Apparently, as a 21st century Christian, I’m supposed to hate “religion”. While everybody throws around the phrases related to hating religion but loving Jesus, I recently took into more careful consideration if religion is really something to be hated. By surveying Christian authors throughout the decades and centuries, I’m perplexed as to why I, as a Christian, am supposed to “hate religion”?
A lot of people have watched the YouTube video: “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” and have been very responsive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY
To be clear, I thought the video brought forth a lot of good points. And please understand I’m not bashing the video, but I do want to comment on “religion” and “loving Jesus”. For a good critique of the video, I’d recommend http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/13/does-jesus-hate-religion-kinda-sorta-not-really/
Defining “religion” is critical when discussing this topic. The context of Bethke’s video (“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”) describes false religion, or more specifically works-based rules that are required to be accepted before God. If ALL religion meant FALSE religion, then I’m with Bethke and a high majority of Christianity, I would “hate religion.” However, if I were to study the Scriptures and find out what God says about true “religion,” then I could not agree with the common phrase of “hate religion, love Jesus.” James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Hey, that doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, that sounds kind of “missional” – another common word of modern-day Christianity. To be fair, the common idea among people for what “religion” means is closer to what Bethke says. However, I’m perfectly okay with agreeing with what God has revealed to us, even if contemporary culture doesn’t agree. I define “love” differently than what is commonly taught in the world because of the Bible’s teachings, then why not do the same with the word “religion”? [see the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for an overview of the word “religion,” how it can be used in a good context and a bad context – James 1 uses “religion” is a favorable way]
- Observing Prior Thoughts on “Religion”
There are several examples of Christian writers who loved “religion”; that is, true “religion”
– A.W. Tozer in his book “The Pursuit of God” wrote, “Religion, as far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God.”
– Eleazar Mather wrote, “Precept without patterns will do little good, you must…speak by lives as well as words; you must live religion, as well as talk religion.”
– The Puritan, William Ames, wrote “To profit or benefit others is a duty belonging to all men…Love towards God cannot consist without this charity towards our neighbor…neither can any true religion.”
More could be said on the topic, but in my opinion, loving Jesus/hating religion is a catchphrase used in response to false religion – even religion that claims to be Christianity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to my knowledge, used this kind of phrase as a response to Nazi “Christianity.” I would say most people avoid the term religion because of the bad reputation that others who claim to be Christians possess. Yet, I do not think I can divorce the word “religion” from my vocabulary on such poor reasoning.
There’s a lot of false religion out there. Many people are trying to earn the favor of God or perform acts of religiosity that give a misleading appearance. But the fact of the matter is this: living a life in obedience to God appears to be, at least to my understanding, true religion. To be clearer, this is not legalism – trying to earn God’s favor – but is Christ-like obedience, driven from a passion for the Gospel and the Glory of God. Jesus cared for the outcasts [“orphans and widows” – James 1:27]; therefore, Christians would do the same if they’re living like Jesus.
Let’s break down the 2 issues: Love Jesus – Love Religion. Personally, I can say that I love Jesus, though I must relay “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). No Christian would ever say “don’t love Jesus.” How about religion? Do I “love” religion? To that, I would say that some people do indeed love appearing religious, but they do not love Jesus Christ. However, because of God’s love for me and in light of His grace, I respond to Him with worship and obedience. Of course, I’m not perfect in my “Pursuit of God” due to sin, but nonetheless that is my life. Many would relate this worship and striving for obedience to “religion” (see the Tozer quote above). So, with all precision and care of answering question 2, I would say that I don’t worship religion, but I love what God enables me to do by His grace and His work in my life. So, yes, I guess I would say I love religion, but loving God comes first.
Should Christians love ALL religion? No. Should Christians love ALL PEOPLE? Yes [even though Christ proclaims “one way” to the Father, our attitude to non-Christians shouldn’t be hatred or arrogance, but by speaking truth in love]
Should Christians love Jesus? Yes. Should Christians love TRUE religion? …Yes, but one cannot have the latter without the former. “Religion, as far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God” – A.W. Tozer.