Evangelism Tip: Two Religions

by Jordan Standridge, The Cripplegate

In 1915, Coca-Cola and its bottling partners decided to issue a creative challenge to a handful of U.S. glass companies: develop a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize it by feeling it in the dark or lying broken on the ground.”

image Because they believed the taste to be so unique, and the sales proved them to be right, they wanted the bottle to be as unique as the taste. They envisioned a scenario where people would reach their hand into a cooler looking for a Coca-Cola, and they wanted to make sure that the individual would be able to easily identify the bottle and grab it.

When we share the gospel we want to show Christianity as what it truly is; the only way to Heaven. We want people to walk away from the Gospel conversation understanding that there is nothing else like it. We want to make the Gospel stand-out from all other religions, in light of the fact that the Devil attempts to make all religions indistinguishable. The best way I have learned to do this is, is through the “two-religion” method.

No matter whom you are talking to, the two-religion method is helpful. Whether you are talking to a nominal Christian who still thinks he is getting to heaven based on his morality, or you are talking to a Roman Catholic trusting in his baptism to save him, or an atheist who believes that every religion is wrong, it is critical, to show the unbeliever what makes Christianity so radically different from every other religion.

So usually at some point in the conversation I explain the difference between Christianity and the devil’s religions, and it goes something like this:

I don’t know if you know this but there are only two religions in the entire world.

You might say I’m nuts.  There are hundreds if not thousands!

But there is one religion that likes to put on hundreds if not thousands of different masks on, and so ultimately there are only two: the religion of Human Achievement and the religion of Divine Accomplishment.

clip_image004You see Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism and every single religion that you have ever heard of, ultimately teaches some form of a works-based salvation. They say that you have to be a little more good than bad in order to make it to heaven. These religions encourage you to hand God a resume when you face Him one day. The resume will be filled with all your accomplishments. It will list everything you’ve done for other people, every penny you’ve given to charity and every good deed you’ve done. God will look over this resume and say, “Good job! You’ve made it into heaven”.

The problem is that if you were to enter into heaven because of a resume based on your accomplishments God would get no glory; you would be the one who gets all the praise. In fact, Ephesians 2:9clip_image008 would say that salvation is not of works lest you should boast! Genesis chapter one shows us that God created the entire universe including you. Everything He created is designed to bring Him glory. The problem is that sin has entered the world, and from birth we all have replaced exalting God with exalting ourselves. Everything we do from birth is geared towards bringing us glory and bringing praise to ourselves. We all have a throne in our hearts that God should be sitting and reigning on, but instead we are born with ourselves sitting on it. We are so used to it we don’t even notice it to the point where we all think that our resumes are good enough to get us into heaven.

clip_image010Of course we are going to think that we are good people! Of course my mom is going to tell me I’m a good person! But what does your Creator think? He says in Romans 3:23clip_image008[1] that we all have sinned and fall short of His glory. He also says in Romans 6:23clip_image008[2] that the wages of sin is death. So if we stand before God and start listing accomplishments or hand Him a resume we might as well slap Jesus in the face because God is going to look at the resume and say, “I killed my only Son because you were not good enough to get to me!”

And that’s where the only other religion comes in.

The religion of Divine Accomplishment. God saw your situation, and decided that since man was so sinful and could not save himself, that He would come Himself and take the form of a man. He humbled himself, spent nine months in a womb he created, grew up with every temptation you and I face every day, but without sinning. He then died on the cross for our sins, and then rose from the dead and defeated death. He made it possible for human beings to stand before God one day and not hand Him a resume and condemn themselves further, but rather, tell God that they deserve His wrath but have placed their faith and trust in the work that Jesus did on their behalf on the cross and through His resurrection.

You see we need someone to be a substitute for us because no matter how hard we try, we can never bridge the gap between God and us. And the substitute can’t be merely a human.  It must be God Himself.

Do you see the difference between Christianity and every other religion?

Ultimately, we know that people aren’t saved based on clever marketing or slick evangelism tactics. But we want to ensure that as we present the Gospel, we do so in a way that is distinct from the impostors.

I have found this to be an effective way to explain what makes Christianity so unique.  I’m curious to hear what method you have used in your evangelism to make Christianity distinguishable. Let me know in the comment section.

Two Rival Religions? Christianity and Post-Christianity

Al Mohler, Monday, October 8, 2012

On November 3, 1921, J. Gresham Machen presented an address entitled, “Liberalism or Christianity?” In that famous address, later expanded into the book, Christianity & Liberalism, Machen argued that evangelical Christianity and its liberal rival were, in effect, two very different religions.

Machen’s argument became one of the issues of controversy in the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies of the 1920s and beyond. By any measure, Machen was absolutely right–the movement that styled itself as liberal Christianity was eviscerating the central doctrines of the Christian faith while continuing to claim Christianity as “a way of life” and a system of meaning.

“The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism,’” Machen asserted. “Modern liberalism, then, has lost sight of the two great presuppositions of the Christian message–the living God and the fact of sin,” he argued. “The liberal doctrine of God and the liberal doctrine of man are both diametrically opposite to the Christian view. But the divergence concerns not only the presuppositions of the message, but also the message itself.”

Howard P. Kainz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Marquette University, offers a similar argument–warning that it is now modern secular liberalism which poses as the great rival to orthodox Christianity.

Observing the basic divide in the American culture, Kainz notes: “Most of the heat of battle occurs where traditional religious believers clash with certain liberals who are religiously committed to secular liberalism.”

Kainz offers a crucial insight here, suggesting that one of the most important factors in the nation’s cultural divide is that persons on both sides are deeply committed to their own creeds and worldviews–even if on one side those creeds are secular.

“This explains why talking about abortion or same-sex ‘marriage,’ for example, with certain liberals is usually futile. It is like trying to persuade a committed Muslim to accept Christ. Because his religion forbids it, he can only do so by converting from Islam to Christianity; he cannot accept Christ as long as he remains firmly committed to Islam. So it is with firmly committed liberals: Their ‘religion’ forbids any concessions to the ‘conservative’ agenda, and as long as they remain committed to their secular ideology, it is futile to hope for such concessions from them.”

Kainz’s argument bears similarities not only to J. Gresham Machen’s observations about the theological scene, but also to Thomas Sowell’s understanding of the larger culture. As Sowell argued in A Conflict of Visions, the basic ideological divide of our times is between those who hold a “constrained vision” over those who hold an “unconstrained vision.” Both worldviews are, in the actual operations of life, reduced to certain “gut feelings” that operate much like religious convictions.

Kainz concedes that some will resist his designation of secularism as a religion. “Religion in the most common and usual sense connotes dedication to a supreme being or beings,” he acknowledges. Nevertheless, “especially in the last few centuries, ‘religion’ has taken on the additional connotations of dedication to abstract principles or ideals rather than a personal being,” he insists. Kainz dates the rise of this secular religion to the French Enlightenment and its idolatrous worship of Reason.

Looking back over the last century, Kainz argues that Marxism and ideological Liberalism have functioned as religious systems for millions of individuals. Looking specifically at Marxism, Kainz argues that the Marxist religion had dogmas, canonical scriptures, priests, theologians, ritualistic observances, parochial congregations, heresies, hagiography, and even an eschatology. Marxism’s dogmas were its core teachings, including economic determinism and the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Its canonical scriptures included the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung. Its priests were those guardians of Marxist purity who functioned as the ideological theorists of the movement. Its ritualistic observances included actions ranging from workers’ strikes to mass rallies. The eschatology of Marxism was to be realized in the appearance of “Communist man” and the new age of Marxist utopia.

Similarly, Kainz argues that modern secular liberalism includes its own dogmas. Among these are the beliefs “that mankind must overcome religious superstition by means of Reason; that empirical science can and will eventually answer all the questions about the world and human values that were formerly referred to traditional religion or theology; and that the human race, by constantly invalidating and disregarding hampering traditions, can and will achieve perfectibility.”

Kainz also argues that contemporary liberalism has borrowed selectively from the New Testament, turning Jesus’ admonition to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” as a foundation for “absolute secularism,” enshrined in the language of a wall separating church and state. Thus, “religion [is] reduced to something purely private.”

Secular liberalism also identifies certain sins such as “homophobia” and sexism. As Kainz sees it, the secular scriptures fall into two broad categories: “Darwinist and scientistic writings championing materialist and naturalistic explanations for everything, including morals; and feminist writings exposing the ‘evil’ of patriarchy and tracing male exploitation of females throughout history up to the present.”

The priests and priestesses of secular liberalism constitute its “sacerdotal elite” and tend to be intellectuals who can present liberal values in the public square. Congregations where secular liberals gather include organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the National Organization of Women, and similar bodies. These groups “help supply a sense of affiliation and commonality for the religiously liberal.”

The rites and rituals of secular liberalism include “gay pride” parades and pro-abortion rallies. Interestingly, the eschatology of this movement is, Kainz argues, the distillation of pragmatism. “In the estimation of the religiously liberal,” Kainz asserts, “all lifestyles and all moralities can approximate this goal, as long as the proscribed illiberal ’sins’ are avoided.”

Kainz readily admits that not all liberals are committed to this religious vision of liberalism. As he sees it, “There are many people working for social justice, human rights, international solidarity, and other causes commonly regarded as liberal without a deep ideological commitment.” His point is that conservatives may find common cause and common ground with these non-religiously committed liberals.

“For many ‘moderate’ liberals, liberalism is a political perspective, not a core ideology,” he observes. “In the culture war it is important for Christians to distinguish between the religiously committed liberal and the moderate liberal. For one thing, Christians should not be surprised when they find no common ground with the former. They may form occasional, even if temporary, alliances with the latter.”

Kainz’s article “Liberalism as Religion: The Culture War Is Between Religious Believer on Both Sides,” appears in the May 2006 edition of Touchstone magazine. His analysis is genuinely helpful in understanding the clash of positions, policies, convictions, and visions that mark our contemporary scene.

Though Kainz does not develop this point, all persons are, in their own way, deeply committed to their own worldview. There is no intellectual possibility of absolute value neutrality–not among human beings, anyway.

The conception of our current cultural conflict as a struggle between two rival religions is instructive and humbling. At the political level, this assessment should serve as a warning that our current ideological divides are not likely to disappear anytime soon. At the far deeper level of theological analysis, this argument serves to remind Christians that evangelism remains central to our mission and purpose. Those who aim at the merely political are missing the forest for the trees, and confusing the temporal for the eternal.

Two rival religions? Machen was right then, and he is right now. The real struggle is between Christianity and Post-Christianity.

From Africa to Asia, Offended Muslims Vent Anger on Churches

Open Doors News

September 27 (Open Doors News) — Across much of the Muslim world, more than two weeks of backlash to the internet video "Innocence of the Muslims" has occasionally been directed at Christians, from computer hacks to church burnings.

It can be difficult to sort deliberate acts of persecution from simple undirected anger sparked by the video, which portrays Muhammad as a womanizer and false prophet. And, as anger over the video reverberates from Africa to Asia, it can be difficult to distinguish between video-inspired backlash against Christians and the longer-running pattern of pressure targeted at Christians that has existed long before the film clip hit YouTube.

On Sept. 16, five days after Libyan rioters in Benghazi killed the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, a band of gunmen in the Nigerian city of Bauchi shot dead six Christian men playing cards. Though the killings were carried out at the same time demonstrators were marching in cities across the region to protest the video, the Bauchi state governor said the killings were not religiously motivated. Instead, authorities said they were part of a deadly weekend of violence in that part of Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, a radical Islamic sect that has carried out attacks in a similar manner in the past.

There was little doubt, however, two days earlier in the Niger town of Zinder as about 1,000 Muslims emerged from the Friday Jumu’ah prayers, divided into groups of several hundred each, and started marching toward the churches in town. They set the Winners Chapel afire. They severely vandalized the Union of Evangelical and Protestant churches’ community center, the Church of the Assemblies of God, and a Catholic church.

Several Christians were injured, though the exact number has not been verified. After police regained control at the churches, smaller groups damaged the homes of the evangelical church pastor and homes of members of the Catholic church. Police made numerous arrests.

Meanwhile, as far away as Pakistan, Christians anticipated the wave of Muslim anger to wash into their country.

"The day the Libyans killed an American we knew this would not stay far for long," said a teacher in the northwest part of Pakistan, referring to the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack. By Sunday the 16th, rumors abounded that Christians in Pakistan were under attack.

"We were so on edge we panicked," said the teacher, whose name is being withheld to protect her from retribution. "Even when it became evident this was a false alarm, we knew it could still happen."

It did.

The following Friday, the 21st, an angry mob torched St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pakistan’s Mardan district. Protestors destroyed not only the church building but a school attended by Christian and Muslim children.

"Nothing is left," a St. Paul pastor said, sitting on a pile of rubble, turning a brick over in his hand. "Pray for the healing of our hearts and hopes, that we may be the real Church in this place and be like the Prince of Peace. I do not know if I have the energy for that."

In same week of the Benghazi attack, a church in next-door Algeria reported receiving threats because of the video. Police were alerted and no harm came to the church.

In Iraq, Christians working in government office in Mosul have started to receive written threats. "Warning to the Dirty Nazeris," the computer printouts say, referring to the word Nazareth, and ordering Christians to leave the city.

Computer hackers took down at least one Christian website in the Persian Gulf region. They replaced its usual homepage with this message:

"You have been Hacked

"Islam means Peace. We, the Muslims want peace all over the world. But you don’t want to be stay in peace. Don’t think us weak. We are more more and more stronger than you that you cannot imagine. By creating this video you have just insulted our ‘Islam’ and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and break the peace between you and us. Now we are in your cyber space to destroy it. We will hit you until you stop hitting us and want marcy for your did."

A check on the website Thursday showed a homepage that said the site is "under maintenance."

Yet amid the anger and violence, there have been some moments of peace.

Protests had spilled into Egypt during the days that followed the Sept. 11 uprising in Libya. Angry Egyptian Muslims stormed the American embassy in Cairo. It was well after midnight Sept. 14, and tear gas was in the air. In the nearby Kasr-el-Dobara Evangelical Church, fears were running high.

Unable to breach the embassy perimeter, some of the protesters turned their attention to the church. "Death to the worshippers of the cross!" they painted on the wall.

Inside, a pastor and about 30 young people prayed. The mob began to damage the downstairs bookshop. Some carried Molotov cocktails.

Then a man emerged from the crowd and started yelling. He said the Christians from the church had come to his aid, tending his wounds, during the 2011 popular uprising against the Egyptian government. Then another man stepped forward, and said the church had offered water, earlier that very day, to wash the feet of Muslims before prayers.

The crowd fell silent, turned, and left.

"These two men weren’t just men," said a senior member of the church staff. "One day we will discover if they were men, or angels, just there to protect the church."

c. 2012 Open Doors News. Used with permission.

Publication date: September 28, 2012

The State of the ‘Almost Christian’

Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:6-9

There are many whom I must call “almost Christians,” for I know no other expression in the Bible, which so exactly describes their state. They have many things about them which are right, good and praiseworthy in the sight of God. They are regular and moral in their lives. They are free from glaring outward sins. They keep up many decent and proper habits. They appear to love the preaching of the Gospel. They are not offended at the truth as it is in Jesus, however plainly it may be spoken. They have no objection to religious company, religious books, and religious talk. They agree to all you say when you speak to them about their souls. And all this is well.

But still there is no movement in the hearts of these people that even a microscope can detect. They are like those who stand still. Weeks after weeks, years after years roll over their heads, and they are just where they were. They sit under our pulpits. They approve of our sermons. And yet, like Pharaoh’s lean cows, they are nothing the better, apparently, for all they receive. There is always the same regularity about them—the same constant attendance on means of grace—the same wishing and hoping—the same way of talking about religion—but there is nothing more. There is no going forward in their Christianity. There is no life, and heart, and reality in it. Their souls seem to be at a deadlock. And all this is sadly wrong.

~ J.C. Ryle

Tract: Where Are You?

Authentic Religion – by J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

"Rejected silver" (Jeremiah 6:30)

"Nothing but leaves" (Mark 11:13)

"Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:18).

"You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1)

If we profess to have any religion at all, let us be careful that it is authentic. I say it emphatically, and I repeat the saying: Let us be careful that our religion is authentic.

What do I mean when I use the word "authentic." I mean that which is genuine, and sincere, and honest, and thorough. I mean that which is not inferior, and hollow, and formal, and false, and counterfeit, and sham, and nominal. "Authentic" religion is not mere show, and pretense, and skin-deep feeling, and temporary profession, and works only on the outside. It is something inward, solid, substantial, intrinsic, living, lasting. We know the difference between counterfeit and authentic money–between solid gold and tinsel–between plated metal and silver–between authentic stone and plaster imitation. Let us think of these things as we consider the subject of this paper. What is the character of our religion? Is it authentic? It may be weak, and feeble, and mingled with many defects. That is not the point before us today. Is our religion authentic? Is it true?

The times in which we live demand attention to this subject. A want of authenticity is a striking feature of a vast amount of religion in the present day. Poets have sometimes told us that the world has passed through four different states or conditions. We have had a golden age, and a silver age, a brass age, and an iron age. How far this is true, I do not stop to inquire. But I fear there is little doubt as to the character of the age in which we live. It is universally an age of cheap metal and alloy. If we measure the religion of the age by its apparent quantity, there is much of it. But if we measure it by its quality, there is indeed very little. On every side we want MORE AUTHENTICITY.

I ask your attention, while I try to bring home to men’s consciences the question of this paper. There are two things which I propose to do:

I. In the first place, I will show the "importance of authenticity in religion."

II. In the second place, I will supply "some tests by which we may prove whether our own religion is authentic."

Does any reader of this paper have any desire to go to heaven when he dies? Do you wish to have a religion which will comfort you in life, give you good hope in death, and survive the judgment of God at the last day? Then, do not turn away from the subject before you. Sit down, and consider calmly, whether your Christianity is authentic and true, or counterfeit and hollow.

I. I have to show "the importance of authenticity in religion."

The point is one which, at first sight, may seem to require very few remarks to establish it. All men, I am told, are fully convinced of the importance of authenticity. But is this true? Can it indeed be said that authenticity is rightly judged among Christians? I deny it entirely. The greater part of people who profess to admire authenticity, seem to think that everyone possesses it! "They tell us that all have got good hearts," and that all are sincere and true for the most part, though they may make mistakes. They call us unchristian, and harsh, and censorious, if we doubt anybody’s goodness of heart. In short, they destroy the value of authenticity by regarding it as a thing, which almost every one has.

This widespread delusion is precisely one of the causes why I take up this subject. I want men to understand that "authenticity" is a far more rare and uncommon thing than is commonly supposed. I want men to see that "unreality" is one of the great dangers of which Christians ought to beware.

What does the Scripture say? This is the only judge that can try the subject. Let us turn to our Bibles, and examine them fairly, and then deny, if we can, the importance of authenticity in religion, and the danger of not being authentic.

(1) Let us look then, for one thing, at the parables spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ. Observe how many of them are intended to put in strong contrast the true believer and the mere nominal disciple (in name only). The parables of the sower, of the weeds, of the net, of the two sons, of the wedding garment, of the ten virgins, of the talents, of the great banquet, of the ten minas, of the two builders, all have one great point in common. They all bring out in striking colors the difference between authenticity and unreality in religion. They all show the uselessness and danger of any Christianity which is not authentic, thorough, and true.

(2) Let us look, for another thing, at the language of our Lord Jesus Christ about the scribes and the Pharisees. Eight times in one chapter we find Him denouncing them as "hypocrites," in words of almost fearful severity–"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" (Matthew 23:33). What can we learn from these tremendously strong expressions? How is it that our gracious and merciful Savior used such cutting words about people who at any rate were more moral and decent than the tax collectors and prostitutes? It is meant to teach us the exceeding detestableness of false profession and mere outward religion in God’s sight. Open wickedness and willful submission to fleshly lusts are no doubt ruinous sins, if not given up. But there seems nothing which is so displeasing to Christ as hypocrisy and unreality.

(3) Let us also look at the startling fact, that there is hardly a grace in the character of a true Christian of which you will not find a counterfeit described in the Word of God. There is not a feature in a believer’s countenance of which there is not an imitation. Give me your attention, and I will show you this in a few examples.

Is there not a false "repentance?" Without a doubt there is. Saul and Ahab, and Herod, and Judas Iscariot had many feelings of sorrow about sin. But they never really repented unto salvation.

Is there not a false "faith?" Without a doubt there is. It is written of Simon Magus, at Samaria, that he "believed," and yet his heart was not right in the sight of God. It is even written of the devils that they "believe and shudder" (Acts 8:13; James 2:19).

Is there not a false "holiness." Without a doubt there is. Joash, king of Judah, appeared to everyone very holy and good, so long as Jehoiada the priest lived. But as soon as he died the religion of Joash died at the same time (2 Chronicles 24:2). Judas Iscariot’s outward life was as correct as that of any of the apostles up to the time that he betrayed his Master. There was nothing suspicious about him. Yet in reality he was "a thief" and a traitor (John 12:6).

Is there not a false "love and kindness?" Without a doubt there is. There is a love which consists in words and tender expressions, and a great show of affection, and calling other people "dear brethren," while the heart does not love at all. It is not for nothing that John says, "Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

It was not without cause that Paul said: "Love must be sincere." (1 John 3:18; Romans 12:19).

Is there not a false "humility?" Without a doubt there is. There is a pretended meekness of demeanor, which often covers over a very proud heart. Paul warns us against a "forced humility," and speaks of "having an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility" (Colossians 2:18, 23).

Is there not a false "praying?" Without a doubt there is. Our Lord denounces it as one of the special sins of the Pharisees–that for a "show make lengthy prayers" (Matthew 23:14). He does not charge them with not praying, or with praying short prayers. Their sin lay in this, that their prayers were not authentic.

Is there not a false "worship?" Without a doubt there is. Our Lord said of the Jews: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8). They had plenty of formal services in their temples and their synagogues. But the fatal defect about them was want of authenticity and heart.

Is there not a lot of false "talking" about religion? Without a doubt there is. Ezekiel describes some professing Jews who talked and spoke like God’s people "but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain" (Ezekiel 33:31). Paul tells us that we may "speak in the tongues of men and of angels," and yet be no better than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1).

What shall we say about these things? To say the least they ought to set us thinking. To my own mind they seem to lead to only one conclusion. They show clearly the immense importance which Scripture attaches to authenticity in religion. They show clearly we need to be careful lest our Christianity turn out to be merely nominal, formal, unreal, and inferior.

The subject is of deep importance in every age. There has never been a time, since the Church of Jesus Christ was founded, when there has not been a vast amount of trivial and mere nominal religion among professing Christians. I am sure it is the case in the present day. Wherever I turn my eyes I see abundant cause for the warning, "Beware of inferior religion. Be genuine. Be thorough. Be authentic. Be true."

How much religion among some members of the Church consists of "nothing but churchmanship!" They belong to the Established Church. They are baptized in her baptistery, married in her sanctuary, preached to on Sundays by her ministers. But the great doctrines and truths preached from her pulpits have no place in their hearts, and no influence on their lives. They neither think, nor feel, nor care, nor know anything about them. And is the religion of these people authentic Christianity? It is nothing of the kind. It is a cheap imitation. It is not the Christianity of Peter, and James, and John, and Paul. It is "Churchianity," and no more.

How much religion among some Independents consists of "nothing but disagreement!" They pride themselves on having nothing to do with the formal denomination church. They rejoice in having no ritual, no forms, no bishops. They glory in the exercise of their private judgment, and the absence of everything ceremonial in their public worship. But all this time they have neither grace, nor faith, nor repentance, nor holiness, nor spirituality of conduct or conversation. The experimental and practical piety of the old Separatist is a thing of which they are utterly destitute. Their Christianity is as sapless and fruitless as a dead tree, and as dry and marrowless as an old bone. And is the Christianity of these people authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is cheap imitation. It is not the Christianity of the Reformers of the past. It is "Nonconformity" and nothing more.

How much Ritualistic religion is utterly false! You will sometimes see men boiling over with zeal about outward expressions of worship such as church music and order of service, while their hearts are manifestly in the world. Of the inward work of the Holy Spirit–of living faith in the Lord Jesus–of delight in the Bible and religious conversation–of separation from worldly silliness and entertainment–of zeal for the conversion of souls to Christ–of all these things they are profoundly ignorant. And is this kind of Christianity authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is a mere name.

How much Evangelical religion is completely make believe? You will sometimes see men professing great affection for the pure "Gospel," while they are, practically speaking, inflicting on it the greatest injury. They will talk loudly of soundness in the faith, and have a keen nose for heresy. They will run eagerly after popular preachers, and applaud evangelical speakers at public meetings. They are familiar with all the phrases of evangelical religion, and can converse fluently about its leading doctrines. To see their faces at public meetings, or in church, you would think they were eminently godly. To hear them talk you would suppose their lives were tied up all kinds of religious activity. And yet these people in private will sometimes do things of which even some heathens would be ashamed. They are neither truthful, nor sincere, nor honest, nor just, nor good-tempered, nor unselfish, nor merciful, nor humble, nor kind! And is such Christianity as this authentic? It is not. It is a worthless fake, a wretched cheat and farce.

How much Revivalist religion in the present day is utterly false! You will find a crowd of false believers bringing discredit on the work of God wherever the Holy Spirit is poured out. How many people today will profess to be suddenly convinced of sin, to find peace in Jesus–to be overwhelmed with joys and ecstasies of soul–while in authenticity of religion they have no grace at all. Like the "rocky-soil" hearers, they endure but for a short time. "In the time of testing they fall away" (Luke 8:13). As soon as the first excitement has passed, they return to their old ways, and resume their former sins. Their religion is like Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night. They have neither root nor vitality. They only injure God’s cause and give occasion to God’s enemies to blaspheme. And is Christianity like this authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is a cheap imitation from the devil’s mint, and is worthless in God’s sight.

I write these things with sorrow. I have no desire to bring any section of the Church of Christ into contempt. I have no wish to cast any slur on any movement which begins with the Spirit of God. But the times demand very plain speaking about some points in the prevailing Christianity of our day. And one point, I am quite sure demands attention, is the abounding lack of authenticity which is to be seen on every side.

No reader, at any rate, can deny that the subject of the paper before him is of vast importance.

II. I pass on now to the second thing which I propose to do. "I will supply some tests by which we may try the reality of our religion."

In approaching this part of my subject, I ask every reader of this paper to deal fairly, honestly, and reasonably with his soul. Dismiss from your mind the common idea–that of course all is right if you go to church. Cast away such vain notions forever. You must look further, higher, and deeper than this, if you would find out the truth. Listen to me, and I will give you a few hints. Believe me, it is no light matter. It is your life.

(1) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by "the place it occupies" in your inner man.

It is not enough that it is in your "head." You may know the truth, and assent to the truth, and believe the truth, and yet be wrong in God’s sight. It is not enough that it is on your "lips." You may say "Amen" to public prayer in church, and yet have nothing more than an outward religion. It is not enough that it is in your "feelings." You may weep under preaching one day, and be lifted to the third heaven by joyous excitement another day, and yet be dead to God. Your religion, if it is authentic, and given by the Holy Spirit, must be in your heart. It must hold the reins. It must sway the affections. It must lead the will. It must direct the tastes. It must influence the choices and decisions. It must fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul. Is this your religion? If not, you may have good reason to doubt whether it is "authentic" and true. (Acts 8:21; Romans 10:10)

(2) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by the "feelings towards sin" which it produces.

The Christianity which is from the Holy Spirit will always have a very deep view of the sinfulness of sin. It will not merely regard sin as a blemish and misfortune, which makes men and women objects of pity, and compassion. It will see in sin the abominable thing which God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight, the thing which deserves God’s wrath and condemnation. It will look on sin as the cause of all sorrow and unhappiness, of strife and wars, of quarrels and contentions, of sickness and death–the curse which cursed God’s beautiful creation, the cursed thing which makes the whole earth groan and struggle in pain. Above all, it will see in sin the thing which will ruin us eternally, unless we can find a ransom,–lead us captive, except we can get its chains broken,–and destroy our happiness, both here and hereafter, except we fight against it, even unto death. Is this your religion? Are these your feelings about sin? If not, you should doubt whether your religion is "authentic."

(3) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by the "feelings toward Christ" which it produces.

Nominal religion may believe that such a person as Christ existed, and was a great helper to mankind. It may show Him some external respect, attend the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and bow the head at His name. But it will go no further. Authentic religion will make a man glory in Christ, as the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the Priest, the Friend, without whom he would have no hope at all. It will produce confidence in Him, love towards Him delight in Him, comfort in Him, as the mediator, the food, the light, the life, the peace of the soul. Is this your religion? Do you know anything of feelings like these toward Jesus Christ? If not, you have every reason to doubt whether your religion is "authentic."

(4) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by "the fruit it bears in your heart and life."

The Christianity which is from above will always be known by its fruits. It will produce in the man who has it repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, spirituality, kindness, self-denial, unselfishness, forgiving spirit, moderation, truthfulness, hospitality, and patience.

The degree in which these various graces appear may vary in different believers. The germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are the children of God. By their fruits they will be known. Is this your religion? If not, you should doubt whether it is "authentic."

(5) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by "your feelings and habits about means of grace."

Prove it by the Sunday. Is that day a time of fatigue and pressure, or a delight and refreshment, and a sweet anticipation of the rest to come in heaven? Prove it by the public means of grace. What are your feelings about public prayer and public praise, about the public preaching of God’s Word, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper? Are they things to which you give a cold assent, and tolerate them as proper and correct? Or, are they things in which you take pleasure, and without which you could not be happy? Prove it, finally, by your feelings about private means of grace. Do you find it essential to your comfort to read the Bible regularly in private, and to speak to God in prayer? Or, do you find these practices boring, and either slight them, or neglect them altogether? These questions deserve your attention. If means of grace, whether public or private, are not as necessary to your soul as food and drink are to your body, you may well doubt whether your religion is "authentic."

I press on the attention of all my readers the five points which I have just named. There is nothing like coming to particulars about these matters. If you want to know whether your religion is "authentic," genuine, and true, measure it by the five particulars which I have now named. Measure it fairly: test it honestly. If your heart is right in the sight of God, you have no cause to flinch from examination. If it is wrong, the sooner you find it out the better.

And now I have done what I proposed to do. I have shown from Scripture the unspeakable importance of authenticity in religion, and the danger in which many stand of being lost forever, for want of it. I have given five plain tests, by which a man may find out whether his Christianity is authentic. I will conclude all by a direct application of the whole subject to the souls of all who read this paper. I will draw my bow and trust that God will bring an arrow home to the hearts and consciences of many.

(1) My first word of application will be "a question."

Is your own religion authentic or false? genuine or fake? I do not ask what you think about others. Perhaps you may see many hypocrites around you. You may be able to point to many who have no "authenticity" at all. This is not the question. You may be right in your opinion about others. But I want to know about yourself. Is your own Christianity authentic and true? or nominal and counterfeit?

If you love life, do not turn away from the question which is now before you. The time must come when the whole truth will be known. The judgment day will reveal every man’s religion, of what sort it is. The parable of the wedding-clothes will receive an awful fulfillment. Surely it is a thousand times better to find out "now" your condition, and to repent, than to find it out too late in the next world, when there will be no opportunity for repentance. If you have common sense, reason, and judgment, consider what I say. Sit down quietly this day, and examine yourself. Find out the authentic character of your religion. With the Bible in your hand, and honesty in your heart, the thing may be known. Then resolve to find out.

(2) My second word of application will be a "warning."

I address it to all who know, in their own consciences, that their religion is not authentic. I ask them to remember the greatness of their danger, and their exceeding guilt in the sight of God.

A false Christianity is especially offensive to that Great God with whom we have to deal. He is continually spoken of in Scripture as the God of Truth. Truth is absolutely one of His attributes. Can you doubt for a moment that He detests everything that is not genuine and true? Better, I firmly believe it is better to be found an ignorant heathen at the last day, than to be found with nothing better than a nominal religion. If your religion is of this sort, beware!

A false Christianity is sure to fail a man in the end. It will wear out; it will break down; it will leave its possessor like a wreck on a sandbank, high and dry and forsaken by the tide; it will supply no comfort in the hour when comfort is most needed–in the time of affliction, and on the bed of death. If you want a religion to be of any use to your soul, beware of false Christianity! If you want to avoid being comfortless in death, and hopeless in the judgment day, be genuine, be authentic, be true.

(3) My third word of application will be "advice."

I offer it to all who feel pricked in their conscience by the subject of this paper. I advise them to cease from all dawdling and playing with religion, and to become honest, wholehearted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Cry out without delay to the Lord Jesus, and ask Him to become your Savior, your Physician, your Priest, and your Friend. Let not the thought of your unworthiness keep you away: do not let the remembrance of your sins prevent your petition. Never, never forget that Christ can cleanse you from any quantity of sins, if you only commit your soul to Him. But one thing He does ask of those who come to Him: He asks them to be authentic, honest, and true.

Let authenticity be one great mark of your approach to Christ, and there is everything to give you hope. Your repentance may be feeble, but let it be authentic; your faith may be weak, but let it be authentic; your desires after holiness may be mingled with much weakness, but let them be authentic. Let there be nothing of coldness, of double-dealing, of dishonesty, of sham, of counterfeit, in your Christianity. Never be content to wear a cloak of religion. Be all that you profess. Though you may sin, be authentic. Though you may stumble, be true. Keep this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.

(4) My last word of application will be "encouragement."

I address it to all who have courageously taken up the cross, and are honestly following Christ. I exhort them to persevere, and not to be moved by difficulties and opposition.

You may often find few with you, and many against you. You may often hear cruel things said of you. You may often be told that you go too far, and that you are extreme. Don’t listen to it. Turn a deaf ear to remarks of this kind. Press on.

If there is anything which a man ought to do thoroughly, authentically, truly, honestly, and with all of his heart, it is the business of his soul. If there is any work which he ought never to slight, and do in a careless fashion, it is the great work of "working out his own salvation" (Philippians 2:12). Believer in Christ, remember this! Whatever you do in religion, do it well. Be authentic. Be thorough. Be honest. Be true.

If there is anything in the world of which a man need not be ashamed, it is the service to Jesus Christ. Of sin, of worldliness, of flippancy, of frivolousness, of time-wasting, of pleasure-seeking, of bad temper, of pride, of making an idol of money, clothes, hunting, sports, card-

playing, novel-reading, and the like–of all this a man should be ashamed. Living after this fashion he makes the angels sorrow, and the devils rejoice. But of living for his soul–caring for his soul–thinking of his soul–providing for his soul–making his soul’s salvation the principal and chief thing in his daily life–of all this a man has no cause to be ashamed at all. Believer in Christ, remember this! Remember it in your Bible-reading, and your private praying. Remember it on Sundays. Remember it in your worship of God. In all these things never be ashamed of being wholehearted, authentic, thorough, and true.

The years of our life are fast passing away. Who knows but this year may be the last in his life? Who can tell but that he may be called this very year to meet his God? If you would be found ready, be an authentic and true Christian. Do not be cheap imitation.

The time is fast coming when nothing but authenticity will stand the fire. Authentic repentance towards God–authentic faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ–authentic holiness of heart and life–these, these are the things which will alone stand the judgment at the last day. It is a solemn saying of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7:22-23)

English updated and transcribed by:
Tony Capoccia
Bible Bulletin Board
Box 314
Columbus, NJ, USA 08022
Website: www.biblebb.com
Email: tony@biblebb.com
online since July 1986

The Great Separation! – J.C. Ryle, 1878

There are only two classes of people in the world, in the sight of God — and both are mentioned in the text which begins this tract. There are those who are called the wheat — and there are those who are called the chaff. “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor. He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!” Matthew 3:12

Wheat or chaff? You see my question — for whom do you think it is meant? Is it for corn merchants and farmers only, and for none else? If you think so, then you are much mistaken. It is meant for every man, woman, and child in the world. And among others, it is meant for you.

Reader, who are the WHEAT in the world? Listen to me, and I will tell you.

The wheat means all men and women who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ — all who are led by the Holy Spirit — all who have felt themselves sinners, and fled for refuge to the salvation offered in the Gospel — all who love the Lord Jesus, and live to the Lord Jesus, and serve the Lord Jesus — all who have taken Christ for their only confidence, and the Bible for their only guide, and regard sin as their deadliest enemy, and look to Heaven as their only home. All such, of every church, name, nation, people, and tongue — of every rank, station, condition, and degree — all such are God’s wheat!

Show me men of this kind of people anywhere, and I know what they are. I know that they and I may not agree in all particulars — but I see in them the handiwork of the King of kings, and I ask no more. I know not whence they came, and where they found their religion — but I know where they are going, and that is enough for me. They are the children of my Father in Heaven. They are part of His wheat.

All such, though sinful, and vile, and unworthy in their own eyes — are the precious part of mankind. They are the sons and daughters of God the Father. They are the delight of God the Son. They are the habitation of God the Spirit. The Father beholds no iniquity in them — they are the members of His dear Son’s body — in Him He sees them — and is well pleased. The Lord Jesus discerns in them, the fruit of His own travail and work upon the cross — and is well satisfied. The Holy Spirit regards them as spiritual temples which He Himself has raised — and rejoices over them. In a word, they are the wheat of the earth — God’s wheat.

Reader, who are the CHAFF in the world? Listen to me once more, and I will tell you this also.

The chaff means all men and women who have no saving faith in Christ, and no sanctification of the Spirit — whoever they may be. Some of them perhaps are infidels — and some are formal Christians. Some are sneering Sadducees — and some self-righteous Pharisees. Some of them make a point of keeping up a kind of ‘Sunday religion’ — and others are utterly careless of everything except their own pleasure and the world. But all alike, who have the two great marks already mentioned — no faith and no sanctification — all such are chaff. From the atheists Paine and Voltaire — to the formal churchman who can think of nothing but outward ceremonies — to the unconverted admirer of sermons in the present day — all, all are standing in one rank before God all, all are chaff!

They bring no glory to God the Father. They honor not the Son, and so do not honor the Father who sent Him. They neglect that mighty salvation, which countless millions of angels admire. They disobey that Word which was graciously written for their learning. They listen not to the voice of Him who condescended to leave Heaven and die for their sins. They pay no tribute of service and affection to Him who gave them life, and breath, and all things. And therefore God takes no pleasure in them. He pities them — but He reckons them no better than chaff!

Yes — you may have rare intellectual gifts, and high mental attainments — you may sway kingdoms by your counsel, move millions by your pen, or keep crowds in breathless attention by your tongue — but if you have never submitted yourself to the yoke of Christ, and never honored His Gospel by heartfelt reception of it — then you are nothing but chaff in His sight. Natural gifts without saving grace, are like a row of ciphers without an unit before them; they look big — but they are of no value. The vilest insect that crawls in the filth — is a nobler being than you are! It fills its place in creation, and glorifies its Maker with all its power — and you do not. You do not honor God with heart, and will, and intellect, and members, which are all His. You invert His order and arrangement, and live as if time was of more importance than eternity, and body better than soul. You dare to neglect God’s greatest gift — His own incarnate Son. You are cold about that subject which fills all Heaven with hallelujahs. And so long as this is the case, you belong to the worthless part of mankind. You are the chaff of the earth.

Reader, let this thought be deeply engraved in your mind, whatever else you forget in this volume. Remember there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are wheat — and there are chaff.

___________________________________________

The complete tract can be found online.

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“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”

That’s a video that has gone viral and deserves comment. After I watched it and noted my first impressions (good and not so good), I found an excellent critique by Kevin DeYoung, posted verbatim below.

“Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really”–Kevin De Young

UPDATE: Since I posted this article, Jefferson Bethke and I have had a chance to talk by email and over the phone. I included some of our conversation in a follow up post. I hope you will be as encouraged by the exchange as I was.

******

There’s a new You Tube video going viral and it’s about Jesus and religion.

Specifically how Jesus hates religion.

The video—which in a few days has gone from hundreds of views to thousands to millions—shows Jefferson Bethke, who lives in the Seattle area, delivering a well-crafted, sharply produced, spoken word poem. The point, according to Bethke, is “to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion.” In the past few days I’ve seen this video pop up all over Facebook. I’ve had people from my church say they like it. Some has asked me what I think. Others have told me there’s something off about the poem, but they can’t quite articulate what it is. I’ll try to explain what that is in a moment. But first watch the video for yourself.

Before I say anything else, let me say Jefferson Bethke seems like a sincere young man who wants people to know God’s scandalous grace. I’m sure he’s telling the truth when he says on his Facebook page: “I love Jesus, I’m addicted to grace, and I’m just a messed up dude trying to make Him famous.” If I met him face to face, I bet I’d like Jefferson and his honesty and passion. I bet I’d be encouraged by his story and his desire to free people from the snares of self-help, self-righteous religion.

And yet (you knew it was coming), amidst a lot of true things in this poem there is a lot that is unhelpful and misleading.

This video is the sort of thing that many younger Christians love. It sounds good, looks good, and feels good. But is it true? That’s the question we must always ask. And to answer that question, I want to go through this poem slowly, verse by verse. Not because I think this is the worst thing ever. It’s certainly not. Nor because I think this video will launch a worldwide revolution. I want to spend some time on this because Bethke perfectly captures the mood, and in my mind the confusion, of a lot of earnest, young Christians.

Verse 1

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion
What if I told you voting republican really wasn’t his mission
What if I told you republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian
And just because you call some people blind
Doesn’t automatically give you vision

Okay, so the line about Republicans is a cheap shot (if you vote GOP) or a prophetic stance (if you like Jim Wallis). While it’s true that “republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian” and in some parts of the country that may be a word churchgoers need to hear, I doubt that putting right-wingers in their place is the most pressing issue in Seattle.

More important is Bethke’s opening line: “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That’s the whole point of the poem. The argument—and most poems are arguing for something—rests on the sharp distinction between religion on one side and Jesus on the other. Whether this argument is fair depends on your definition of religion. Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it.

But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want. “Jesus hates religion” communicates something that “Jesus hates self-righteousness” doesn’t. To say that Jesus hates pride and hypocrisy is old news. To say he hates religion—now, that has a kick to it. People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion.

The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion. This was the central point behind the book Ted Kluck and I wrote a few years ago.

The word “religion” occurs five times in English Standard Version of the Bible. It is, by itself, an entirely neutral word. Religion can refer to Judaism (Acts 26:5) or the Jewish-Christian faith (Acts 25:19). Religion can be bad when it is self-made (Col. 2:23) or fails to tame the tongue (James 1:26). But religion can also be good when it cares for widows and orphans and practices moral purity (James 1:27). Unless we define the word to suit our purposes, there is simply no biblical grounds for saying Jesus hated religion. What might be gained by using such language will, without a careful explanation and caveats, be outweighed by what is lost when we give the impression that religion is the alloy that corrupts a relationship with Jesus.

Verse 2

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars
Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor
Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce
But in the old testament God actually calls religious people whores

These claims say very little because they try to say too much. Have there been religious wars in the last two thousand years? Yes. Have there also been wars over money, land, ego, women, slavery, democracy, freedom, communism, fascism, Nazism, terrorism and just about everything else you can imagine? Yes. Furthermore, if you want to blame conflict on religion, you can’t neatly excise Jesus from the equation. You may not like the Crusades, but many of the Crusaders thought they were sincerely fighting for Jesus by trying take back the Holy Land from the Muslims.

More to the point, Christians need to stop perpetuating the myth that we’ve basically been huge failures in the world. That may win us an audience with non-Christians, but it’s not true. We are sinners like everyone else, so our record is mixed. We’ve been stupid and selfish over the years. But we’ve also been the salt of the earth. The evangelical awakening in England in the eighteenth century is widely credited for preventing the sort of bloodbath that swept over France in the “enlightened” French Revolution. Christians (and conservatives in general) give more to charitable causes than their secular counterparts. Christians run countless shelters, pregnancy centers, rescue missions, and food pantries. Christians operate orphanages, staff clinics, dig wells, raise crops, teach children, and fight AIDS around the globe. While we can always do more and may be blind to the needs around us at times, there is no group of people on the planet that do more for the poor than Christians. If you know of a church with a dozen escalators and no money and no heart for the hurting, then blast that church. But we have to stop the self-flagellation and the slander that says Christians do nothing for the poor.

As for divorce, it is often (but not always) wrong. Even when it is wrong, there is forgiveness when people repent. Shame on any church that doesn’t think or demonstrate that there is room at the cross for unwed or divorced moms.

And about the harsh language in the Old Testament—it cuts both ways. All people in the Old Testament, and in the entire ancient near east for that matter, were religious people. Some of them were fakes and hypocrites and whores. Some were idolaters and adulterers. Some performed their rituals and went on to ignore the weightier matters of the law. And some of the religious people were God’s remnant, God’s holy people, and God’s friends. In both Testaments, God has no problem rebuking religious people and no problem loving them either.

Verse 3

Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice
Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist
They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it
Not realizing religions like spraying perfume on a casket
See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core
It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores
Like lets dress up the outside make look nice and neat
But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies
While the corpse rots underneath

I’ve already said that I don’t think “religion” is the right term for what Bethke is talking about. But he has done a great job here of describing false religion. Jesus blasted the Pharisees for being “whitewashed tombs,” for looking beautiful on the outside and full of dead people’s bones on the inside, for appearing righteous but being full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matt. 23:27-28). It is possible for churches and churchgoers to have the reputation for being alive, but actually be dead (Rev. 3:1). Some churches claim to love grace, but all they give you is legalism. Bethke is hitting on a real problem.

Verse 4

Now I ain’t judgin, I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look
Cause there’s a problem
If people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook
I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy
It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey
You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me
Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography
See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded
Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted
See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness
But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness

I wish Bethke, and critics like him, would admit that they are “judgin.” He is evaluating Christianity. He is criticizing church as he sees it. The whole poem is a harsh judgment on religious people. Granted, judging is not the same as judgmentalism. After all, I’m judging this poem. So I don’t think what Bethke is doing is wrong. I just wish he wouldn’t try to claim the moral high ground.

Other than that, this is another good verse. Bethke tells his own story to prove that we can be real good at fooling everyone, including ourselves. We need to realize that there are plenty of people in many of our churches who seem to have it all together but don’t. They are kidding themselves and we should not encourage such self-deception.

Verse 5

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean
It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken
Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin
Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him
See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan
He looked down and said I want, that, man
Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules
Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes I believe in sin
But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in
See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men
But the Son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then

There is much that is good and a few things that are confused in this verse. The church should be an ocean of grace. We don’t have to hide our sins before God. It doesn’t depend on us. We should love the church and the Bible and believe that sin exists. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Jesus never supported self-righteousness. All of that is wonderfully and powerfully true.

But let me raise a few other points.

One, we have to remember that the purpose of a hospital is to help sick people get better. I’m sure Bethke would agree with that. But there is no indication in this poem that the grace that forgives is also the grace that transforms. Following Jesus is more than keeping rules, but it’s not less. In one sense, loving Jesus is also all about keeping rules (John 14:15, 21, 23-24). I’m not sure how the Jesus of John 14 fits in the world of Bethke’s poem.

Two, there is no inherent dignity in being broken. Jesus likes the honesty that acknowledges sin, hates it and turns away, but he does not love authenticity for its own sake. We have to be more careful with our language. When Paul boasted of his weakness, he was boasting of his suffering, his lack of impressiveness, and the trials he endured (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9). He never boasted of his temptations or his sins—past or present. That’s not what he meant by weakness. Being broken is not the point, except to be forgiven and changed.

Three, as I’ve mentioned before, the religious leaders hated Jesus, first and foremost because they thought he was a blasphemer who dared to make himself equal with God (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71; and less clearly in John 18:19-24). It’s true that many of the religious elite found Jesus too free with his meals and his associations. They called him a “glutton and drunkard” (Luke 7:34), though he wasn’t either. But they also said John the Baptist “has a demon” (Luke 7:33). They were just as opposed to John’s asceticism as they were upset with Jesus’ liberty. More than hating grace, the Jewish leaders hated the truth about Christ and found ways to reject God’s messengers.

Verse 6

Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums
See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention
See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection
See because religion says do, Jesus says done
Religion says slave, Jesus says son
Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see
And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans

I won’t repeat my initial comments about religion and Jesus and whether they are really “on opposite spectrums.” I don’t think they are. That point notwithstanding, Bethke speaks the truth in this section. The differences between slavery and sonship, bondage and freedom, blindness and sight are all biblical themes.

I think the line about “religion says do, Jesus says done” can be misleading. Too many people hear that as “relationship not rules” when we’ve already seen that Jesus wants us to do everything he has commanded (Matt. 28:20). But if “do” means “do this to earn my favor” then the contrast is very appropriate.

Verse 7

Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own
Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace
And while being murdered he yelled
“Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb
Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it

There is a lot to like with this final section. Great affirmation of Jesus active obedience. Great focus on the cross. Great invitation for sinners to come to Christ. I think Bethke understands justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. I would have liked to have heard something about the wrath of God being poured out on the cross as opposed to simply “absorb[ing] all of your sin.” But given Bethke’s previous video criticizing Love Wins, it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt. Similarly, I’m not sure it’s best to so emphasize that Jesus was thinking of us on the cross. The “joy set before” him in Hebrews 12:2 was the joy of being seated at God’s right hand, not the joy of being with us as Bethke advocates in another video. But these are smaller points that do not negate the strong message of grace and forgiveness.

Conclusion

I know I’ve typed a bunch of words about a You Tube video that no one may be talking about in a month. But, as I said at the beginning, there is so much helpful in this poem mixed with so much unhelpful—and all of it so common—that I felt it worth the effort to examine the theology in detail.

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, and a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance.

I know the internet is a big place, but a lot of people are connected to a lot of other people. So who knows, maybe Jefferson Bethke will read this blog. If you do, brother, I want you to know I love what you love in this poem. I watched you give your testimony and give thanks to God for his work in your life. I love the humble desire to be honest about your failings and point people to Christ. I love that you love the church and the Bible. I love that you want people to really get the gospel. You have important things to say and millions of people are listening. So make sure as a teacher you are extra careful and precise (James 3:1). If you haven’t received formal theological training, I encourage you to do so. Your ministry will be made stronger and richer and longer lasting. I encourage you to speak from the Bible before you speak from your own experience. I encourage you to love what Jesus loves without tearing down what he also loves and people are apt to misunderstand. I encourage you to dig deep into the whole counsel of God.

Thanks for reminding us about Jesus. But try to be more careful when talking about religion. After all, there is one religion whose aim is to worship, serve, know, proclaim, believe, obey, and organize around this Jesus. And without all those verbs, there’s not much Jesus left.

________________________________________

Please also read the follow-up post by Kevin DeYoung – link at the top of this post. It’s excellent.

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Revival: A Divine Visitation – A.W. Tozer

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. –1 Cor 3:1

I believe that it might be well for us if we just stopped all of our business and got quiet and worshiped God and waited on Him. It doesn’t make me popular when I remind you that we are a carnal bunch, but it is true, nevertheless, that the body of Christians is carnal. The Lord’s people ought to be a sanctified, pure, clean people, but we are a carnal crowd. We are carnal in our attitudes, in our tastes and carnal in many things. Our young people often are not reverent in our Christian services. We have so degraded our religious tastes that our Christian service is largely exhibitionism. We desperately need a divine visitation-for our situation will never be cured by sermons! It will never be cured until the Church of Christ has suddenly been confronted with what one man called the mysterium tremendium-the fearful mystery that is God, the fearful majesty that is God. This is what the Holy Spirit does. He brings the wonderful mystery that is God to us, and presents Him to the human spirit.  The Counselor, 66-67.

“Oh Lord, deliver me from carnal attitudes, actions, and desires. Give me this morning a divine visitation to purify and cleanse me. Let me sense today the majesty and awesomeness of the ‘mysterium tremendium’ as I wait upon You. Amen.”

Created for His Glory

From the following scripture passages, what would you conclude is God’s first priority? 

“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! . . . Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Isa 43 1.7

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. “I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. “It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isa 43:10-12

“The people whom I formed for Myself Will declare My praise.” Isa:43:21

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” Isa 48:11

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” .”Rev 4:11

“For by him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether they are kings, lords, rulers, or powers. All things have been created through him and for him.” Col 1:16

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. . . to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” Eph 2:5-6, 12

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:9-11

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31

Having read these passages, might it be that God’s first priority is His own glory? And if God’s first priority is His own glory, how should that be expressed in the way we “do” church (I hate the phrase, but it’s common today)? Should our sermons be all about ‘us’, and what God wants to do ‘for’ us to better our lives, or should they be be more about how we can bring Him glory? What about our worship music – should be more about our “warm fuzzies” or His majesty and glory”? What about our teaching? What about our programs? The list goes on and on. . .

How are things in your church? How are things in mine? How do I view my own life as a believer? Is my life as a believer more about what He can do for me, or how I bring Him glory as one who has been created, first and foremost, for His glory?

What is ‘New Age’ Religion, and Why Can’t Christians Get on Board?

What is ‘New Age’ Religion, and Why Can’t Christians Get on Board?

Barbara Curtis

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer

If you haven’t run into it before, it would be hard to avoid it now. Oprah’s rolling out the red carpet for the New Age: a weekly online class with New York Times bestselling guru Eckhart Tolle and a daily broadcast with Marianne Williamson, whose Course in Miracles was beckoning seekers thirty years ago when I was tripping through the wonderland of discovering my own divinity and wielding the powers of the universe to create my own reality.

Ah, but I didn’t know Jesus back then – that is, I didn’t know him as the Son of God. I knew him only through my guru, who taught that Jesus was a great spiritual master and who blended quotes from the New Testament with quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita to produce a spiritual foundation for people like me – too hip, too cool, too sophisticated to tie themselves to the narrow-minded thinking of Christianity.

As someone plucked out miraculously from the New Age, I can only hope that Christians who love and trust Oprah will not blur the lines of their faith. Oprah has stated that though she was raised as a Baptist, she no longer believes that Jesus is the only way to reach God. It sounds so much more rational and compassionate, doesn’t it?

Why can’t we all just get along?

There are questions we don’t have the answers to. And there are questions that are not seeking an answer, but rather opening a door leading to “a wider path” – questions like the one posed long ago: “Hasn’t God said that you could eat of every tree of the garden?”

The New Age is based on concepts that sound almost irresistible. Like Eve, some hear the spiels of modern gurus like Tolle and Willamson and begin to think the faith of their fathers is too rigid, too narrow – that God would never impose an “irrational” boundary between us and “full knowledge of the spiritual realm.”

Sometimes the lie creeps in subtly as Christians begin to research natural or holistic medicine – alternatives which can be very God-honoring but for years were shunned by Christians, thus becoming New Age territory by default. Or a doctor may recommend yoga or meditation to reduce stress. No matter how uplifting and innocent some New Age practices appear, Christians need discernment in these areas, just as at the seashore they need to know where the undertow begins.

The more we understand the distinctions between New Age religion and Christianity, the less vulnerable we are ourselves and the better able to address the confusion of people who may be – as I once was – earnestly seeking the truth.

What exactly is the New Age? Impossible to narrow down, the New Age is actually a vast smorgasbord of beliefs and practices. Each New Ager fills his tray with whatever assortment fits his appetite. All is liberally seasoned with self-centeredness. It’s really a Have-It-Your-Way religion – thus its modern appeal.

Although there are many branches of New Age thought – ranging from meditation to firewalking – they stem from an ancient stock. The roots of the New Age tree spread around the globe to India. One might think that the desperate, degraded human condition of a land dominated by Hinduism would speak louder than words about the truth of the religion. But New Agers seem blind to the contradiction.

Instead the typical New Ager believes: 

  • God is in everything (pantheism)
  • All things are one (monism)
  • Man is God
  • Mind creates reality
  • One’s own experience validates the truth

New Agers do not believe in evil. Therefore, they do not accept man’s problem as separation by sin from God. Instead, they believe that each of us has forgotten his or her own divinity. Therefore, the New Age solution is to seek “higher consciousness” through meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, diet, crystals, channeling. spirit guides, and more. Each of these diverse practices has the same purpose: to awaken the god in man.

While these practices may seem too far out to pose much of a threat to those abiding in the truth, Christians need to be on guard. In the past twenty years, New Age influence has been steadily creeping into our culture in schools, corporations, and doctors’ offices. Since Star Wars, movies have become dominated by New Age spirituality. Reincarnation, karma, the cosmic consciousness – all these once obscure ideas have become commonplace.

A true understanding of New Age practices makes one thing clear: Eastern practices cannot be blended into Christianity to produce something better. New Agers are Universalists, believing that all paths lead to God. They fault Christians for being intolerant and narrow-minded. But God’s word anticipates this: “Enter the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13, NIV)

The good news is that, in a way, the New Ager’s broad acceptance holds the key to getting him back on the straight and narrow. Most New Agers hold Jesus in high regard, believing Him to be a great spiritual teacher, or guru. Many study the words He spoke, although they put a different spin on them.

How can we reach those under such subtle deception? The answer is Jesus Himself. Since Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” He Himself can be the common ground on which the New Ager and the Christian can meet, though one stands in darkness and one in light.

Here is a five-step approach to discussing Jesus with new Agers:

1. Whom do you believe Jesus is?

2. Whom did Jesus say He is?

3. What did Jesus say about other spiritual paths?

  • “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

4. Jesus was either who he said He was or He was a fraud. Given His claims, we can’t logically believe he was only a great teacher, for He would have been teaching falsehood rather than truth (this is an argument by C. S. Lewis).

5. Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

New Agers are in a lot of confusion. That’s because they haven’t found the Truth, but only what fits into the spiritual perspective they have constructed. As in the Garden of Eden, the lie has never changed.

But neither has the Truth. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results from sharing with New Agers. In many cases – like my own – when they finally come to Christ, it’s because God had been planting seeds and watering for a long time. Just keep praying and loving and sharing the words of  Jesus (from experience, I’d say they really won’t hear much else).

And remember, God loves New Age seekers too!

Barbara Curtis, now a prolific Christian writer, was a New Age seeker for seven years before learning the truth about Jesus Christ in 1987. She lives with her husband Tripp in a rapidly-dwindling nest with 6 of their 12 children in Waterford, Virginia