From Jesus to Religion (Introduction)

                                                                  Introduction
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 lyleduel@gmail.com

American Religion, Did Christianity Fall Out of Heaven into America?

American Religion

Did Christianity Fall Out of Heaven into America?

Much of American Christianity is totally disconnected from its roots in a very similar way that many Americans are ignorant of their roots. It seems that Americans in general are illiterate of history. In politics, it means that Americans can easily be moved away from their founding principles without even knowing it. In American Christianity, the same thing is true. Because of their ignorance of church history, American Christians have and are moving away from the historical faith very easily. Many of them think that their faith originated with Jesus and was just transferred to America. In this, they jump over 2000 years of history, which has shaped their faith. Now hear the shocker. Many of their beliefs did originate in America and reflect its values more than the values of Jesus and His apostles. There are a number of American religions that would find it hard to trace many of their beliefs or practices to the church in Jerusalem. However, how would you know this if you know nothing about church history?

The church that Jesus built did not have its beginning in America. Its beginnings were in Jerusalem where its leader laid the foundation by appointing twelve men to take His faith to the world. These men were called apostles and took the words of their Master to the world. They planted churches everywhere and taught them everything Jesus told them to teach His disciples.[i] The apostles of Jesus gave the early church the whole counsel of God.[ii] In this, the apostles were aided by the Holy Spirit who helped them to remember the teachings of Jesus.[iii]

Through this process of revelation, the Christian faith was delivered to the first-century church in its completeness. It was delivered once and for all to the church.[iv] The apostle Peter told the first-century church that they had everything they needed to know for life and godliness.[v] The apostle Paul said he preached the whole counsel of God to the church.

We can gather from this that anything that is taught which is newer than the New Testament Scriptures could not possibly be a part of the faith which was once for all delivered to the church by Jesus and His apostles. This should raise questions about any teaching that is newer than the New Testament teachings. If it did not come from Jesus or the apostles, where did it originate? The obvious answer is that it had to come from some other source. It was predicted by the apostle Paul that men would arise in the church and lead gullible and ignorant disciples away from the true teachings of the apostles, for the purpose of making themselves important in the eyes of men.[vi] Moreover, he talks of a time when a large number of Christians would gather around these false teachers. These false teachers would be men who would preach what people wanted to hear to make them feel good, and their preaching would amount to nothing but myths.[vii]

Much of Western religion can trace its roots back to men other than Jesus Christ and His apostles. Even the Roman Church is an assortment of innovators, e.g., Augustine. At best, you could say that Catholicism was made up of three roots, which grew up together to form one institution, those three roots being Judaism, paganism, and Christianity. It takes a keen mind and a discerning spirit to be able to filter out of the Roman system that which is truly Christian. Of course, Catholicism is one of the systems that justifies itself by claiming that it is Christianity perfected. Its main justification for this progressive belief is its doctrine of the infallibility of the church and a continuous revelation that perfects it. The same doctrine is used by a number of Protestant groups to justify their innovations to the faith. Of course, if you know the Bible and early church history there is no authority for the doctrine of the perfecting of the church or for its infallibility.

Now the question arises, does modern Christianity have to model the church we read about in the Bible? Some might raise the question as to whether or not there is a model of the church in the Scripture. My reply to this question is that it depends on your concept of the church. If you think of the church as an institution, the answer is no. However, if you think of the church as a living organism, the answer is yes. The church in the Bible is like a family that is alive to each of its members and is especially alive to its Head, who is Jesus Christ. It looks to its Head in all things and from its Head to receive all things. Its purpose is to glorify God through its Head, Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Spirit, it points all men to Christ and only to Christ. There is no room in the church for men who are trying to make themselves central by exalting themselves or their teaching. The chief characteristic of the church in Scripture is that it is Christ-centered. And close behind that is its members love for one another.

You enter this family like you enter your physical family by being born into it. You are born into it by a new birth, which is made up of two elements: one of the outward signs of baptism in water and the other the receiving of the Spirit of Christ.[viii] Baptism is an immersion into Christ and identification with Christ and His death and resurrection.[ix] One of the unique things about this family is that it gathers weekly to celebrate the great feast, which will take place when its resurrected Lord returns from heaven. The feast proclaims His death, resurrection, and His second coming. All true believers love to be there for this feast because Jesus promises to meet them when they come together to celebrate the supper. The tradition of coming together on the first day of the week goes all the way back to the apostles[x] and is confirmed by the early Christian fathers.[xi] The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two of the fundamental marks of the New Testament church.

Like any family, there are family characteristics that all of its members share. In the family of Christ these are very plain. Each member of His family looks a lot like Jesus.  Now, I am not talking about physical appearance, but the character of a person. One other rule of the family is the older you are in the faith, the more you should look like Christ.  Still another rule of the family is that it is committed to knowing the apostles’ doctrine, which is the doctrine of Christ.[xii]

I have been told that every essay should end with a call to action. Well, my call to action is for Christians to learn more about their historical roots. The church has 2000 years of history. That history starts in the New Testament and continues up to the present day. It is filled with glorious, exciting things along with many shameful things that have been done by those claiming to be Christians. However, history is history, and we are to study and learn from it. It has been said that the one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. Now, there may be some truth in that for many.  However, I believe that the wise do learn from history and that history can make one wise.

For those interested in a further study of the New Testament Church, start with the New Testament book of Acts which is a short history of the first-century church. Then find a short history of the church on Amazon. If you are interested in checking a particular doctrine as to whether or not it was taught by the early church (100 A.D.-300 A.D.) you can read the early Christian fathers. However, reading all of the source documents of the early fathers is a horrendous job that few are up to. I would recommend that you try some abbreviated versions, which trace various doctrines that have been taught in the history of the church. There is David W. Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Belief  that references 700 topics discussed by the early church fathers. Another is Early Christians Speak  by Everett Ferguson. For those looking for a scholarly and in-depth study I would suggest, The Church  by Hans Kung. Kung is a Catholic theologian, which makes his book most impressive, since he sticks extremely close to what the New Testament teaches about the church in spite of the fact that it contradicts his own church.

Enjoy your study.  LD

 

[i] Matt 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[ii] Acts 20:27-28

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. NKJV

[iii] John 16:12-15

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” NIV

[iv] Jude 3

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. NIV

[v] 2 Peter 1:3

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. NIV

[vi] Acts 20:29-31

29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

NIV

[vii] 2 Tim 4:3-4

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.NIV

[viii] John 3:3-5

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” NIV

[ix] Rom 6:1-4

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. NIV

[x] Acts 20:7-8

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. NIV

[xi] The reference in the early Fathers to Christian coming together on Sunday or what they called the eighth day are so numerous that I do not have room to quote them. You can find them in the book, Early Christians Speak by Everett Ferguson.

[xii] Acts 2:42-43

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

NIV

Why I Need the Church and the Bible

Why I Need the Church and the Bible

Some people wonder why they would ever need the Church or the Bible.  Why not just go for a walk on the beach or climb a mountain and meet and worship God there?  Can you not experience God as well or perhaps even better in nature than at Church or from reading the Bible?  I do not doubt for a minute that you can experience God in nature, for I have done that myself.  Nature has a way of opening the human spirit to the Divine.  Our experience of God while in nature often seems more real than anything that we may experience at Church or from reading the Bible.

I have found that when I wish to travel to a place, I want to know everything about it. I will read everything I can about it, and I will try to find people who have been there and are able to answer questions about that particular place.  I find myself filled with questions.  What is the best way to get there?  What should I see?  What should I avoid?  What should I wear for clothing?  You see, I do not want to be surprised.  I want the best trip possible.  I especially do this when I go for a hike in the mountains, for I do not want to get lost.  The harder the climb, the more research I do.

Going to church and reading the Bible are like the research one would do for a journey unto a very high and often dangerous mountain.  For me, it seems only natural to talk to as many people as possible who are on or have made the journey.  I once went to Africa and climbed Kilimanjaro.  I called everyone I could find who had made the climb, even complete strangers, and asked them about the mountain and the trails.  I wanted to be ready for anything.  I wanted to make it to the top.  When Christians gather at church, it is mainly to talk about the journey and to study the map.  They consider their map to be the Bible.  The strong and knowledgeable ones among them who have been on the journey a long time do not attend church solely for themselves, but also to help the young and weaker ones among them.  They want everyone to get to the top.  They share with them the trails to avoid and the ones to take.  They make sure that the young ones know the map and the right and best guides who can help them on their journey.

Let me say something about the map.  It is true that sometimes people get the map mixed up with the real territory.  When that happens, people often spend more time reading the map than moving on in their journey.  I know some people who are always reading and talking about the map, but never seem to get too far along on the journey.  They seem to have confused reading the map with the journey.  This is truly sad because it confuses people about the reasons for the journey and the purpose of the map.  Of course, on the other side of the coin are those who feel they can do okay without a map, compass, or a guide.  These folks often end up in a briar patch lost, cold, and hungry.  They often spend a great deal of time backtracking and wandering around aimlessly.  However, some of the stronger ones seem to get along fairly well without the map, but when asked where they are, they often do not seem to know.  The little ones and weak ones without the map and compass often just die or quit.

Because the journey is often long and hard, the map at times can be quite hard to read.  It does have a lot of details about the journey.  It is there to help and is very important.  However, it can be confusing to someone not too skilled in map reading.  When the journey gets difficult, it is then a person needs to remember the training in which the guides taught him about how to use the map.  It is even better if travelers have cell phone, so they can call a guide for further directions on how to make best use of the map.  We always need to remember that the map is a piece of paper that only reflects the territory.  It is not the territory.  We also need to remember that the map was made by a lot of people who have made the journey and left us their story about it.  When we read the map, remember that those who wrote it were all on the same journey, but not all used the same trail and all did not make it to their destination.  Like in nature, some trails are better than others and a bad choice can cause you to lose your way or even perish.  Yes, some died on the journey without making it to top or back home.  This is another reason why we should study the map; we want to know that we are on the very best trail.

If you are not a member of a church, let me suggest that you find someone, maybe some of your friends who are on the journey and ask them about the church they attend.  Ask them if they study the map and if its members are excited about the journey.  If they say yes to both questions, you might want to check it out.  You can also begin the journey by getting a Bible and start becoming familiar with what it teaches.  You do not need to understand everything—just start reading it.  A good place to start is the Gospel of John.  If you do not know of anyone who is able to help you, you can write me, and I will be glad to help.  I often have map reading courses at my office or even in people’s homes.  If you would like to attend one, let me know.  You can reach me at lyleduell@gmail.com