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. Do I love Jesus and hate religion?


There is a popular statement going around which says that ‘Christianity is not a religion but a relationship’. The spin off then is that many Christians today claim that the organised church or even denominational churches by virtue of being denominational are a religion and that they the critics of the church do not need to be part of the local representation of the gathered body of believers to have a relationship with God. Some even go as far as being involved in ministries apart from the church, without any recognition for the local church as taught in Scripture, except for what they can benefit from the local church.

A while ago a young man approached me asking me to allow him time in our pulpit to promote his ministry for personal financial support. According to him God told him to start a ministry in which he was to get churches together in prayer, but seeing to he had no work, he needed the churches to fund him to tell the churches to come together in prayer. I asked him where he worshipped upon which he responded with somewhat disdain, that he does not worship in a local church because all local churches are religious and he is not religious but he has a relationship with God, so he refused to identify with any one in particular, but if he got them to pray together on a sports field or in a park or stadium somewhere then all of that will change. So in a sense then the destiny of the church was in his hands. He then asked me if I had watched the YouTube clip entitled, ‘why I hate religion but love Jesus’.


The motives of many regarding Christianity not being religious but rather a relationship is on the other hand often stated with very pure motives, but on very shaky ground. This notion has been popularised then by Jefferson Bethke with his video on YouTube dating 4 years ago entitled, why I hate religion, but love Jesus. Now, at face value this title of the clip sounds good, and much in the clip is admirable. This video has gone viral with over 31 million views. But after watching the video, I felt like posting one entitled ‘why I hate poetry but love the Bible’. Now, that is said tongue in the cheek as there is so much of this poem that is good, but so much that is misplaced. Too many immature Christians are sadly preaching the poem as if it is Bible and accepting the poem as fully authoritative, which it is not. Watch the clip below.



This sermon today is critical, as it gives me an opportunity to engage with this style of thinking that is actually having an adverse effect on the church, than what I believe the author intended. I believe his heart is at the right place, but in trying to be smart through poetry, the true essence of Christianity and the authority of Scripture got lost.


So the question that begs is: “Is Christianity a religion?”

There are many ways to define religion, but it all boils down to “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”

Now, I do hope that all Christians believe in a ‘personal God’ and not in gods, but it will still then classify Christianity as a religion. So, to hate religion or to reject religion or to claim that Christianity is not a religion is simply not true. While the motives of upholding a relationship with Christ is to be commended, the emphasis is in the wrong place. It is fine to say that we are not a religion like Islam, but we are a religion. James the brother of Jesus has an interesting take on the concept. He says in James 1:27 (ESV) 27 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.” The Greek word isthreskeia {thrace-ki'-ah}’ which means religious worship especially that which is external, that which consists of ceremonies or religious discipline.


So there is a religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, and there is religion that is a false religion that is not based on a belief in the Living God we serve. And then I believe it is important to acknowledge that there are people who claim to be Christian but who are involved in impure and defiled religion that is based on nothing but rituals, ceremonies, legalism, dead orthodoxy and no relationship.


So maybe our best approach is to rather teach people why Christianity as a religion is different from other religions, than fighting amongst ourselves in the process. For example, in the Youtube video, to but use one small example the author claims that religion says ‘do’ and Jesus says ‘done’. Again it sounds good and actually quite cool. The whole video sounds good, looks good, and feels good. But is it true? When it comes to salvation it is true, but the author does not make that distinction. So much of Christianity in any case is about ‘do’. Remember Matthew 7 where many on that day would say to Him, Lord, Lord ………….. but then He would say to them according to Matthew 7:21 (ESV) “21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” So, in a sense here, they claim to know Him as Lord, and they claim to have a relationship, but Christ is concerned that they do the will of the Father. They are ‘sayers’ and not ‘doers’. False religions claim that we ‘do’ something to earn salvation, and true religion which is based on belief and faith in Christ, says ‘done’. But on other levels, true religion also says: ‘do’ as seen in James 1:27 and now in Matthew 7:21.


The sad thing is when Christians actually accuse the institutionalized church as being religious and therefore needing to be rejected. Sure we should all be against the corrupted institutionalised religion that so much of Christianity has become. It is like we all should hate rotten egg. But on the contrary, let me state clearly, that if you are a Christian you are in a relationship with Christ based on your belief in Him, and that makes you religious. And the will of the Father is that you gather with believers in a localised body, that you submit to your leaders, and that you use your gifts in and from within the localised representation of the body. Any view other than that, makes a mockery of all that the New Testament teaches about the church.


So, let’s rather defend those premises that separates our true religion from false religion. And that difference surely lies in a relationship. Sure, all religions outside true Christianity are man centred, based on man’s works. All religions outside Christianity are built upon the concept that man can reach a higher power or state of being through his own efforts. In all religions outside Christianity, man is the aggressor and the deity is the beneficiary of man’s efforts, sacrifices, or good deeds.


But, there is a true and undefiled religion. In that regard Christianity is not like other religions, but it is a relationship that God has established with His children. God reaches out to man, God sent His Son to die for us, God calls us and births us by His Spirit, God opens our spiritual eyes so that we will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and through faith in Him which is also a gift of God, we are born again and we become the Household of God, the church of the Living God and the pillar of truth.


This grace-based relationship between God and man is the foundation of Christianity and the antithesis of false religion.

As mentioned before, men and women who claim to believe in the God of the Bible, can also be involved in dead religion. That was true of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the time of Christ. They had a high view of God, for that very reason they wanted to kill Christ, because He claimed to be God. They had a high view of the synagogue, but it was nothing but dead orthodoxy. They had a high view of the law and searched the Scriptures, thinking that in them they might find life, but refused to come to Christ who was the giver of life, and He was the one the Scriptures spoke about. They had a high view of missions as they crossed the oceans to make proselytes (Converts to Judaism), but Jesus says that they turned these people into 7 times the sons of hell that they themselves were. They were meticulous in their religion, but it was a dead religion and not a true religion. They missed the heart of true religion. (Study Matthew 23). Theirs was dead orthodoxy. Established religion was one of the staunchest opponents of Jesus during His earthly ministry.


Yes, Christianity is a religion, but it is a religion which has as its greatest command our love for God which is relational, and then our love for one another which is relational.


So, are we religious? Yes, we are. We have a religion that is based on a belief in the Living God, and our souls thirst for Him and Him alone, and we serve Him, because ours is not a dead religion, but a religion where He has the final authority over our lives.


So, it is in the end not a religion that should be about rituals, ceremonies, law, mantras, dead deeds, but it is a religion based on a relationship.


So, I love Christ, and because I believe in Him and worship Him, I am religious, but mine is a living one. It is not about religion versus a relationship, but a religion based on a relationship with the Living God. Christianity is not about signing up for a religion, but true Christianity is about being born-again into the family of God. God wants us to know Him, to draw near to Him, to pray to Him, and love Him above everything. That is not dead religion; but a living one based on a relationship.


The author in his viral poem makes the following claim regarding the church: “It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.” Does he really imply that we stay broken, and that there should be no ‘good people’ in church, because it then becomes a museum? The Word of God, calls Christians the redeemed, a people made whole, a Holy nation, a new creation, the sanctified etc. We need to remind the author that grace that forgives the sinner is also the grace that transforms the believer. Sure, the gathered church has a spiritual healing ministry that is ongoing as we all tend to get spiritually sick from time to time, but it is not a hospital. Hospitals are there to fix people, but then to get rid of them as soon as they are healed. That is so unlike the church, where we fix them and then we keep them, so that together we can proclaim the glory of God. In the end, the church (meaning its members) are salt and light and they should be reaching out to the sick and the broken in the world, and lead them to faith in Christ, and then they also become part of the healed who gather together as the body of Christ.


I love the church, and I want to state emphatically that the church of Christ is alive and well and it is through the church that God chose to make His manifold wisdom known (Ephesians 3:10). And then of course Ephesians 3:20-21: "20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”.


For a superb critical evaluation on the video “why I love Jesus and hate religion” click on the image below.


Below is a super video in response to the video mentioned in the article. It is not perfect but worth the watch as it sets the counterbalance.
Soli Deo Gloria
Logos Community Church - 10 October 2021