Friday, January 13, 2012

Christianity and Religion

First, a contrast:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 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. (James 1:26-27)







Is Christianity a religion? The viral video by Jeff Bethke with its attack against "religion" with its (*surprise surprise* NOT!) endorsement by Driscoll's The Resurgence has been making the rounds, and its answer is no. Pitting "religion" against "Jesus," Bethke denounced the outward forms of religiosity, attacking those who partake of the forms of religiosity while not being actually regenerate.

There is of course a certain truth in Bethke's attack against mere nominalism and hypocrisy. Christians should certainly be against hypocrisy. It is certainly not enough to partake of forms without truly following Jesus. The issue however lies with the false dichotomies made by Bethke. Are Christians supposed to choose between forms and piety? Are forms antithetical to true piety, such that those who are truly spiritual do not practice the forms of piety of the church?

The forms of piety of the Church (i.e. religion) that Bethke is attacking are what makes the Church an institution. These include the offices of the church (pastors, elders, deacons), the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) and most definitely church membership and church oversight over its members. They include things like weekly observance of the Lord's Day, tithing/ offering and corporate prayer and worship. Thus, Bethke, in positing the dichotomies he did, is denigrating the Church as an institution. As one reviewer puts it,

See the problem is, Bethke doesn’t mean religion either, but he’s rehearsing a popular evangelical trope, that the freedom that Christians find through Jesus is freedom from structure, organization, and authority. ...

Are there possible hypocrites within the church that merely observe the forms? Highly possible. But does that mean that true spirituality means that one throw the forms away altogether? Maybe they should just join an Emergent "church" and express their own "true spirituality"? Or maybe they should dispense with Church altogether and come together to do works of "social justice," as Bethke seems to alludes to in the beginning?

The fact of the matter is that Bethke is just plain wrong. Christianity is indeed a religion. Indeed, it is more than a religion, but not less than one. One wonders how Bethke can so blatantly contradict Jas. 1:27, but we digress. Christianity is about truly following Jesus, but doing so also though the forms. To disregard the forms altogether is basically mysticism (e.g. Joachim of Fiore), and that is not biblical Christianity.


Anonymous said...

Such people do not consider that God instituted those forms (baptism, Lord's Supper, church governance, etc) for our spiritual benefit, but they should.

Daniel C said...


indeed. That is the problem

Anonymous said...

These kind of attitudes always seem to me to be of the theological "don't trust anyone over 30" kinds, where the pundits are unaware they are creating the essence of what they abhor, tradition.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Odd, but this kid is just a Pharisee himself. He's bragging about how he now keeps the law because he doesn't look at porn anymore. Big deal! This video is itself preaching religion while pretending NOT to preach religion. He's one of the hypocrites he's complaining about. Inventing another "religion" is still "religion"!

Fact is, grace alone makes anyone in the right with God. The law can never make anyone worthy of heaven. All the law can do is show you to be the hypocrite you are. Odd but this kid only convicts himself by his own words. (Psalm 143:2; 1 John 1:8-9; Jeremiah 10:24; Daniel 9:9-10)

Yah, cool rappin'. But by preaching on the street corner (the internet) he shows himself to be the whited sepulchre he's protesting against. We are the people Jesus warned us about!

Charlie J. Ray said...

I should add that Pentecostals and Charismatics have been using the tired old cliches against "religion" for decades. How is this "new"?

Daniel C said...



Daniel C said...


yes, it is a Pharisaism of the reverse kind... "boasting in his weaknesses," or rather in his victory over his weakness. That is indeed another disturbing fact as I see pride instead of humility.

And indeed it is not new. What is new is that people are talking about it and sharing it via FB and other social media.

Linda said...

We uphold the law-(Rom.3:31)

There are many, many people who love Jesus but not as their Lord and Savior. Thus when they die they will part with Jesus at the grave.

Next these people are going to attack the word of God~~

Charlie J. Ray said...

Maybe they love a Jesus of their own imagination rather than the Jesus of Scripture? (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-5).

I agree with Daniel's article. Replacing the forms with piety is simply appealing to subjectivism and mysticism. The trouble is that enlightened individuals still sin. The most sanctified Christian retains the sinful corruption of a tainted human nature, although it is more and more subdued until it is extinguished in physical death. In fact, this is why justification must be the basis for salvation. Without unconditional election and justification by faith alone there can be no assurance of salvation whatsoever. Why? Because God does not lower His standards for the moral law so that you can appear to keep them before men. His standards are absolute perfection (Matthew 5:48). Grace is not a license to sin or an excuse for slothfulness in the Christian life. But we should never forget that it is faith, not the law, that justifies.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Romans 3:29-31 NKJ)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17 NKJ)

Notice that salvation is by faith and through faith. Faith does not make the law void. It does, however, put the law in its proper place. The three uses of the moral law are still relevant and the first use or pedagogical use does not go away after conversion. It serves to continually drive us to Christ realizing that we are unable to perfectly keep the Law.

Linda said...

Exactly Charlie J. Ray, and isn't Judas a good example of someone who "loved Jesus" and even was close and spent time with and around him and yet, he wasn't saved.

sooner or later their unrestrained unconverted hearts full evil desires will trap them-Proverbs 11:6 "The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires."

Denise said...

People who claim Christianity is a relationship not a religion are often the most unloving toward those striving to be biblical in doctrine and walk. I believe this TRADITION of "relationship vs. religion" is man-centered and comes from an anti-Lordship view. Consider this: if Christianity is merely a relationship, then there's no "rules" to live by, no expectations on God's part...its just based on one's feelings and "love". Do whatever you feel is the right thing to do and don't boss me around, don't tell others what the truth is, etc. God IS Love, absolutely, but He is HOLY HOLY HOLY and He says that if we love HIM we will obey Him (must be through the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, by His grace). Agape love is constrained by Truth (1Cor. 13:6).

Anonymous said...

DeYoung makes a good point:
“The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians – a passionate faith, a focus on Jesus, a love for grace, and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous …. The weaknesses here can be the weaknesses of my generation (and younger) – not enough talk of repentance and sanctification, a tendency to underestimate the importance of obedience in the Christian life, a one-dimensional view of grace, little awareness that our heavenly Father might ever discipline his children or be grieved by their continued transgression…”
However, I would recommend “The End of Religion” by Bruxy Cavey for more clarity on the reality of Jesus fulfilling religion, as it is understood by the contemporary secular person. I would also recommend “Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship” by Alan Hirsch & Debra Hirsch.
The truly reformed church is always reforming, and many believe that we are on the verge of re-reformation with a less domesticated Christianity and a more Jesus-like lifestyle. The present day church is not well, broadly speaking, and some radical re-thinking and re-imagining what it means to be a Christ follower is happening. Let’s embrace it!

Charlie J. Ray said...

Denise, I disagree. As Mike Horton has said more law does not change anyone. The Gospel promises motivate the believer to obey out of gratitude, not obligation. Of course the 3rd use of the law does tell the Christian how to live. But the motive is to please God out of gratitude for His grace and mercy, not because we fear going to hell.

These charismatics are addicted to law as much as any other modern "religion" does. What we need is for more people to understand the law/gospel distinction, not more law keeping. Those who think the law saves merely lowball God's demands.

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:20 NKJ)

Daniel C said...


indeed, it is in the end mysticism. It has been my experience that those who succumb to this are (ironically) the most resistance to biblical truth.

Daniel C said...


it is not so much an anti-lordship view but rather a "Jesus is in my heart and that's all I need" view. It is a view that views "spiritual guidance" as primary and the forms of the Christian faith (i.e. the Bible, means of grace etc) as secondary.

Daniel C said...


yes, I have read DeYoung's review. I however don't think DeYoung has gotten to the heart of the matter. I agree with the positives he has highlighted, but it is my opinion that he did not touch on the core of the matter, which is the denigrations of forms in favor of spiritual experiences and convictions, as if the former is not integral for the latter.

Matt said...

This is such a silly argument. I think Paul warned us about this.

The kid is making a simple contrast between self-righteousness/hypocrisy/legalism and the Gospel. Substitute one of those words for the word "religion" if you like if you didn't get the picture.

In this day and age, the word "religion" means just that to many people - especially because of people like us Calvinist internet theologians.

Anyone with an iota of common sense and an ear for context can hear and see the contrast.

I'm completely in the Reformed camp, but this has got to be the stupidest attack on a video that I've ever seen.

2 Tim. 2:14 - "Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers."

You can fight to the death over the English translation of the word, "thr─ôskos" and "thr─ôskeia" - which mean "God-fearing" and "external forms of worship" respectively. If there is one major weakness of the Reformed camp, this is it.

Matt said...

And much of what I have read on blogs recently like this one and the Gospel Coalition, DeYoung, etc. make me want to scream - "I hate religion. As a matter fact, I resent it."

Charlie J. Ray - instead of calling the kid a Pharisee instead of being gracious, you should actually listen to what he said. If you're going to critique him, at least be fair in your representation. He admits that he was pretending to be a Christian, but in reality he was not saved. He was in sin, which included pornography (which statistically speaking probably every one of us has seen). But then he was saved by amazing grace.

Daniel C said...


please address the issue of forms. Do you agree with Bethke that observance of forms of religion is considered imferior to emotional expressions of piety?

Charlie J. Ray said...

@Matt, could you please show how substituting one "form" for another "form", namely contemporary worship and all that baggage, is not another "religion" without the term "religion"? Simply substituting for the word "religion" does not remove the fact that Mark Driscoll still has a "religion", albeit a religion with different forms from traditional forms.

As I said before, this is just another way of preaching "law". The minute you say "do this" or "don't do that" you have made a statement of command, which by definition is a "law". So the guy in the video is playing fast and loose with terms but is doing the same thing he's allegedly protesting against. Legalism by definition is making laws that go beyond Scripture. Saying that religion is against God's law while creating a "new" religion that is not really new at all is a form of "legalism".

This is a favorite tactic of Pentecostals and Charismatics. They love to attack "religion", by which they mean the traditional liturgies and traditional sacred music, and traditional interpretations and doctrines of Scripture (confessions of faith). The irony here is that Pentecostals and Charismatics have their own liturgies, style of music, teachings/doctrines/confessions of faith, etc. So when they attack traditional forms of expression in religion as "religion" and then substitute another "form" of religion, they are being legalistic and hypocritical.

What is ironic is that contemporary music has been around so long now that it too is now a "tradition" and has become the preferred "religious" form for megachurches. What should matter most is the teaching which takes place through the prayers, the hymns, the songs, and the liturgy or form of worship.

I prefer sacred music and hymns because they have doctrinal content that teaches Scriptural truths. Contemporary music is shallow and conducive to hypnotic states, repeating simple lines over and over with no depth of teaching.

Pharisees love their traditions. That's true of Pentecostals and Charismatics as much as any other "tradition".

I was a Pentecostal/Charismatic for 10 years so I'm familiar with these tactics. It's just a way to steal sheep from other Evangelical churches.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Lex orandi, Lex credendi

Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin loosely translatable as "the law of prayer is the law of belief") refers to the relationship between worship and belief, and is an ancient Christian principle which provided a measure for developing the ancient Christian creeds, the canon of scripture and other doctrinal matters based on the prayer texts of the Church, that is, the Church's liturgy. In the Early Church there were about 69 years of liturgical tradition before there was a creed and about 350 years before there was a biblical canon. These liturgical traditions provided the theological framework for establishing the creeds and canon.

Every church is by definition a "religion". The question is what is the doctrine, teaching, and liturgical forms of that church? What matters is propositional truth and Scripture is the final authority.

Charlie J. Ray said...

@Denise, Christianity is a body of doctrinal truths that Jude calls "the faith" which is to be earnestly contended for. (Jude 1:3). There is no way to have a relationship with Jesus apart from accepting the doctrines He taught and the "doctrines" defining who He is in Scripture. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Any idea of a mystical encounter with a "person" they call Jesus Christ is impossible and extrabiblical. In fact, this view has more in common with neo-orthodoxy than with Biblical Christianity.

The doctrine of "mystical union with Christ" has more to do with accepting what Scripture teaches about Christ by simple faith than with any alleged idea of an "existential encounter". That's not Christianity but neo-orthodoxy.