A recent article in the local paper details an interview with several members of a pagan religion, Wicca. After the celebration of the Spring Solstice they were asked about the nature of their beliefs and faith. "Tell me if this is true," said the interviewer. "You pick what you like from other religions and throw the pieces together. You might be absolutely wrong, and you know that. But the religion seems true to you, so you believe it is. Is that right?" To the amazement of the article's author, "the pagans were delighted. They cheered and laughed and yelled: "That's right." (Christine Wicker, "Pagans' Progress. The Dallas Morning News, page 10).
A pagan is even quoted as saying "I don't care if your god is 5,000 years old or something you just made up last Tuesday, if it gets you through the dark of the night, if it's there for you when you celebrate, if it's there when you need comfort from the death of your mother or your best friend, then it's a true religion, whatever it is. My religion is there for me just as much as a Baptist's is there for him" (Pg. 3G).
While being somewhat concerned by a handful of people who wish to wear laurels and celebrate spring, I must confess great distress that their description of religion accurately reflects most Americans' assessment of it. Is religion whatever we make of it? If it seems true to me does that make it true, even if I just made it up last Tuesday? What is religion anyway?
The apostle Paul sheds light on this matter in his sermon in Athens. Addressing a crowd that was very religious, with more idols and temples than he could count, Paul did not tell his audience all was well. Acts 17 is completely without any statement of Paul that "You are making it up as you go along, and that is great" or "If it seems good and true to you, then it must be." Instead, Paul challenges his listeners to realize what religion is actually all about: "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26,27). Religion is the seeking of the Lord that we might find Him. That is what religion is concerned with, and that is the driving force behind it. Religion is, in simple terms, the search for God that we might understand Him, His purpose for us, and how we can serve Him.
Do we understand the vast implications of this definition? It means, for example, that religion is not primarily concerned with improving conditions on this planet. Many have decided that this is organized religion's role in society. The church should offer homeless shelter, soup kitchens, job training and every other kind of social program to improve humanity's lot here. Yet this is a mancentered focus in religion, instead of being God centered. Is it a coincidence that the social gospel movement was born in Europe's seminaries, where faith in God and the Bible had long been destroyed? Since religion's primary object (God) had been declared dead and nonexistent, a new emphasis had to be found: the problems of people. Read Paul's statement again. He does not say that we are here to create our own utopia or paradise. Our job is to seek God and find Him, then teach His Gospel to others. This is true religion.
Further, religion was not designed to provide a coping mechanism for life's unpleasant realities. In truth, this may be what most people think religion is for. As the lady quoted above says: "If it gets you through the dark of the night...if it's there when you need comfort from the death of your mother or your best friend, then it's a true religion." Many people who are not religious in any form (right or wrong) suddenly want to have all sorts of religious ceremonies, services and preachers around them when they are near death, or a loved one has died. This is also true whenever there is a tragedy or terrible illness. People just seem to sense that religion ought to have something to do with life after death, or prayer and petition when in real trouble. Yet again, this is not the purpose of religion. Religion is about finding God. Once we find Him then we may discover that He offers comfort in time of trouble, or has promised to respond to our prayer. But that would simply be a "by product" of finding that God is good and benevolent in His care fro the universe and creation. Like a small child who is only concerned with the candy that his grandfather offers, with no concern at all for the grandfather, all too often we want to grab the "goodies" that God offers without showing any concern for Him. Religion is the showing of that concern, and should not be confused with the benefits that religion might offer.
Religion si not about the business of making you into a happier, more fulfilled person. Again, so many today want to substitute their own agenda for the real purpose of religion. There is so much talk about "spirituality" in our media that many have decided they need to address the spiritual dimension of their lives. In a characteristically human way, they selfishly look to see what they want, rather than seeking God to see what He desires. This is not religion. This is nothing more than selfishness wearning the mantle of religion to conceal its real intent. It will not work. Gratifying self is different from seeking and serving God. It does not matter if I gratify myself in a cathedral or church building, and everyone calls it "Christianity." Doing for me, finding what I want, and serving myself sinot the goal of religion. Finding and obeying God is all that matters.
Finally, religion is not something that we are at liberty to "make up" or do as we please. Religion is the search for God. As such, it is a quantifiable, objective process and pursuit. Every kind of evidence ought to be marshaled to first determine if God even exists. Then we should examine all evidence that He has communicated with humankind. Is God there? Has He spoken to us? What does He want? For what purpose did He make and create us? These are the primary questions that religion is concerned with. Understanding this it becomes apparent that the idea of "making up" a god is ridiculous. The god that I conjure up will not be the true God that real religion is involved in finding and serving. Instead, I will have deluded myself with my own little concept of God and actually deprive myself of finding the true God! How sad (and crazy) it would be if someone who was searching for Mount Everest decided to make a little mountain out of modeling clay and proclaim that this was, for him, Mount Everest. No, it is not, because Mount Everest is an objective, fixed item existing in this universe. Likewise, those who fashion their own gods have failed to reckon with God's objective, fixied nature and that He exists in this universe just as surely as Mount Everest does. Any search that ends before it finds Him is a search that has been called off too soon! In truth, the person who bows down to their own creation of god (made up last Tuesday) is simply not as well off as the person who is serving the real God who can answer prayer and save our souls. A made up god is a cheap and poor substitute for the real God who governs our world.
What we are saying then, is that God is not an amorphous, do-with-Him-as-you-will abstract notion that no one can find or really understand. God is a fact. He is a Being with a nature, the ability to speak with His creation, and actual purposes and design for each of us. Our feelings and what we want to believe have exactly nothing to do with His reality. Let us search for Him, and be content with no other god or substitute religion. The Bible claims to be from the God who created us all (2 Tim. 3; 16,17; Gen. 1:1ff). I would strongly suggest that all turn their attention to this Book of Books and begin their search for God right there. Then and only then can we find true religion.
By Mark Roberts, via. The Gospel Power, Vol. 18, No. 5, June, 2011.
Return to the General Articles page
Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /