This book is a study about the phenomena we call religion. It is a study in contrast, for throughout this study we will be contrasting religion in its many forms with the revelation of God we see in Christ and His teachings. For some, this will be confusing and even unsettling because of the many presuppositions people may hold. Some Christians have never looked at their religion in contrast to Christ. They have taken it for granted that the revelation of God in Christ and the Christian religion were one and the same. For those who have made that assumption, I hope this book will serve as a catalyst to further study and reflection.
It is also my hope that this essay will be read widely by the various sects of Christendom who have taken their religion so seriously that they are judging one another as unworthy of the kingdom. In reading this, I hope that one will come to realize that religion must decrease if Christ is to increase. It is my prayer that these sects will come to see religion is the middle wall of hostility that keeps believers in Christ divided and in seeing this, they will begin to discern the difference between religion and faith in Christ.
For many, the hardest thing to do will be to draw a clear distinction between faith in Christ and religion. The line between faith and religion is often ambiguous. However, I believe with
honest reflection, the distinction will be seen by those willing to face the consequence of knowing the difference. Some will reject the difference because they sense the anxiety that comes from trying to live without religion. It is much easier to walk by religion than revelation. Religion has the tendency of taking all ambiguity and uncertainty out of life, and even out of God. Living without the mediation of religion is to live in a state of constant anxiety and uncertainty. Therefore, needless to say, a life without religion has the propensity to help one to trust more in God.
The difference between faith and religion has always been noted by some of the best thinkers in and outside of Christianity. Karl Barth, speaking about the Christian religion said, “This religion, too, stands under the judgment that religion is unbelief…This judgment means that all this Christianity of ours, and all the details of it are not as much what they ought to be and pretend to be a work of faith, and therefore of obedience to the divine revelation [Jesus]. What we have here is in its own way—a different way from that of other religions, but no less seriously-unbelief, i.e. opposition to the divine revelation, and therefore active idolatry and self-righteousness.” Church Dogmatics (1.2 page 327)
The renowned atheist Nietzsche, in speaking about modern Christianity, said,
“One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown up have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as “Christian church,” “Christian faith” and “Christian life” label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian. The entire Christian teaching as to what shall be believed, the entire Christian “truth,” is idle falsehood and deception: and precisely the opposite of what inspired the Christian movement in the beginning.
Precisely that which is Christian in the ecclesiastical sense is anti-Christian in essence: things and people instead of symbols; history instead of eternal facts; forms, rites, dogmas instead of a way of life. Utter indifference to dogmas, cults, priests, church, and theology is Christian.” The Will to Power (page 98)
We may not be able to understand everything that Nietzsche is inferring, but we can see that he is clearly making a distinction between Christianity and the revelation of God in Christ.
Next, let us look at what Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian philosopher has to say about modern Christianity, which he refers to as Christendom,
“Christendom is an effort of the human race to go back to walking on all fours, to get rid of Christianity, to do it knavishly under the pretext that this is Christianity, claiming that it is Christianity perfected. The Christianity of
Christendom takes away from Christianity the offense, the paradox, etc., and instead of that introduces probability, the plainly comprehensible. That is, it transforms Christianity into something entirely different from what it is in the New Testament, yea, into exactly the opposite; and this is the Christianity of Christendom, of us men. The Instant (5,2).
A modern day disciple of Kierkegaard, Jacques Ellul, adds these provocative thoughts:“How has it come about that the development of Christianity and the church has given birth to a society, a civilization, a culture that are completely opposite to what we read in the Bible, to what is indisputably the text of the law, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul? I say advisedly “completely opposite.” There is not just contradiction on one point but on all points. On the one hand, Christianity has been accused of a whole list of faults, crimes, and deceptions that are nowhere to be found in the original text and inspiration. On the other hand, revelation has been progressively modeled and reinterpreted according to the practice of Christianity and the church. Critics have been unwilling to consider anything but this practice, this concrete reality, absolutely refusing to refer to the truth of what is said. There is not just deviation but radical and essential contradiction, or real subversion.” The Subversion of Christianity (page 1)
“Gandhi could discern the tension between Jesus and Christianity more clearly than Christians. On one occasion a missionary inquired, ‘Mr. Gandhi, what is the greatest enemy of Christ in India today?’ Without a moment’s hesitation Gandhi gave the answer, ‘Christianity!’” Verdict (1987 essay 31)
With such a great cloud of witnesses who seem to be saying that the faith of Christ is something other than modern Christianity, it would seem wise for us to at least give this some consideration and put our own faith to the acid test of truth. In writing on the subject of religion, there is a problem with the term itself. “Any discussion of religion in its plurality of forms is inevitably beset by problems of terminology… Accordingly we have to improvise, sometimes using words in stretched senses to cover two or more related ideas-and thereby risking the wrath of those who can see the semantic stretching but not the communicational need that it serves.” John Hick, “An Interpretation of Religion” (page 9). It would be impossible to give the reader a definition of how we will use the term religion in this study. The study itself defines the term for it is a study in contrast.
It is my belief that this intensive study is of an utmost importance for the Christian movement. In the West, our world views are changing at a rapid pace, and traditional institutions that support the established world views are being questioned and put to the test. Much of traditional Christianity and its institutions, when weighed in the balance, will be found wanting. For this we should praise God, for they never truly reflected the revelation of God in Christ.
The only regret is that it is not Christians who can take the credit for their demise. But Christians can look on this time as an opportunity to share with people the revelation of Christ. This is the time to free the living Christ from the wrappings of worn out old religious forms and traditions. It is the time to turn from our lifeless creeds and theology to the living Christ. It is time to hold out to the world the true and living revelation of God. However, this will be impossible unless we can make a clear distinction between revelation and the worn out forms of religion. We hope that this study will help in making this needed distinction.
To be Continued
Lyle Duell Lebanon, Maine lyleduell.me firstname.lastname@example.org