man's wife combed her hair on the Sabbath!
Here is the entire chapter of Matthew 23- 1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”
Now any of the scripture above bolded was done by me. Consider that Jesus, that one guy who never sinned, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe in human form, is cussing out the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yet what he is saying is not sinful because it is completely true.
I may be calling out many of those who call themselves Christians but I truly believe that following rules and regulations will never get you to Heaven. No one can always do right and no one can escape falling into temptation now and then. No one is able to stand before God and say, "I am perfect, I have never sinned."
Can you? Of course not! Neither can I. You can stamp a label on me but I can never ever live up to the standard of perfection. Jesus Chris was able and He was crucified by the ruling Romans and the ruling Jews. They thought they were ridding themselves of an annoyance who was stirring up the common man and daring to speak the truth. But, in fact, they were performing the Sacrifice that was necessary to bring salvation to mankind. All the generations of bulls and goats and doves sacrificed at the altar in the Jewish tradition according to the Law of Moses were symbolic of the One Sacrifice to come. Throughout the Old Testament scriptures the coming of the Christ was told, but the Jews at the time did not recognize Him. They were looking for a political leader who would kick the Romans out and set up the Jewish Nation on the throne of the temporal world. But Jesus came to kick sin out and provide a remedy for the original sin of Adam and Eve. He came to die for us and shed His blood for us as a sacrifice, His perfect life in exchange for your imperfect life.
I can go through scriptures (and have before) detailing how this is done, but here is the bottom line - I do not adhere to a set of rules and regulations to provide myself with righteousness.
The Bible teaches us that when we accept Christ as our salvation and ask Him to forgive our sins and be our Savior, we are changed. It is not that we do different things, although that is likely to happen. I certainly have made many changes in habits and behaviors and beliefs since becoming a Christian. But the big difference is that I became a child of God.
II Corinthians 5:15-21 - And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
A Christian is a new creature because he has become a son of God. He has been judged to be covered by the sacrifice of Christ and therefore has already been written into the Book of Life. Was the Law wrong? No, the Law was written and given to the Jews with the understanding that they were to keep it to the best of their ability and yet would be required to make sacrifices in order to seek atonement for their sins. It was all temporary atonement, it was done year after year until the Messiah would come to free the people. Sadly for them, most of the Jews quit looking and waiting for Messiah and became used to being people who followed rules and regulations and traditions.
So you see, I am not religious. I do not depend on my works and deeds for my relationship with God. I have SONSHIP. I am a child of God. Not because of me, but because of Him. I was just able to comprehend who God was and accept His gift of Salvation. God came within me and has been working on changing me from the inside out ever since.
Have I tossed aside cursing and illegal drugs and drunk driving? Yes. I am aware of what the Bible teaches and I do try to obey. But my salvation just does not depend on my actions. Be sure you understand this point. I am going to Heaven because I belong to God, not because I go to church or teach teenagers or give money to my church and to missions and all that stuff. I have been in many ministries and given much time and money and talent to the cause of Christ and I do not consider any of it to mean a thing when it comes to my salvation. I have been on the board of directors of a big ministry, made videos that were sent around the world, I have both sung and spoken to large audiences and held pretty much every title you can hold in a church and I tell you that God does not take that into account.
It all comes down to sheep and goats. It all comes down to being a child of God or not. You are born a child of man. God gives you life, in fact He created life and an entire Universe to house you so that you would have a chance to live and come to know God and have the opportunity to live forever with Him. This Universe is winding down, it was a one-time deal and it is eventually going to be gone. But for now men and women are being born and living and dying. For now all that live long enough to be aware of right, wrong and God are being given the choice of God or not-God.
All men are born with the inner sense that God is. One has to drown that sense or follow it. I did my best to drown that sense and did so for years but a very patient God kept after me. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit of God just kept prodding me and that other Christians kept being put in my path. One day the convergence of a man with God's message and my questioning mind and my troubled heart presented to me the clear choice - I understood salvation, I understood that Christ died for my sins and I understood that the choice was on me. I could accept or deny. At the moment I understood Truth I accepted Christ and gladly agreed that I was a sinner who needed salvation and wanted God to live in me.
I do not live a religious life. I do not depend upon my actions to save me. I live a life of relationship in which I do try to please my Father and my internal "wanter" has undergone a change. Because I love my Father and seek to please him I generally appear to be a religious man. I do study my Bible and pray and various things like that.
But my sons, who live at home, they sometimes hug me or tell me that they love me and I do the same to them. They would still be my sons if they never spoke a word to me. But kinship and love causes them to follow my ways, respect my house rules and so on and so forth.
You see, if you are a son you are a son whether you live at home or elsewhere. If you are a son in jail or a son in Congress you are still a son. If my mother would claim not to know me I would nevertheless still be her son (she is actually rather fond of me). If you are a daughter you are a daughter at home, married with children or living in the gutter doing drugs. Kinship trumps actions or clothes or pay grade.
If you depend upon religion, you wind up focusing on external things and miss the inner truths. If you think just doing something over and over saves you, then you become your own salvation and God is no longer involved. If man could save himself, he would not need God. But he cannot and God offers salvation for free. He paid every bit of the price Himself.
Can you understand? I hope this is clear. My Christian lifestyle is a result of my sonship and my love of God and the internal rebirth of Salvation and is not in any way an attempt to justify myself or win my way to Heaven. I am not religious. I am simply a loving son.
Ben Hartnett, most excellent cartoonist!!