Monday, January 23, 2012

Looks like we have things backwards.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized murder under the premise of it being a woman's "choice". Since then over 50 million Americans have been violently robbed of their right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence says.

Yesterday was also the day that Joe Paterno died. He was the most winningest college football coach ever, and he was the long-time coach at Penn State University. I read an article by Bill Reiter on the Fox Sports website that said "Joe Paterno was a sick man. And Joe Paterno failed at the most important thing ever entrusted to him - the knowledge that should have made it possible to stop Sandusky before someone else finally did." That reference is to the child abuse scandal that cause Mr. Paterno to lose his job.

Considering that, I can't help but wonder if we have things backwards in our great nation. We celebrate the legalized murder of defenseless children, but we mourn the death of a man who didn't do anything to stop the horrible abuse of innocent children when it was in his power to do so.

Something's not right with that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Does Jesus hate religion?

Right now the big thing with a lot of people on Facebook and YouTube is this spoken word video called "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus". You can see it for yourself here:

I've seen many of my friends post it on Facebook, talking about how great this video is. Tonight, I finally watched it to see what the hubbub was all about. After watching it, I have very mixed feelings about it. First, there are several things I really like about this video. It's a really well produced, visually captivating film, with very good cinematography. The building in the background is simply magnificent.

The young man speaking, Jefferson Bethke, seems to me to have a genuine heart in communicating the message that a relationship with Jesus matters more than religion. It's definitely true that "Jesus>Religion", as the screen shows for about 10 seconds in the beginning of the video. I really respect that Mr. Bethke was so transparent in talking about his faith story (his "testimony", to use a religious term), and I think it's what he's trying to communicate with this video. I almost totally agree with him ...almost.

This is a phenomenally powerful video but there are some things about it that in my opinion, are just not completely true. Anytime we watch or hear something about Jesus, God, Christianity, etc. - a very, very important question to ask is "is is true?", because anyone can produce a captivating video that can go viral online. 

So is what Mr. Bethke says true? Not all of it. I think that some very important points of this video are misunderstandings or misinterpretations of what the Bible says. So let's start with the the first thing he says - which is the main point of the video. He says that "Jesus came to abolish religion". Is that true? From what Jesus said and from how we see in the Bible that Jesus lived His life, the answer is no.

Jesus did not come to abolish religion. In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus clearly states that He is not against religion and the rules of the Old Testament Law. In verse 17 (NLT), Jesus said "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose."

To my understanding, and please do correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that Jesus says anywhere in the Bible that He hated religion or that He came to abolish it. What Jesus spoke against so much was not religion by itself, but abused and perverted religion. That's a VERY important distinction. While Jesus was on earth, He faithfully observed the religious holy days of Judaism. He insisted that people believe in Him and in the teachings of the Old Testament. He commanded that you do certain things to show that you are His follower. If anything, Jesus instituted pure religion by commissioning the Apostles to begin building His Church, and by beginning the religious traditions of Believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper (also called Communion). 

I have read the Gospel records of Jesus many, many times. I've read the Epistles (like Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, etc.) many times. Never once in the Bible have I seen religion condemned; I've only seen abused and perverted religion condemned. If anything, the Bible speaks highly of pure religion in James 1:27 (NIV): "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Another example of why Jesus is not against religion in and of itself: what He did and did not do when He cleansed the Temple. You can read about that in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 2. What Jesus did was make a whip, drive out the merchants, turn over tables, and condemned the merchants for selling their stuff in the Temple. What Jesus did not do was condemn the merchants for selling their stuff. Did you get that? Jesus never said it was wrong to sell animals for sacrifices and the things people needed for religious practices. He condemned them for doing it at that location, in the Temple, in the Gentile's court, because that essentially kept non-Jewish people from worshiping God.

So you see, it's not religion in and of itself that God is against - it's empty religion, abused and perverted religion, that God is against.

Now there are several other things that rub me wrong in this video - like the cheap shot he takes twice against Republicans. That was unnecessary and somewhat judgmental. I'm not a Republican (I consider myself an Independent), but anyone can see that he could have made his point without taking jabs at the GOP. 

But much more importantly than that, Mr. Bethke is very critical and judgmental of Christianity. He says that religion started many wars. Well, that's sort of true. First, just because someone does something in the name of a certain religion doesn't mean that's what that religion teaches them to do. A great example of that is the Westboro group who protests military funerals and says that God hates America. I don't call them Westboro Baptist Church because they do not practice what Baptists practice, they don't believe what Baptists believe, and most importantly, they do not fulfill the Biblical description of a church. They do and say a lot of horrible, un-Godly things in the name of Christianity - but they do not represent what God says in the Bible.

Westboro's and Hitler's beliefs is not God and is not Christianity - their motivation is purely satanic. So just because some terrible things were done in the name of religion (like the Spanish Inquisition) doesn't mean religion is to blame. And religion is not the only reason wars have been started, so to single it out seems to be pretty unfair.

In this video, he also accuses churches of failing to feed the poor and telling single moms that God doesn't love them if they've ever had a divorce. My question would be "what churches are you talking about?" I know there are some churches that are focused just on themselves and don't live out compassion and justice like God says Christians should - but it really bothers me that he generalizes much of Christianity as being all about big buildings and not about showing God's love in practical ways. When it comes to feeding the poor - I can tell you about many churches in my El Paso who have big buildings but do a great job of feeding many, many hungry people in our community - churches like Del Sol Church, Abundant Living Faith Center, First Baptist Church of El Paso, CrossPoint Church, and Skyline Baptist Church. About divorce - I also know many churches who don't judge but minister to divorced people through programs like Celebrate Recovery and DivorceCare.

So his generalization about churches not caring for the poor and divorced is very, very unfair and untrue.

Now I could go on about the other things I disagree with about this video, but I won't because this post is already long enough. Kevin DeYoung does a great, fair, thorough analysis of every word of the video here:

Here's my point with this post about that video: I'm very grateful to Mr. Bethke for making this video because I'm sure God is using it to minister to people's hearts and to raise conversation about why Jesus is better than empty religion.

But Christians - let's be very, very careful about what we post and promote online. 2 Timothy 2:15 says that we should be careful to handle and explain the Bible truthfully - so let's think carefully about things first and make sure that what we promote will correctly represent God and His Word, the Bible. I'm not saying this video is blasphemy and I'm not judging anyone for posting it on their Facebook - but I am saying it does not correctly and fully represent Jesus or the Bible or reality. It's a good try, but there are some serious problems with this video, in my opinion.

You may not agree with me, but I'm not asking for agreement. I'm just asking you to really think about what the video says and run it through the filter of Scripture. Please don't just believe anything that someone with a slick video and a cool poem says. For us Christians, the Bible is our source of truth - not videos on YouTube.

So Jesus against religion? From what the Bible says and from what Jesus said, the only conclusion I can arrive at is a big, resounding NO. It's very clear that the abuse and perversion of empty religion is what Jesus is against.  Religion is a beautiful, beautiful thing that honors God and greatly benefits people - but only if it's pure, Godly, Biblical religion.

We should all want to be religious - but the right kind of religious.