Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is Christianity a Religion?

(This is the first section of a message I will give at church tomorrow.)

Increasingly in this modern secular world many people are beginning to hate religion.

It is not just some weird or cult-like religions that people hate, but for many, all religions are clumped into one category as being equally bad.

A common feeling in Japan is that religion in general is dangerous.

One popular book in America, in a string of best-selling anti-religion books is called, “God is not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything”  (Christopher Hitchens)

The word “religion” conjures up various ideas for various people.

You may be surprised to hear this, but today I want to make it clear that in the most common use of the word today, Christianity is not a religion and that the Bible teaches that in fact religion does poison everything.

I said that to a non-Christian friend one time and he looked at me as if my head had just fallen off.  Christianity is NOT a religion?

What exactly do I mean by “religion”?  Well let me make some distinctions first.

Some would define religion as having a worldview that requires faith in something unseen.

In this sense of the word religion, all people, even atheists have a religion, in that everyone in the world has a worldview that puts faith in things we have never seen with our own eyes. 

For example, scientists cannot empirically test things that happened in the past and yet there are millions of people who blindly believe that life came from non-life as if it were a fact.

Tim Keller says it like this:

"Some believe that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you.  Notice that though this is not an explicit, "organized" religion, it does contains a master narrative, a faith statement about life and its meaning, along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things... It is an implicit religion."

If religion equals faith in the unseen, then everyone is religious because everyone lives by faith in things not yet fully proven or seen.

Because of this fact, atheism has even been given legal religious rights in America, just as Christianity and Islam have.

In some sense then, we are all religious, whether we admit it or not.

However, the kind of religion that I want to talk about today is the kind of religion we usually think of when we think of religion.

It is the religion that requires one to use much effort and discipline in order to please or appease a God or gods or in order to be safe and reach a better spiritual state.

This kind of religion offers salvation or betterment of one’s life in some way through one’s own moral and/or spiritual effort or work.

In Islam the task is to accomplish the five pillars of faith in order to be accepted by Allah.

In Buddhism the task is to lose all desire, live rightly and to reach enlightenment.

In Shinto the task is to appease the kami by rituals and veneration.

In Catholicism, it is the task of keeping all the sacraments like going to Mass, baptism and confession to a priest and choosing that which would win God’s saving pleasure.

Religion that requires work and ritual lifts individual pride upon success and naturally leads followers to look down on others who do not follow as well as they do.

From this pride comes a host of evils, including hating and even killing those that are not as good or as disciplined as you are.

It also causes the truly sincere and earnest believer to despair or live in fear when he sees that he is not able to do all that is required of him.

In this most straightforward sense then the faith of the Bible - Christianity, is emphatically not a religion.

Christianity has nothing to do with the work or striving or any ability in man.  It has everything to do with admitting weakness and receiving God’s work as a free gift.

The Bible shows that we are all morally corrupt deep in our hearts – even Christians - and that only God is truly good and pure. (Romans 3:1, 7:18)

There is no room for religious pride and for the hating and killing and wars that come from religion in true Christianity because the faith of the Bible shows that everyone in all of the world is the same – we are all sinners, helplessly in need of God’s kindness and grace.

And because God is a God of love and mercy, true Christians, who have been humbled and changed by God’s love, desire to love others also.

Rather than emphasizing the efforts and abilities of man, the Bible rather centers on what God has already accomplished for us by becoming a man in Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s death and resurrection God cancels our sin debt and imputes His righteousness to our account as a free gift of grace.

Titus 3:4-7 says, “...when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

We can say then that Christianity is simply a relationship with a wonderfully kind God and is emphatically not a religion.

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