I know many of you reading this are already shaking your heads. We know about words with various letters, but what is the “R” word? Better yet, what could possibly be the “R” word?
I’ll give you all a hint. The “R” word has become the most lethal insult in the church today. We tell people that they are the “R” word anytime we don’t like what they say or don’t want to discuss any points they make because we’re concerned we might be wrong. Have you figured out what the “R” word is yet? Read on.
Last weekend I posted the following as my Facebook status: “You can’t find it within you to do the smallest, littlest thing for God. Everything is a struggle. And you STILL expect OVERFLOW…Really?!!!”
A woman came on with an extensively long post in response to my status, more-or-less accusing me of being a religious leader and imposing faith by works on people. Sigh. She deleted the comment before I could go to my page and comment on it, but I still received the message, clearly directed at my comment, in my inbox. She deleted it because she could see she wasn’t going to get support on my page for what she said, so instead she went and made it her own status. There people agreed with her. On my page, that wasn’t going to happen. It’s probably better she took it down because my response to her was not going to be what she wanted to hear.
I thought about commenting on her page, but the Lord told me to do something else instead: He told me to watch. So that I have done. I have been watching her commentary all week on various things and the only thing I can say is this: the battle between faith and works rages on, with the “R” word as the ultimate insult. We’ve turned a perfectly innocent word (that is actually found in older translations of the Bible) used to describe something and now made it a vicious attack on the leadership of others, often made without regard or consideration for the work they do.
I personally resent the fact that someone who knows next to nothing about me felt that she had the right to label me as being a ‘religious’ leader because of something I posted in my Facebook status, but we’ll let that go for now. Such behavior was not only not very Christian, it was just plain rude. I’ll venture she had never been to my website and I can testify she’s never said a word to me elsewhere – she just wanted to get in her two cents about what she perceived to be wrong with what I said. The funny part is, she didn’t even understand what I wrote. I wasn’t talking about salvation, I wasn’t burdening people, I was upholding the principle of obedience. God expects His people to be obedient unto Him, not another god. We are to uphold His precepts. Therein lies the meeting of faith and works. If believing that the people who call themselves ‘saved’ or by God’s Name should still be obedient to Him makes me ‘religious’…then SO BE IT.
There it is, the “R” word: Religious. Now if we want to make people question what they teach, offend them, or just plain be rude, we tell people they are ‘religious.’ When did ‘religious’ and its sister word, ‘religion,’ become dirty words? Do we even understand what ‘religious’ means?
I started out as a Religion/Comparative Religion Major (among three other majors) in 1997. To me, studying the history of religion is a fascinating look into the lives of men and how they perceive their walk with the divine. It’s been an experience. I’ve been to over 500 different types of services, both Christian and non-Christian, to explore the experience of mankind through religion. If I were to define religion, I would define it as mankind’s search for the divine via methods that seemed to work right for various people throughout history. What religion has done throughout the ages is try and adopt various directives to the individual that were handed down from generation to generation, seeming to “work” for someone in the past. Among Muslims, the person things seemed to work for was Mohammed. Among Hindus, it is Krishna and a variety of gurus. Among Buddhists, it was Buddha. Among Jews, it is their concept of their ancestors, among Christians, it is whoever their leader thinks it should be (insert obvious joke about division in the Body here)…and so on and so forth. Some groups have more modern figures, others more ancient ones, but the principle is the same: this worked for someone, so we’ll try it, too.
The Bible speaks to us very profoundly about religion and its purpose. Religion was employed all throughout the Old Testament through the law. It was not an evil thing, nor a dirty word; it was the way by which God’s people reached out to Him. Whenever those people faltered from that purpose, they faltered far from God. If we look in the New Testament, we learn why religion was so important to the ancestors: it had a purpose. Its purpose is not to be followed to the letter or to be imposing, but to make mankind aware of their need for a Savior. Also in the New Testament (Romans 1, to be exact), we learn that everyone – all of mankind – had knowledge of God and that all were without excuse – even the Gentiles – despite the fact that they did not have the written law. Theologians have debated the meaning of this for years, only to come up with different viewpoints on what this means. I believe that, if we rightly divide Romans 1, we understand why the Gentiles were also without excuse: because they too had a knowledge of God, even though they did not understand it. They knew of God through their religion, in watching nature, the times and the seasons, in learning God’s principles through seed-time and harvest and beyond, and even though they were not brought to the full letter of the law, they still had enough knowledge from their religious experience to recognize they could not save themselves. Instead of seeking a true Savior, the Gentile religions worshipped a host of gods (who, if are carefully inspected, we can see many of them were types of Christ), idolizing nature and the creation rather than the Creator.
Whether Jew or Gentile, all of humanity missed the mark with religion. The Jews wanted to be like their neighbors and didn’t want to do what God asked of them, and the Gentiles wound up completely off the mark. We can see in New Testament times how out of control Judaism was in the first century as the leaders began to impose legislation upon people, passing such off as the Word of God. They loved their religious customs and pageantries, the way they were treated by others, and how advanced everyone thought them to be. The Gentiles also reached such a point: it is still common in various religions around the world to sell girls as temple prostitutes and to worship religious leaders as gods on earth. What started out as a pointing to something else – and which can be and is an effective tool to make people recognize they can’t save themselves – became about self-worship and self-idolatry through those various means.
What we can see from all of this is that when people start to go beyond the bounds, religion’s purpose is lost, until it becomes something else, something sinister, something that enslaves people. Being ‘religious’ can lead someone to the Savior as they learn all the rules, regulations, and sign points won’t get you there. God knew that. Now if we could only know that, and recognize religion is a part of God’s plan. It is not the end of it, but it leads one to where they need to get to be to recognize the Lord on it.
Now we fast-forward to modern movements that want nothing to do with their ancestry or history. I think anyone who calls themselves a leader and knows nothing about Christian history needs to sit down in the pew and stop leading people until they learn something about it. People don’t study history because they are afraid that what they find will challenge where they are heading today…and God forbid we do that! Now everything is religious. It’s religious to call one’s self by the ministry God has called them to be in, it’s religious to ever sing the old songs, it’s religious if you don’t have a light-show performance at every service, it’s religious if you use an older translation of the Bible, it’s religious if you still believe people need to be baptized…oh yes, and it’s religious if you expect people to obey God. Today’s church runs on chaos and disorder, totally void of reverence as everyone pursues and does everything they feel they want to do…and then say “God” led them to do it. Well no, God did NOT lead your 34-year old self to go out and get pregnant by that man whom you are not married to and have his baby…YET AGAIN. We ‘get’ that example. How about this for you: God did NOT lead you to mouth-off to your leader because you don’t like what they said. God did NOT lead you to behave like a common heathen. God did NOT lead you to carry your drunk self all throughout the streets of the city right after you sat in the bar and witnessed to your friend about how he needs to change his life because he’s more drunk than you are. God did NOT lead you to quit your job and live off the system because you have a ‘calling’ and now feel you are ‘too anointed’ to work. God did NOT lead you to say everything you do is in His Name, but called you to take responsibility for your behavior and develop the discernment to know the difference. I am so tired of all these excuses, all these reasons why people today don’t follow God. They don’t follow God because they are in disobedience. Whether or not that causes someone to lose their salvation shouldn’t be the point. The fact that someone is disobeying the Almighty God IS the point. And maybe, just maybe – if we start to look beyond our petty hair-splitting of the Word, we might start to get people where they need to be on the road TO obeying Him.
I have spent YEARS in the Word reconciling the battle between faith and works. The battle, my friends, was not made by the Word, it was made by man. No we are not saved by our works but our works CONFIRM our faith. You can say you are saved all day long…but do you act like it? We’ve even made a debate out of that: can you still be saved and not act like it? I don’t really care. I am not interested in debating out every minute detail to figure out how close people can come to hell and still be saved. The Bible tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that faith without works is dead. That is not a contradiction. No, what it is is two parts of a whole. The Bible is about more than getting people to ‘get saved,’ receive Jesus, or accept an altar call: it is about getting people where they need to be in Jesus Christ, discipling them, and sending them out into the world. Maybe we need to stop trying to do a “new thing” and making crackpot theological nonsense and start getting to what God has called us to do from the beginning.
What has He asked of us from the beginning? To obey Him. All the way back to the garden, the struggle has been one of obedience. When we get there, we won’t need religion to point us to our need of a Savior, because in obedience, we already know how much we need Jesus. In obedience, we know that His grace is sufficient, and everywhere we are weak, we will be strengthened. If we are obedient, we won’t have to worry about religious leaders misleading people into all sets of earthly nonsense because we will know what is God from what is not God. Until we get to this point, I will keep proclaiming the Gospel and keep proclaiming obedience to God because that is the forgotten aspect of the Gospel. The word “repent” means to change our ways, our direction, turn around, and ascribe to the things of God. We ascribe to that obedience because we are in Jesus Christ and we can because we have Him.
And if this message causes me to be branded as ‘religious’ yet again, it won’t be the first time. So be it. I’ll take the hit. This isn’t about me or what I think; it’s about getting the church where we need to be in obedience to Him.
(C) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.