Good Religion, Bad Religion

“We often say that we mustn’t confuse being a Christian with being religious, but it’s impossible to be a Christian without being religious.  God uses religion – especially preaching, worship, the sacraments, prayer – to communicate himself to us.”
(Christianity Today, “Good Religion, Bad Religion”; August 2011)

In an article that discussed a study from Oxford that demonstrated that humanity is “incurably religious”, Christianity Today began to discuss what constitutes “good religion” and what makes up “bad religion”.

When discussing “bad religion”, CT perceptively states, “In short, religion is our valiant attempt to get right with god while ignoring the fact that he has gotten right with us: that God was reconcling the world to himself in Christ.  To continue to work for our justification instead of accepting our justification is the essence of religion” (p. 63).

Rather than simply attaching a negative connotation to the word “religion”, the author gives a balancing word: “But of course, worship has another dimension. To worship, to pray, to teach, to build churches, to feed the hungry – all of these are religious acts.  We often say that we mustn’t confuse being a Christian with being religious, but it’s impossible to be a Christian without being religious.  God uses religion – especially preaching, worship, the sacraments, prayer – to communicate himself to us.  So we have to “commit religion” in order to be Christians.”

Given the idea that there is a need for Christians to ‘commit religion”, the good religion of biblical service and worship, as well as the reality of “bad religion”, a religion based on trying to justify ourselves, CT gives a good summary: “Sometimes when we commit religion, we will be trying to justify ourselves – and for that we need forgiveness.  Sometimes we will be rightly using the means of grace given by God.”

If the final paragraph ended there, it would have been fabulous.  Unfortunately, the concluding remarks were, “In either case, we should…hope that someday…God will abolish [religion].  For someday, we will not need rituals or preachings or sacraments to know and be known by him.  Someday (Rev. 21), God will be in our midst.”  While it is true that God and man will live together in complete harmony in eternity future without the need of religious rituals to know him in experience, Revelation 22:3 also talks of how we will be worshiping (“serving” in Gk) God throughout eternity.  In other words, even though we will know and be known by him, we will still be engaged in some form of “religious rituals”.  Eternity will not be passive, but active in our worship and enjoyment of the Lord.

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