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The Kind of Religion We Ought to Lose

In this skeptical age in which we all live; a common narrative has gained footing among secular culture:  we need to lose religion in its entirety.  Advocates of this view believe reason and science provide the way forward towards a more flourishing society. However, author Mark Clark suggests that proponents of dumping religion altogether ought to “think again” and reconsider the premise that all religion is toxic to culture.  I’m not going to reiterate his points.  You can read his thought-provoking article for yourself here.

As a pastor, many Christians among my circle might share the impulse with the irreligious to reject religion altogether. “Yes, we need to lose religion because religion is about earning favor with God and Christianity is about God reaching down to man in the person of Jesus.” I certainly affirm that we cannot earn acceptance with God on the basis of our record.  We can only be accepted on the basis of Jesus’ perfect record which we receive by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). We can’t work our way to God via religious practice; but does this mean we should always reject the term, religion?  Absolutely not!

What if neither the secular or common Christian impressions of religion are entirely accurate? What if what the world really needs to lose isn’t all religion but instead, lose false and superficial religion? Jesus put Himself forward as the antithesis to false religion by proclaiming Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that there was no other way to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). Jesus also reserved his harshest criticism for the religious leaders of his day.  He accused them of appearing righteous outwardly to others, while inwardly they were full of decay (Matthew 23:27-28). By doing so Jesus wasn’t denouncing religion entirely; He was criticizing a superficial and hypocritical expression of religion.

Jesus’ half-brother, James, upheld a “pure and undefiled religion” that looks after orphans and widows in their distress and keeps oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).  This isn’t the sort of religion we want to lose.  It’s the sort of religion we want to diligently keep because it pleases God and that sort of religion just may cause the skeptic to “think again” about dismissing religion altogether. As Christians, let’s not be too quick to dismiss the religion connotation altogether, too. By denouncing religion we’re also blithely undercutting the belly of our very faith.  After all, Christianity is a religion in the sense that it has beliefs, commandments, rites, etc.

In our push back against religion, we don’t need to lose it all, just the false and hypocritical religion. Our society doesn’t need less religion; it needs more of the real thing. Let’s show the world a vibrant expression of true religion that honors God and helps people take steps towards following Jesus.

Pastor Tim Zuck
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