Archive for the ‘End of Religion’ Category

“The real trouble is not in fact that the Church is too rich, but that it has become heavily institutionalized, with a crushing investment in maintenance. It has the characteristics of the dinosaur and the battleship. It is saddled with a plant and programme beyond its means, so that it is absorbed in problems of supply and preoccupied with survival. The inertia of the machine is such that the financial allocations, the legalities, the channels of organization, the attitudes of mind, are all set in the direction of continuing and enhancing the status quo. If one wants to pursue a course which cuts across these channels, then most of one’s energies are exhausted before one ever reaches the enemy lines.” [John A.T. Robinson]

The New Testament plainly teaches us that, “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48 KJV). The temple of God is people—not buildings! The church at large desperately needs a heart-rending revelation of this fact. The New Testament never commands, encourages, or even authorizes “Christian” buildings or the collection of money to pay for them. Furthermore, we have the audacity to call these buildings “churches” despite the fact that the Bible never uses the word church to describe a building. There is no geographic space that is more holy (or more “anointed”) than any other. Every believer is the sacred space where God lives in his or her heart.

Additionally,the New Testament clearly teaches us that all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9). So how is it then, that some “priests” have staffs, salaries, and expenses paid for by the other priests? I guess they must be the high priest… but wait asecond, I thought Jesus was our high priest [sic]. One of the purposes of the tithes (yes, tithes, plural), under the Old Covenant was to pay the Levites and Aaronic priests for doing their jobs—officiating in the tabernacle, Temple and Levitical cities. But if we are all priests, and we are all the Temple, again, how is it that some priests get paid by the others? Once again, the church at large needs a heart-rending revelation of this fact.

I could go on and on. The institution is not the church. The church is people, and we waste billions of dollars every year on buildings, maintenance, staffs, salaries, programs, and other expenses that are utterly foreign to the NewTestament.

Does this mean we can never utilize a building or that those who minister the gospel should not live of the gospel? Of course not. But as I have already said, the church needs a deep revelation of the true Temple of God, the priesthood of every believer, and that our ordinary everyday lives are our sacrifice. Building on this foundation (pun intended) would put many things in a better perspective.

Imagine, just imagine, if all the money we waste financing the institution actually went to genuinely helping people how massive of a difference it would make.

So you’re sitting in a really boring church service and all of a sudden the pastor totally changes gears and prays, “Holy Spirit come!” Instantly the whole atmosphere of the meeting changes and there is excitement and many “outward”demonstrations and manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s “presence.”

So here are my questions…

· Where was the Holy Spirit before the pastor prayed, “Holy Spirit come?” What was He doing and why didn’t He respond earlier?

· Is the God of the Bible a deity that needs to be reached out to before He reaches out or responds to us?

· Does God just show up randomly when He feels like it? Is God aloof or capricious?

· Is God separate from us, and “out there” (pointing upward or outward) somewhere?

· Is God so transcendent that He is difficult to reach?

But now the real kicker—how do our answers to these questions correspond and harmonize with the clear teachings of the New Covenant/Testament?

· God loves us passionately.

· The Holy Spirit (the whole Godhead for that matter) is an indwelling presence.

· Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I (not there I might be if you pray hard enough) in the midst.

· God is for us (not against us or even neutral or impartial).

· Nothing can separate us from Him or His love.

· He does not leave us or forsake us.

Which leads me to my final question:

· Do significant numbers of Christians and significant portions of so-called mainstream Christianity actually live within an Old Covenant paradigm camouflaged in New Covenant terminology and labels?

Join The Sacred Cow Tipping Team!

Just a little humor to introduce what can be a very uncomfortable subject.

Are we really prepared to do what it takes to allow God to deconstruct religion and cultivate relationship in our lives? Because to genuinely do so will require a level of objectivity and introspection that is highly likely to go far beyond anything we have ever experienced before. Will you join the Sacred Cow Tipping Team and be prepared to laugh (and probably cry) at your own religiosity when the Holy Spirit digs you in the ribs and says, “Yes, you actually think and do that.” Or are you already setting out the barbed wire and sandbags and getting ready to defend your favorite pet bovine to the death?

Because frankly, facing religion means facing the fact that we have been complicit in our own slavery, which is neither easy nor pleasant.

I believe the British novelist Donald Wheal (pseudonym Dresden James) summarized religion brilliantly when he wrote:

“The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which [who] blissfully and unawaredly enslave themselves.”

The journey from religion to relationship is not for the faint of heart. We must always remember that God really has only one method by which he engages our personal transformation and advances his kingdom—death and resurrection. And as much as we might like to think so, we don’t get to skip over the death part and go straight to resurrection. As a matter of fact it is religion that teaches us to try to do exactly that—to minimize the reality of the cross—to treat it strictly as a metaphor with no practical or experiential reality in our day-to-day lives. In order to experience the power of his resurrection, we must also share in the fellowship of his sufferings. The road from religion to relationship is the way of the cross. And the death of religion can be excruciating (pun intended) indeed.

Whenever Jesus encountered your standard issue sinner, he always demonstrated extraordinary compassion. And yet there was one particular group of people, that when he encountered them, didn’t seem to engender much compassion—you guessed it—the Pharisees.

Time and time again, Jesus called it like he saw it—“hypocrites,” “generation of vipers,” “whited sepulchres.”

But although not as immediately inflammatory, the phrase Jesus used regarding the Pharisees that I believe should arrest our attention more than any other is this…

“The traditions of men”

Jesus’ accusation against the Pharisees is absolutely stunning—that they valued their man-made (human) traditions over the commandments of God—and that in doing so they actually transgressed the very commandments they thought they were upholding.

The Pharisees were the masters of religion—using human traditions posing as the commandments of God to attempt to stand approved before God—and teaching and requiring others to do the same.

So time for a new shade of meaning…

Religion is: Attempting to use human tradition, effort, engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, and/or ambition to try to stand approved before God, accomplish God’s work, gain God’s acceptance, earn God’s approval, obtain God’s affection, etc, etc.

Plus, these traditions, efforts, etc, are often disguised or camouflaged as being mandated by God. After all, what better way to be approved of by God than to utilize an “approved” method?

But unfortunately, when we read about the Pharisees, our reaction more often than not tends to be, “Oh those silly Pharisees, when were they ever going to learn? I sure am glad I’m not like them.” Not realizing that records such as these are actually insights to ourselves.

In order to allow God to deconstruct religion in our lives, we must be prepared to allow him to dissect our “harmless” traditions at the cellular level, and to acknowledge that we have been complicit in our own slavery—that we too have been Pharisees. Please repeat after me…

Hello, my name is _____________________, and I am a recovering Pharisee.

Welcome to the Sacred Cow Tipping Team.

The distinction between religion and relationship is are not just about new or different ways to “do church,” or learning new techniques or principles for “advancing the kingdom.”

While the role of external religious structures plays a significant role in unraveling the distinctions between religion and relationship, ultimately it is our religious attitudes and behaviors, and whether we will allow God to dismantle and dispose of them from our lives, that tells the tale. And this is not entirely unfamiliar territory. Many of us at one time or another have heard a preacher say, “It only took 24 hours for God to get the children of Israel out of Egypt—but it took him 40 years to get Egypt out of the children of Israel.” And this illustration is exactly accurate. One can walk away from institutionalized Christianity overnight, and yet continue to be a prisoner to religion in one’s heart and mind for the rest of their life.

Jesus did not come to start a new religion or even to perfect an existing one. Frankly, Jesus came to put and end to religion in favor of relationship with him and the Father. Jesus has invited us to a new life—to live in him by the power of the cross that frees us from sin, frees us from shame, and teaches us again how to trust him, so that he can shape our lives as we journey forward.

So what does religion look like? How do we define it? Where do we start?

Well first off, we don’t start with the dictionary definition of the word religion (See What Is Religion?)—That’s not the definition of religion we’re talking about. We’re talking about the definition of the word religion as it is being used in the context of our quote—religion as an antithesis of relationship.

As we continue on this journey, we will discover that “religion” has many interconnected shades of meaning. To share them all at once would be too technical and over burdensome, so I will simply add a new shade from time to time. But as a starting point, let’s begin with this.

Religion is: Attempting to use human effort (engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, ambition, etc.) to try to stand approved before God.

The redundancy is deliberate because I want to emphasize the shades of meaning. Although similar, effort is not the same as ability, or is ambition the same as initiative.

Additionally, we can also reveal some of the various shades of meaning by exchanging the phrase “stand approved of God,” with:

• Accomplish God’s work
• Gain God’s acceptance
• Earn God’s approval
• Obtain God’s affection

So now we have…

Religion is: Attempting to use human effort, engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, and/or ambition to try to stand approved before God, accomplish God’s work, gain God’s acceptance, earn God’s approval, obtain God’s affection, etc, etc.

I think you get the idea.

In short, religion is substituting human effort (engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, ambition, etc) for God’ s ability to carry out his purposes and intentions. (And as I said, I will keep adding and revealing shades of meaning to this definition as we go along.)

Yet Jesus spent almost the totality of his earthly ministry teaching his disciples how to live in relationship with him (and therefore each other) as he lived in relationship with his father. But this is in direct contrast to how they had all been raised in the Hebrew religious tradition. Under the Mosaic covenant, they were all obligated to keep certain rules—eat this, don’t eat that—dress like this, not like that—worship in this place, at this time, in this way, etc, etc.

As a matter of fact, if there could be such a thing as a perfect religion it would be the Law of Moses—it was, after all, written by God. All you need to do is keep all 613 ordinances, and you’re right with God. But therein lies the rub. Although written by God, keeping the 613 ordinances was accomplished by…

… wait for it…

… human effort.

And this of course is the primary point hammered on repeatedly throughout the New Testament. The irony is that we should already know this, but maybe it never really sunk in.

More to come…

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” [Inigo Montoya]

Introduction –

One of the most common questions that often arises early in the “religion versus relationship” discussion concerns the definition of the word religion.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines religion as:

  • The belief in a god or in a group of gods
  • The service and worship of God or the supernatural
  • An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  • Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
  • An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
  • A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

These definitions are all correct in a broad and general sense because they are the definitions most commonly used and recognized today. The irony however, is that these are the modern definitions of the word religion that developed over time, and bear only the vaguest resemblance to either the historical or etymological definitions of the word.

One of the many benefits of dead languages is that the definitions of the words in that language are no longer changing as part of a living dynamic culture. In other words, when we examine how a particular word was used when a language was alive and in common use, we know quite precisely what that word genuinely means, thereby eliminating or at least greatly reducing confusion, debates, and arguments.

Such is the case with the word religion.

We will get to the etymological definition of the English word religion in just a moment, but first some historical background.

Ancient Greek-

There are two ancient Greek words that are commonly translated religiondeisidaimonia, and threskeia. Both are used in the Bible, but only a very few times.

Deisidaimonia (Strong’s #1175) is a noun that means “fear of pagan deities.” The adjective form is deisidaimonesteros (Strong’s #1174). Both are compounds of Strong’s #1169 deilos, meaning “fear,” and #1142 daimon, which is properly translated “demon.” Hence the etymological definition of deisidaimonia is “fear of demons.” The noun form is used only once in the Acts 25:19, where it is translated superstition in the King James Version, or religion in the New American Standard Version. The adjective form is also used only once in Acts 17:22, where it is likewise translated superstitious in the KJV, and religious in the NAS. Historically the word was used to refer to the fear-based “worship” of pagan deities. Practitioners were driven by confused ideas about “God” that produced sincere but misguided doctrines and practices. Deisidaimonia was used in secular Greek literature in a positive sense by Xenophon, Cyril, and Aristotle, but in a negative sense by Theophrastus, Diodorus, and Plutarch. Whether used in a positive or negative sense, it was always a mark of heathenism. Historically, the word religion as a translation of deisidaimonia is accurate, although in modern understanding it would be better-translated superstition.

Threskeia (Strong’s #2356) is a noun that means “ritual or ceremonial acts of worship.” The adjective form is threskos (Strong’s #2357). Both are from the root throeo (Strong’s #2360) that means, “agitated, unsettled, or troubled.” It is used four times (Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18; James 1:26, 27), where it is usually translated religion in both the KJV and NAS; it is translated worship in Colossians 2:18. Threskos is used only once in James 1:26, where it is translated religious in both the KJV and the NAS. Historically, in secular Greek literature it was used to refer to the externalization of a person’s internal beliefs whether positive or negative. Threskeia therefore, refers to the external ceremonial and ritual practices that may or may not be connected to any genuine faith.

James’ use in his epistle is best understood in light of the immediate context contrasting “doing” and “hearing” (only), and the extended context of faith and works. James’ epistle focuses on his hypothesis that genuine faith will produce corresponding righteous works, but that a “declaration of faith” only without corresponding works may well be empty (disingenuous) “faith,” and, that external works without inward faith are just that—(empty) external works. James’ use of the word threskeia clearly reflects his idea that external “religious” acts are pointless unless they come from genuine faith. As such it is in keeping with the historical definition of the word threskeia. James is not calling people to religion—he is calling them to faith in Christ that will produce an external expression (threskeia).

Historically and biblically, threskeia refers primarily to external, ceremonial, and ritual practices, and only secondarily (if at all) to the inward beliefs.

In English Please-

Etymologically, the English word religion comes from the Latin religare. Religare is a compound of re, meaning “to repeat, or to return,” and ligare, that means “to tie or bind.” In a positive sense, religare can mean, “to return to restraint,” but in the negative sense means, “to return to bondage.”

Christianity Really Isn’t a Religion-

In conclusion, clearly, the vast majority of the time people use the word religion to describe Christianity they are not referring to the word desidaimonia—most likely they are totally unaware of the association—(unless of course, some skeptic is deliberately calling Christianity a superstition).

Furthermore, the definitions of threskeia and religare refer primarily to external expressions and only secondarily to internal realities, if the internal realities are even in view at all.

Therefore, although often used that way, the phrase “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship” really is not just some clever quip—it truly is not a religion because it is not about the external trappings, but the internal reality of the new creation.

The irony and tragedy however, and the pressing need, is that the contrasts between “religion” and “relationship” do not seem to be understood as well as they can or should be—this is the purpose of The End of Religion blog.

Stay tuned.

Religion Versus Relationship

“Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even the best of all religions… If the cross is the sign of anything, it’s the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all of the world’s problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing. What the cross is actually a sign of is the fact that religion can’t do a thing about the world’s problems—that it never did work and it never will.” [Robert Farrar Capon]

Have you ever heard a minister say…?

“Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship.”

Or maybe even said it yourself?

If not, well, now you have. And this blog, very simply, will be devoted to unpacking and explaining this statement. So hang tight for just a moment while I speak to those who have heard someone say this before.

For those of you who have heard someone say, “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship,” I have a question for you.

What does that mean?

In other words, if I give you, say, ten minutes to explain to someone who has not heard this statement before, what it means, what would you say? How would you explain it? What is the difference between religion and relationship, and why does it matter?

For me, in my experience, I have long since forgotten when I first heard someone say, “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship,” or how many times I have heard it said. The first time was easily 15 years ago (or maybe even 20 or more), and I’ve heard it said dozens if not hundreds of times.

But what I have not forgotten is how many times someone explained it to me—and that would be none, zero, zip, zilch, nada. Not once, did anyone ever follow up this maxim with something like…

“Since Christianity is not a religion, and is a relationship—I think it would be a good idea to take some time and really explore what this means and why it matters.”

Not once.

And frankly this is where it starts to get a little uncomfortable.

Because I was hearing this quip spoken so frequently, but explained so little, I began to wonder if those saying it actually knew the difference—so I began to ask them to explain. What happened next, had it not been for my growing suspicion, would have shocked me.

The most common response I got was a shallow answer followed quickly by changing the subject. In other words, while most people I turned to for answers had an idea what this meant, my instincts proved correct, and they didn’t really know what it meant.

And this is where it gets more than a little uncomfortable. Superficial answers, even if “essentially” accurate, were not going to be sufficient—I wanted to know the difference between religion and relationship. If this isn’t just a quip (witty remark), but is a statement of real biblical substance, it deserves (and we deserve) to have it explained simply but substantively so that we can understand it, apply it, and live it.

So I gave my sources the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they knew the answers inwardly, but were just having a hard time articulating them—a not uncommon occurrence when discussing spiritual matters. So I asked again, and maybe pushed a little harder for an answer this time.

Not surprisingly, my suspicions again proved correct and I received essentially the same answers as before, at least as far as the content of the answers was concerned. What was different however was the change in attitude. Although always polite and courteous, subtle phraseology and body language made it quite clear that my questions were making them uncomfortable, and were therefore unwanted. If I didn’t cease and desist, pretty soon “I” would be unwanted as well.

In addition, the double irony is that one of the most frequent answers I got when asked to describe the difference between religion and relationship was, “religion is form without power” (apparently a vague reference to 2 Timothy 3:5). This is a perfect example of what I mentioned previously. This answer is essentially correct, but also grossly incomplete. What these people never seemed to realize is that by not explaining further, they just described their own answer.

This of course led to significant frustration on my part. But it didn’t take very long after my initial efforts at finding an answer were met with a combination of indifference, ignorance, and antagonism, that I realized I had to find my answers somewhere else.

Fortunately, at the risk of sounding cliché, God is good. I prayed a simple prayer asking God for His help in finding the right answers, and began to look elsewhere for them. Soon I began finding sources that could actually explain the difference, or at least were several big steps further along in their understanding than I was.

If this testimony resonates with you, even a little bit, then I hope this blog can help. I do not remotely claim to have all the answers, but I also know that I have a few worth sharing, and more on the way.

This blog is for those of us who have tried religion and found it wanting—for those who are tired of religion, but have not abandoned their desire to connect with God—for those who want to understand, experience, and live the difference between religion and relationship.