Christianity is the End of Religion

Contrasting Religion and the Gospel has intrigued me the last few years. Here is an account from Tim Keller’s book King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (p. 48), which was a previous book review entitled: How’s Your Mark’s Gospel Study? Dick Lucas, the renowned British minister, once preached a sermon in which he recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her pagan neighbor in Rome.

“Ah,” the neighbor says. “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple or holy place?”

“We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”

“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their ritual?”

“We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”

“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”

“We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”

“What kind of religion is this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.

And the answer is, it’s no kind of religion at all.

In its very essence the Gospel or Christianity signifies the end of religion. The above imaginary conversation expresses how the Gospel is different from and the very opposite of how people perceive Religion to be, including Christianity that is inadequately understood and communicated.  (The differences in the table between Religion and the Gospel is explained further in the link). Briefly, Religion is man’s effort to reach God, while the Gospel is the good news that God reaches out to man through Jesus Christ. Interestingly, it was the most religious people of Jesus’ day that schemed to kill Jesus and they did. To give mankind peace and rest, Jesus put an end to religion, while the religious elite put an end to Jesus. Religion is always threatened by and opposed by the Gospel of Jesus.

Do you understand Christianity to be the Gospel (good news) of God saving you through Christ? Or might you think of Christianity as your efforts of trying to get to God?


  1. Nice contrast, thanks a lot Dr. Ben!  I think another one is: Religion – I HAVE to, Gospel – I WANT to

    • Thanks, Oscar. Religion gives you no choice and gives you a guilt trip. The Gospel gives you freedom and you want to use your freedom to freely choose Jesus.

  2. Dr. Ben, I am very impressed by your grasp of true Christianity. There it is brother, oh how we all need to hear it time and time and time again! How easy it is to fall back into religion and despair and fear and all those other traps of Satan. I believe that when Jesus said “The truth shall make you free” he meant free from bondage to sin AND religion in this sense. In fact, I really dont like that word religion at all, and when people ask if I am “religious” I know what they mean and I have to say “no” because that word has taken on so much baggage. I even have trouble reading Jonathan Edwards’ “Religous Affections” because of it even though he does not mean that word in the way we do. GREAT ARTICLE DOC!

    One Word: No More Religion! haha

    • Mark Mederich

      ‘I believe that when Jesus said “The truth shall make you free” he meant free from bondage to sin AND religion in this sense.’

  3. Ben, your brief article captures something profound that has been lingering in my mind all year, but haven’t been able to articulate it well. I think your sermons in the links also capture a lot of my own reflections. I’ve been wondering lately, has Christianity become the new Judaism? And along those lines, I’m seeing a LOT we can all learn from Messianic Jews:

    I have been finding some life-bursting truths by looking at the Old Testament passages in light of Jesus and His love and grace. The covenant in Genesis 15 is one such example. Grace was there all along.

  4. Thanks, Brian. I have read and taught Genesis 15 for over a quarter of a century, and “missed” the meaning of the covenant, until last year when I read about it in D.A. Carson’s book The God Who Is There. So I blogged on it based on a sermon by Tim Keller:

  5. Thanks Dave, I think I began to have a sense of the “bondage” of Religion, including “Christian religion” when as a church we studied Galatians 2 years ago. I always thought that Galatians was about freedom from sin, especially sins of morality.
    I was struck, stunned and shocked that the freedom Paul spoke about was freedom from legalism, or freedom from religion. So I was amazed at myself that I have been reading Galatians for over 2 decades and never understood it until I read and studied Galatians based on John Stott’s excellent commentary on Galatians.

    • We read Galatians when I was still around. Unfortunately, I felt that it’s real meaning was glossed over. I don’t think I even heard one testimony about it’s deeper meaning.

    • Hi Oscar, Short of sounding super-simplistic, freedom is freedom, and freedom is freedom from rules, regulations, guilt, fear, expectations, traditions, etc. Only when one is truly free in Christ through the gospel, do we freely choose to love the law and the commandments of God. No man can ever cause or create freedom for himself or for others, because he will more likely cause fear or guilt or both.

    • Mark Mederich

      “I always thought that Galatians was about freedom from sin, especially sins of morality…I was struck, stunned and shocked that the freedom Paul spoke about was freedom from legalism, or freedom from religion.”

  6. Dr. Ben,
    Great article!  Works have no merit in themselves unto salvation, but they are still necessary since faith is never alone (otherwise we would be utter anti-nomians).
    Do you know the name of the sermon or passage of the Lucas sermon?  His sermons are all up at the gospel coalition.  His sermons are concise and gospel-centered.  I haven’t heard many preachers like him.  Check him out there are close to 2,000 sermons here:

    • Yeah, Ben, I wondered myself where Lucas shared this imaginary dialogue. Many blogs have shared this dialogue without stating which sermon it was originally from. If you do find out, do let me know.

  7. Hi Dr. Ben,
    I charitably disagree with you on this article. It is easy to create a contrast between the gospel and religion if you narrowly define religion as “man’s effort to reach God.” I cant help but feel this is a characterture. 

    I could define religion as making constant deals with God and hence create an easy contrast between religion and the gospel. But quite honestly, I feel this does not do justice to the deep significance of that word for people across cultures and across times. If you read C.S. Lewis book Until we have faces, you might get a glimpse of what I mean. I could also define religion as a way of life in which one seeks to let God overpower him with his mystery. 

    Rather than contrasting religion from the gospel, I think it is more fair to characterize the gospel as right religion. This is especially true in light of the common definition of religion as an act of “binding.” Many Christian theologians would claim that Judeo-Christianity is ultimately about entering into God’s covenant and entering the glorious joy of the trinity. 

    Hence, I cant help but wonder what is your motivation in making this contrast. If your simply trying to contrast the popular Christian idea of God as an old man in the sky who gives us things and makes sure were not doing bad stuff against the God of the new testament, then I understand the sentiment. But I dont think calling the former “religious” is very definitive term. Why not use the term a pagan approach towards reaching God? 

    I think I may have said this before but, most people who do hold a watered down (e.g., religious) version of Christianity would probably not enjoy the title of religious. And why is that? Well because religious people have convictions. They think that some things are absolutely wrong, and they are not ashamed of the gospel. Religious people are those that talk to Jesus and try to raise their children to Love the Lord.

    I guess I feel totally comfortable calling myself religious.

  8. Thanks, Gerardo. By your definitions, I would be very religious or totally religious: I want to be overpowered by God’s mystery (1 Cor 4:1), enter into God’s covenant and the glorious joy of the Trinity, have unwavering convictions about Jesus and the Gospel (1 Cor 2:3), talk to Jesus (Lk 18:1; 1 Thess 5:17) and raise my children to love Jesus more than the world and their very own lives (Gen 18:19). Though I fail every day, my hearts desire is to be rediculously religious by the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  9. Gerardo,

    You said: “Rather than contrasting religion from the gospel, I think it is more fair to characterize the gospel as right religion.”

    Perhaps that is what James meant in these verses:

    James 1:26-27  “26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 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.”

    But I find that Jesus’ words to the religious leaders of his time (and quite a few other places in Scripture) seem to be saying that religion is indeed in contrast to the gospel. I think Hebrews 10:11-12 explains the religion vs. gospel contrast quit well:

    Hebrews 10:11-12  “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  12 But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”   

  10. Brian,
    Thank you for your insights.  

    I think the gospel of James highlights my primary concern with the contrast between religion and the gospel. According to Dr. Ben, there are priests and sacrifices and good works that must be performed by the religious. But not so among those who live their life by the gospel. This is a bit troubling for me since James tells us good works (i.e., Love) must be performed as a part of the gospel filled life. Ofcourse, many evangelicals will disagree with me here. I can understand that. But this dichotomy between religion and the gospel troubles me since it paints those who have priests, who offer sacrifices and those who believe they must live a life of Love as simply religious but not gospel lead.You can even carry this further to those faith traditions that practice a liturgy (e.g,. Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholic, Orthodox) and consider them religious for doing the same things over and over. 

    This is not what Dr. Toh is saying but I think his dichotomy leads very easily into it. Whether he would agree with this conclusion is a different story I think. My primary concern is that it certantly makes it very easy to then classify those who do not meet the evangelical form of worship as “religious.”  Just as many higher ups in UBF might call Dr. Toh a non commited Christian for not falling in line, so too it seems that Dr. Toh’s dichotomy leads evangelicals to call non evangelicals religious in a derogatory manner. 

    I agree with you Brian. Jesus did indeed contrast the gospel to the acts of the religious of his time. But I think he was differentiating not religion from the gospel but corrupt religion from right religion. Or better yet, correcting what was taught from the begining but was changed as a result of their wickedness (e.g., divorce). And in other places, he was contrasting the old law that is well and good from the new law. Not because they were in opposition but because the new fulfilled the old. But as you know, there were many religious leaders who met his teaching about the gospel with opposition. he was opposed with these particular religious leaders. Not because they were religious but because he knew their hard hearts. 

    You mention Hebrew 10:11-12. I say Amen to this passage. The author is contrasting the religious who offers a futile sacrifice in light of the real sacrifice. The sacrifice itself is not what he is attacking but the uselessness of it in light of Jesus Christ. We can look at another passage, Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

    Are we to believe that Jesus is contrasting right form of prayer from religious prayer? I don’t think so because his emphasis was not on formulaic prayer but prayer to pagan gods which is futile prayer. We know this because in the very next verse, he teaches us how we should prayer by teaching the our father – a formulaic prayer.

    So I guess I dont feel comfertable with this dichotomy because it uses the word religion way too loosely and it uses a strongly evangelical approach to Christianity that inadvertantly puts other faith traditions down.  

    • Well said, Gerardo. I would tend to agree with you. If we temper our religion against legalism (as you seem to be saying), then I’m all for it.  My temptation these days is to “swing the pendulum” WAY over to the other side, as far away from legalism as possible. One of my new resolutions is to not jump on bandwagons, but to always be rooted in Scripture. 

  11. Thanks Gerardo for your well thought out comments.
    I especially love this: “Just as many higher ups in UBF might call Dr. Toh a non commited Christian for not falling in line, so too it seems that Dr. Toh’s dichotomy leads evangelicals to call non evangelicals religious in a derogatory manner.”
    I am still thinking about the use of the word “Religion” and to perhaps word it differently. I am ecumenical and certainly have no intention of dividing evangelicals and non-evangelicals, or dividing Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox.

    • Thanks Dr. Toh. Dont get me wrong, I completely agree with your view of the gospel and how it constrasts against many other religions. It is a powerful contrast. 

      I myself am not very ecuminical. I say you should convert to Catholocism =)
      But I am willing to discuss the issues that we share charitably and make friends with those who share my conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord.  

      I have one question for you. I was thinking about this last night when I wrote you my first reply. Considering your definition of the religion, do you ever have trouble with the title of sunday worship “service.” Do you ever have issues with the idea that this title might be promoting? 

    • Thanks for the invite, Gerardo. I don’t think I will have a major issue with being a Catholic. Just as I object over certain things in my own church, I would likely object over some things in the Catholic church, hopefully charitably :-) Over the years I have overcome the negative caricature of Catholics. So there are perhaps as many “good” Catholics as there are “bad” Protestants. We all need Jesus!

  12. Yet I cannot deny the exceeding peace, power and joy that have come to me this year, all from this one thought from Jesus’ promise in John 16:7 – I am free to live by the Spirit sent by Jesus. Just about every chapter of the Bible has been “flying off the pages” as I consider “Jesus plus nothing”.  

    Whether the word “religious” is the correct term or not, I am convinced we have much to learn from thoughts such as this:


    “The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.”

    I am convinced that the yoke Jesus spoke of was the yoke of grace, as opposed to the yoke of law (Hosea 11:4, Matthew 11:29, Acts 15:10, Nahum 1:12-13)

    • Brian,
      Your view is not incompatible with a religious title. It would only be incompatible if we choose to define religion as “man’s search for God.”

      I admit, most if not all of the worlds religions have mainly emphasized mans search for God and Christianity departs from that approach. But that doesnt put Christianity in it’s own category. Christianity can rightly claim to be the fullness of truth by being placed within the scope of religions. 

      Take for instance Budhism. Buddhism is hard to discredit as false but hard to prove as a true faith because some people say it is not a religion at all, some say it is atheistic. While others say it is a philosophy. Whatever the case, we know that people treat it as a religion because they devout their life to it’s message and hence it becomes an idol which we must deny.
      I think sticking with this idol metaphore might be productive in thinking about religion because God condemns idol worship but not worship itself. Hence, the fact that there are false religions should not turn us off from calling the gospel the true religion. 

      I think that quote you provided creates again lump certain good practices into bad practices. It mentions Church members treating the Church as a means to make money with particular “creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets.”

      Did you notice that slight of hand? How are these things related?

      Why is my faith in Jesus alone incompatible with my belief that Jesus is one of the person’s in the trinity (a creed); the practice of keeping to certan rubriks to ensure that particular church leaders dont do something heretical during Church service like sacrifice a cow (a liturgical practice); or my conviction in the dignity of every person which shapes my belief against abortion (an ethical stance)? 

      I really dont see why pastors keep trying to paint such broad brush strokes. It sounds very pretty to say “Jesus and Jesus alone!” But what does that mean in practice? I think the only way to really live that way of life is to become a hermit. Otherwise you have to get up everyday and face the evolving challenges to your faith with a re commitment to your creeds (e.g., no.. Jesus was not a myth but the Son of God); understand what is the proper way to honor God (e.g., NO, we should not make an animal sacrifice because Christ’s sacrifice has paid the price) and go out to fight the culture of death (e.g., NO, marriage should be between a man and women).

      Yes, there are people who care more about accurately defining particular creeds over having faith in Jesus. There are people who would rather see everything normalized during church service but pay God no attention inside his heart. And there are people who go out and protest abortion but do not even give their own family the respect they deserve. 

      These things are all true. But abuses should not define our approach towards the faith. Just because there are husbands who cheat does not mean we should not encourage people to marry. Just because there are bad liturgical practices during Church service does not mean we refuse to attend church service all together. This approach is what defines many of our cultures worst practices. But it should not be so among Christians. We should not comprimose our weapons against the devil just because our own weakness and lack of faith in Christ leads the devil to use these weaponds against us in battle

  13. One reason (in my opinion) that pastors are painting with such “broad brushstrokes”, as you say, is because 1) more and more Christians seem to be wanting to leave behind the small, petty differences and move on to the broad, unifying topics of grace, love and faith. 2) there seems to be an intense conservative legalism rising up in the name of religion, and churches are facing tough choices regarding about keeping church leaders/members and what religious practices/beliefs to insist on.

    This is just an observation after stumbling across quite a few “ex church member” blogs recently. My view is limited of course, but I sense a groundswell of people jumping into the ocean of God’s grace. 

    • You may be right Brian. The English Mass was recently changed which was met with some resistance from people who felt that, “Going to Church is about God and You who cares what words are used.” 

      But again, you do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Are people quibbling over what color garments to wear?  That might not be important but that doesnt mean we refuse to engage important differences in creeds.  There is an ENORMOUSNESS difference between saying Jesus is of the similar substance to God the Father vs. saying that Jesus is of the same substance. This differences should not be put aside for unifying topics of grace, love and faith. 

      I understand the sentiment for focusing on the center of the faith but many disputes are precisely about the center. So i guess I feel that dismissing important differences by calling them religion, dogma’s, or topics that are not part of Mere Christianity is a dangerous approach to ecumenism. Such an approach is decontextualized from historical Christianity, our current society and important world events that demand that we are clear about these differences. 

  14. Gerardo,

    I think my responses are colored with my own experiences at the moment. I’m trying to see things objectively though :)

    I agree fully with this: “There is an ENORMOUSNESS difference between saying Jesus is of the similar substance to God the Father vs. saying that Jesus is of the same substance. This differences should not be put aside for unifying topics of grace, love and faith.”

    And so I think I understand your viewpoint, and for the most part, I agree. We do need to be aware and guard against heresies. And we certainly don’t want to dismiss important differences. I think this is where the English language breaks down. 

    So while Ben’s declaration above can lead to the dismissals you bring up (and validly so), I think his point is in the two questions.  Perhaps we should indeed replace this “Religion is always threatened by and opposed by the Gospel of Jesus.” with “Wrong religion is always threatened by and opposed by the Gospel of Jesus.” Not sure how to word it properly.

    In any case, Ben asked: “Do you understand Christianity to be the Gospel (good news) of God saving you through Christ? Or might you think of Christianity as your efforts of trying to get to God?”

    My answer is: I’ve always known that Christianity (i.e. right religion) is about the saving grace found in the gospel (Jesus). Yet I lived (and chose to live) for many years as if Christianity (i.e. right religion) was all about my efforts to please or satisfy God.  

    My only point in all of this is that I sense a deep pull from the Spirit of God to “stop” and live a life centered on grace. Through my own blogging I discovered this year that “grace” was not even a category of my writing! I don’t aim to dismiss the great doctrines or negate right religion. But I so need to be re-centered on the grace of God, the love of God and the joy of God. My life had been centered on glory, authority, honor and obedience. Those things are needed, but should they be the center of my faith? 

    Whatever our religion, I really think that grace, truth, faith, hope, love, peace, joy and justice should be in the heart and soul of who we are and what we do. 

    • Great points Brian. It sounds to me like your saying you feel the need to rest in Jesus (i.e., remain in the center). I think we should always do that. In Jesus pierced side, there is where my home is. 

      I think we are all on the same page. My only objection was to take certain beutiful and educational sentiments as a permanent approach towards Christianity. I think the distinction Dr. Toh paints is a good and important one, especially for non Christians or Christians who really do not understand the faith. It gets them to question everything they thought about Christ.  

      As one who takes a religious title, I definitely see Christianity as about saving grace.  We cannot hope to please God with what we bring to the table. After receiving the gift of faith, we can continue to please him by completing our faith life with the good works which he has already completed for us and calls us to participate in. 

      It’s funny that the last back and forth has been about quiblins. I am sure someone reading this is probably thinking this back and forth itself are quiblings. But I don’t consider it so. 

    • Yes, you’ve captured my thoughts fairly well. Not sure what a “quiblin” is, but I’m sure we could have a discussion about it :)  

      In any case, I am finding it healthy and helpful to develop, discuss and challenge our ideas and convictions with passionate people who express themselves honestly. If there is any value to ubfriends for me, it is that. 

  15. I couldn’t disagree more with Brother Ben’s comment regarding Religion and the Gospel. I understand that these comments are collected from a much beloved book by Tim Keller. The word “religion” is being treated as a dirty word as though religion is some invention of man. Man-made deceits about what a living faith should be is how I would characterize what the author is calling religion in the left column. True religion we are reminded of in the Bible. It does not list those things characterized here. James 1:27 mentions religion approved by God. Its very clear that true religion by the grace of God prompts the hearts of the faithful to lovingly care for others in their need. 
    I do not believe true religion teaches that if I obey I am accepted. Many know they are accepted by God but do not obey His Commands. This would be a failure of their faith and not categorically a false faith according to the teachings of Jesus. Many will say to me in that day…..Lord Lord. …..Verily verily I say to you ……I never knew you…and this is because they did not obey!   I do fall short of the mark as do all people and I usually do not view people as good or bad theologically speaking. But lets say that since all fall short of the mark we can all be labeled bad….though I do not like the label. In this sense all people have to be labeled as bad and God loves all people for whom He sent His Son to die on the cross for their sins. The merits of God’s love and grace are received by all who repent and trust in God’s promise. It is what Jesus did AND Commands that motivates me to evaluate my motives and behaviors to His Truth who is Truth. Objective truth, free from how I feel and my will helping me clearly to focus on what God has revealed as true. Both what I do and what Jesus has done are necessary for us to be empowered to live a holy life. Truly a works theology will create pride and despair and prevent us from seeing our constant need of God’s grace (humility) and trust in His Promise of Salvation (confidence). It is not religion per se that causes some to despair of their salvation or presume pridefully in their accomplishments for their salvation.  Although we are all going to be judged according to what we have done, it is clearly what we have done by faith in God with all God has given us, through what God has promised. It is Biblical of judgment day realities that our deeds or works are never separated from our ultimate end. Works apart from works of faith count for nothing but works of faith do count. As the just shall live by faith. Both fear and love share in our motivation to trust and obey. You really can’t have one without the other. I fear the pains of hell for sure but even more I also am repentant (heartily sorry) for having offended God when I sin and I resolve with Him by the help of His Grace to amend my life. The mercies of God are new every morning and great is His faithfulness….. helping us to change our conduct to align with His Loving Will. Our religion must include living the True Gospel message. The very word ‘religion’ comes from the latin ‘religare’ which equates to our word ‘relationship‘. My religion holds to these beliefs already mentioned and I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I do not believe what is labeled religion on the left is true of true religion such as is mentioned in James 1:27. 

  16. Hi Paul, and welcome to ubfriends. Thank you for sharing your thoughts– we welcome people with passion and certainly welcome differing opinions here. Your point is clear: religion means relationship and true religion is not like the things mentioned in the left column above. Gerardo and I had a discussion about this very thing above.

    After reading your comments, my only additional point I would add is that the words we choose in preaching the gospel should make sense in the generational/cultural context in which we are preaching, teaching or discussing. I personally am leaning toward Ben’s use of the word “religion” because it seems to have taken on a new meaning in this generation. 

    Religion used to mean relationship, as you describe. But now religion seems to have come to mean legalism and elitism and supremeism (I made that one up :)  While I don’t think it is fruitful to argue about meaning of words, I do see it helpful to debate about getting the context of our preaching to match the world around us. Otherwise, we risk becoming disconnected, no matter how right we are.

    • Welcome Paul. Totally agree with all your points. 

      Brian, I think I understand you and Dre. Toh’s position now. I think using the word religion given our modern context if very useful indeed especially when talking to non Christians. A good (although cheesy) example of this was in the movie Courageous. A group of guys is discussing how meaningless their lives would have been had it not been for God. Suddenly, one of the guys who is not faithful says something like, “Sounds like you guys are really religious….but..” at which point one of the other guys says, “religious?.”

      I think this charecterizes the usefullness of this distinction. it creates a situation to teach what true faith is. However, lets say that the group of guys was composed of only faithful Christians. Lets take out the guy who did not have much faith. under this situation, would it make sense to differentiate religion from faith? 


    • Gerardo, I think I’m starting to understand your position better too (which, I think, is one of the reasons for this blog :)  

      You asked, “under this situation, would it make sense to differentiate religion from faith?” I would say, no, it wouldn’t. I think this is related to Paul T.’s point above about what the book of James has to say on the matter (James 1:26-27). In truth, we cannot separate faith from deeds. If I’m understanding you correctly, then I’m certainly in the religious category (and wholeheartedly want to have true religion!).

      In the past, I dismissed statements such as Ben made above and those of people like Tim Keller. I closed my mind, justifying myself based on 1 Timothy 6:3-6. I and those in my church had a strong desire to not have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind…” With this attitude, I held religion and doctrine in great disdain (to my own shame).

      Now I reject such an attitude. As long as we avoid quarreling and stirring up controversy, such discussions as these are healthy and do not result in envy or strife or the like. Rather, I am finding that such discussions result in deeper learning, real friendships and even intense peace and joy. I am a far, far happier and learned Christian now after just one year of pursuing the reading of books and the study of history and the engagement of open discussions.  

  17. I want to thank Brian and Gerardo for their replies. I would like to add however that for everyone “Our relationship with God whether good or bad is our religion.” We are all made by Him in His Image and Likeness. We are all made as people to be creatures of faith. We are all made to be most fulfilled in Him. In my conversations with this new generation today I get the next generation’s answer.The next generation has gone to “I am not religious” ‘I am spiritual’. We still have to bring truth into the discussion. The truth about how a person is living with the truth of what God has promised to those who live according  to His will. Truth is essential to Authority.
    How you proclaim the Gospel is your religion. How you live the Gospel is your religion. Although I like the example mentioned in the movie COURAGEOUS, I believe the evangelical world has created this new meaning of the word ‘religion’ and is making a distinction without a difference. In the process I believe this notion treads on many of the religious of our day who live Godly lives by those less aware or lacking in knowledge- learners if you will. Its an immature idea that grows into assuming that the religious are not true believers or are not genuinely living the Gospel or may not be really Christian – just because they are religious. We don’t need religion we need Jesus. This results in variations of belief experienced in different denominational titles of Lutheran, Episcopal or Baptist and the list goes on and on. If I only need Jesus why all these differences. Although I do not believe that there will be any such distinctions in heaven each denomination has espoused a separate set of beliefs or religious practices. Nearly 30,000 Christian denominations at least exist at this time in history. Most all seem to uphold a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I am not saved by being Lutheran or Episcopal or Baptist but by living out the will of God for my life in my personal relationship. Yet Jesus says we all are a part of the Body of Christ – an emphasis on unity not division. Everyone needs a community or fellowship of believers to conduct worship, prayer and ministries brought on by their religion. So having so many denominations saying they don’t have religion they have the true Gospel is a contrary indication to this article. Really now, you don’t have religion you have the Gospel. If there are so many Gospels which is the one true Gospel. Christian denominations do their best to nurture an environment for the Gospel to live within the Body of Christ as they understand the Gospel. Knowing how to lovingly encourage people to live Godly lives and grow in their relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is best promoted by avoiding what I believe is a faulty premise. That premise is that having religion is bad and unnecessary for living the Gospel. This will generate another 30,000 denominations in no time.
    I admit all these denominations gives religion should be an alarming concern to all believers as to what is the true Gospel. In this sense I believe we unmasked a fundamental and insurmountable dilemma this article attacks. That all these religious Christian denominations must embrace first Jesus or their religion in meaningless. They are all still different yet in many ways are so much alike. The person is left with the Bible to ‘decide for himself’ which Christian community lives the real truth. I guess this is why we have given religion a bad name. Denominational confusion. Forgive us Jesus.

    • Paul,
      I again, totally agree with everything you say. You say better than I have been trying to communicate previously. This whole, “I am spiritual but not religious” is anchored by the evangelical, “I have faith not religion.” Liberal Christians and faithful Christians are calling each other “religious.” 

      I think both attempts if not tempered, can ultimately lead to a very subjective faith: The religion of me and the bible. Non-denominationalism is a strange beast as everyone clearly recognizes that it is indeed it’s own denomination, with a particular culture a set of beliefs that can be inferred with some accuracy. This whole religion vs. faith distinction (among believers) seems to only create more factions and denominations. 

      Like I said before, the distinction is a useful one but only for the purposes of clarifying a particular point. In runs many *possible* errors if this distinction is taken beyond that.  It is like a wild virtue that is not tamed by truth. Eventually the virtue ends up becoming something different from what it originally was. 

    • Well said, Gerardo. I think I more fully understand you main point: and I fully agree. This is related to a personal direction I seek for the new year: to not get on bandwagons and be careful that my words don’t create a bandwagon.

    • Also, I wanted to clarrify that by a subjective faith, I mean a faith where people ignore the repository of objective truth that has been communicated across the centuries by various Christians. I have met friends who reject all Churches in an effort to “rediscover” what the bible really teaches. It’s own thing to take a step back and grow in particular truths that have been communicated and quite another to try and start Christianity from scratch. 

      I think about the Eunich in the book of acts who when asked, “do you understand what you are reading” did not respond with, “Ofcourse I do. As long as I have the bible and can read I can come to all understanding. I do not need religion.” No, instead, he replied with, “how can I unless someone teaches me.”  This too I feel is religion. To go out and preach the gospel. 

  18. Paul T., Thanks for sharing more. Your concerns resonate with me and my experiences recently. Your comment especially struck a chord with me: “Nearly 30,000 Christian denominations at least exist at this time in history.” On one hand, we might see something positive in that there is a rich and dynamic fabric to the current state of the Christian religion. But as you point out, I feel that so many fractures is indeed a sad state and one for which we all have to repent for to some degree.

    It’s as if Christianity has been broken, fractured into innumerable pieces. I’ve been wondering what our Lord could possibly do with such a splintered group of people? How could anything good ever come of this mess?

    I found some hope (and personal direction) in the following metaphor: Christianity today is a mosaic of broken religion, broken people and broken doctrines. We’ve shattered God’s beautiful grace into a thousand pieces. Yet our Lord is able to create a magnificent mosaic from those pieces. 

  19. Thanks, Paul, for your 2 long but enjoyable comments, and welcome to UBFriends. Based on your positive sentiments about the way you think of the word “religion,” I guess I could be considered religiously and insanely fanatical, yet still falling far, far short of James 1:27. As someone quoted Luther: “Salvation is by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.”

    Tim Keller uses the word religion not the way you or Gerardo define it (correctly), but the way many in this generation thinks about the word religion (incorrectly). Somewhere toward the beginning of this lecture, Keller explains the difference between “religion” and the gospel: He gave this lecture in London 3 years ago. It is one of my favorite Keller lectures and well worth the time to listen to.

  20. Yes Dr. Ben! Words change over time, just think about the word “Gay.” If someone asked you on the street in 1920 if you were feeling gay, you might say “I definitely am! Look at all this sunshine! It makes me feel very gay indeed!” But if the same scenario happened today…well you get the point. Same thing with the word “Religion,” If you asked Jonathan Edwards if he was religious, he would have certainly said yes, but that word is different in contemporary culture, it does not mean the same thing to most people today as it did to Edwards in 1740.

  21. David Bychkov

    Thanks dr. Ben, Brian, Gerardo.
    Thanks, Paul.
    this denominational question is one of the most confusing things for me this days. I just have no an answer how to deal with it. I am deeply convinced that it is not enough to just have Bible and say we love Jesus. But we need to know and formulate what we believe Bible teachs. And this is our doctrines or our confession. Which represents our faith to us, to this world and to the other Christians. Confessions makes baptists to be baptists, reformed to be reformed etc. Confessions give us historical ground. Even in UBF we or they (:)) have spiritual legacy – this is also doctrines or confession. But if there 30,000 denominations = 30,000 confessions what should I do then? What if I can not wholeheartedly agree with anyone of them for 100%? Should I start 30,001? and the other thing is there any way to make the confession to be flexible and solid in the same time? Protestanism is found ot the Sola Scriptura. But we still need confessions, which should be submited under the Bible authority. If they are submited there should be some way to improve and correct them…

  22. I like the conversations that have generated. I think it helps us sharpen where we all place our emphasis of faith. May we all strive to encourage one another in the Lord and take that which is good and pronounce it and that which does not serve the purposes of God and spit it out. 
    The deposit of faith….should be what God has revealed to us across the ages. We must search it out like a treasure and ask God’s grace to hold us accountable to His loving will. Just as the wise men of old who came to seek Him who was born the King of the Jews and faithfully responded to the revealed truth of God and worshiped Him, so we must be true to what has been revealed to each of us and this will eventually grow us in our faith and in our unity to one another. If the Bible alone brought unity we would not have 30,000 denominations. Love and Trust in He who is Good and Holy brings unity. Happy New Year everyone and may he who is born King of the Jews be King of our lives throughout the remaining years we have left.
    PS: I will listen to Lesson 3 by Tim Keller. Thanks!

    • Well said Paul and amen! Your statement above causes me to pause and think: “We must search it out like a treasure and ask God’s grace to hold us accountable to His loving will.” How long did I not see God’s revelation from Scripture? Far too many years were spent just toiling on, pulling the dredge of graceless sanctification. All I could offer others was a weak plea to conform to my ideology. I felt I had reached the end of Christianity. What more could there possibly be to learn (I thought)? Praise God for the grace of dialogue!

  23. Not sure why the link of the Keller lecture didn’t show, but here it is: Preaching the Gospel. He makes 4 points. Preaching the Gospel must be:
    1) Gospel-Centered.
    2) Christ-Centered.
    3) Life Changing/Transforming on the Spot.
    4) Culturally Transforming.
    The difference between “religion” and the Gospel is explained in the first part.

  24. Lisa, overcoming the “religion” of Christianity and coming to hear the gospel of God’s grace: Rightly understanding God’s grace, she says, has changed everything. “God’s grace to me is like he’s saying to me, ‘Lisa, you cannot fathom how far, how deep, how wide, how completely I’ve loved you. And how you’re gonna keep messing up but I’m not gonna let go of you. … I have you covered, I have you under my wings, you’re covered in my grace,’”

  25. Can I copy and post the religion/gospel chart on our church facebook sight (Mancelona Baptist Church)?  Thanks.

    • Hello Pastor McCarthy and welcome. As one of the admins here, I don’t see any problem with reposting material here (other admins could weigh in). All of the content here is already published on the ubfriends Facebook page. 

  26. Jesus was not against Religion nor did he come to end religion. He was opposed to hypocrisy. We should not attack religion as a substitute for our own hypocrisy. He told the people to listen to the Scribes and do what they tell you but do not practice what they do. That everyone lives their own religion is an inescapable fact. Those who are true to the dictates of their faith (religion) grow in virtue (holiness). Those who ascribe to themselves virtues they do not have are irreligious hypocrites. You promote a self attack and attack other Religions when you ascribe to Religion the bane of your own hypocrisy. Such judgement contradicts the love and mercy found in Jesus. Having received the love and mercy of Jesus in the forgiving of our sins and hypocrisy should not engage us in a crusade against Religion. Contrariwise we should promote them in practicing their Christian faith and growing in holiness. To announce that Jesus put an end to Religion is an affront to all people; God made us to be…Religious. There is virtue in the various Christian denominations just as there is hypocrisy. Attack hypocrisy not Religion. Promote virtue not judgment. To remove the plank in our brothers eye (those who are religious or of a Christian denomination) we must remove the splinter of judgment in our own eye. 

  27. I hear you Paul. I agree with you that the problem with “religion” as defined by this post and the youtube video ( is hypocrisy.
    However, the Pharisees truly thought that they were religious, and perhaps so do some Christians today. As you point out, Jesus exposed their religion as hypocrisy and self-righteousness: they thought were the cutting edge to knowing God, when in fact they were the very gates of hell.
    I’m thinking that the way that you (I’m assuming you are Protestant) and Gerardo (a Catholic) define religion, you are correct. But perhaps many people today regard Christian religion almost entirely based on the highly offensive and distatsteful carricature of Christians in the secular media today (which sadly some of us Christians do deserve). Sadly, their view of Christians is likely also based on the “sins” of Christians that they know personally.

    • I think the message of this post really cuts at the heart of those who self identify as religious but only use it as a means to an end. It is true that the term religion can be a bit vague which some people can hide behind without truly revealing their intentions. Whereas, saying I am not religious but have a relationship with Jesus Christ more accurately defines what are the goals and intention of the individual. 


  28. Thank you for your comment. Their formal Religion was not the problem; their hypocrisy was. They are not the same. If we point the finger at Religion instead of our own hypocrisy we are projecting judgment and blame outside of ourselves instead of repenting and receiving forgiveness and mercy for our sins in our inner selves(healing of the soul). The pharisees took a religion and faith handed to them by the hand of God Himself and they perverted it. They executed their duties as priests and religious rulers. The sacrifices of the people were received but the hearts of those in the priestly offices were apparently cold. The religious rulers had become hardened and they placed heavy burdens on the people. To attack Religion today is being no different than the pharisees of Jesus time. It amounts to placing burdens on the people (judgments). Jesus called them hypocrites for their actions because of the religion they failed to practice. They added “traditions” that cancelled out the divine traditions and commands of God. Their human traditions stemmed from their hypocrisy because they were contrary to the will of God. He never attack the Jewish Religion, He admonished the religious rulers for their hypocrisy. The cure was for them to repent and have a change of heart allowing them to show love and mercy to the people who were sheep without a shepherd(Not change their Religion). Jesus fulfilled the promises of their religious beliefs at the Last Supper, Calvary and the Resurrection. He fulfilled (Judaism’s) Religion’s Promises and still does today.
    I would accept Gerardo’s Catholic beliefs for the Catholic he is and especially if he lives what the Catholic Church teaches. A lot of virtue can be developed through the Catholic Church’s teachings. I do not attack the Catholic Faith because of the Priest Scandal. The Catholic Church does not teach what they were doing. I do have some disgust for the way Rome handled these scandalous incidents. We all fail and the church is imperfect. If we blame our imperfections on the Church then what is left to help us grow in virtue. That is why Jesus said He would establish HIS CHURCH and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. Protestants must accept the various religious denominations as those who comprise the church. The denominational churches are variations of the Christian Church though so divided and in many ways different. Those who believe in Jesus and trust in His saving grace may be one way to define THE Church. IF so the Church needs harmony and nurture not denial for the religion it expresses. We all lack in knowledge and so we must grow in faith partly through reason and the desire to live holy lives (loving God). The media of our day has a target rich environment with scandal and personal hypocrisy abounding we are easy villains in their eyes. So if we begin to call out hypocrisy without blaming the religion that establishes the very standards which prove their hypocrisy we will do better. Additionally, if the Church was out there helping the homeless, and hungry and naked and abandoned instead of waiting for others (govt) to do something they phony believers would be rightly judged without a word and encouraged to repent.

  29. Well said Gerardo!  I like the way you put that! Hard to put it in a better light!!  Thank you.

  30. Thanks, Paul and Gerardo. Based on your (true) definition of religion, my own family (mom, older brother, relatives) have labeled me as “fanatically religious” and a “Jesus freak.” I don’t believe they view me as hypocritical, but as being extreme in what I believe and how I live, and sometimes as “wasting my life,” and not having any fun. They have no idea how much fun I have by living my “extreme religious life,” that still falls far short of the glory of God.
    I am not in any way attacking or criticizing Christianity as a religion, but I am addressing the way some have communicated Christianity: as rigid, inflexible, traditional, habitual, predictable, boring (inexcusable), while lacking the “love, joy and peace” (Galatians 5:22) that makes us Christians truly to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14) because we are living life to the full (John 10:10) that comes from the Spirit, and soaring like an eagle in the sky (Isa 40:31). I have to repent every moment of every day, if that is not how the Spirit compels me in my inmost being.

  31. in light of the Jesus/gospel vs religion arguments (it’s everywhere on fb), i think we should be wary of dichotomies (ex. it’s all gospel and no religion or vice versa). In general, extremes are not good. Not everything is black and white, we can’t catergorize everything and put God in a box…just a thought.           

    • MJ,
      This IS everywhere on facebook. I was surprised how much this video took off. Many people I know posted on their profile and got a high amount of positive and negative backlash from good Christians.

      As I have said before, I think a more central topic of discussion is the tendency for pastors to not tapper their powerful messages a little. For instance, we might hear a message where someone says, “You are a dirty sinner and nothing you do on your own can change that. You are like dung to God, your attempts to please him a part from faith are meaningless.”

      While this message is inspirtational for someone who is completely works focused, it is not totally accurate. Yes, we are sinner but we are also his creation. Yes, our works apart from him are error prone and careless but the bible suggests that God is pleased even by our little attempts at doing good (especially among those who do not know him) provided that this desire comes out of agape Love. To say that God see’s as a dung really begs the question of whether we see our own children as dung when they have done something heinous. I know human analogies only go so far since God is perfect but they still help us to tapper inspiration well meaning messages that are not totally founded in truth.

      Dr. Toh, I am curious what your personal reaction has been to the charitable opposition you have received here. It seems like many of my facebook friends were quite surprised by the opposition they received when they posted the video. i do hope my various comments are not insulting. I have a lot of respect for you. Sincerely. 

    • Hi Gerardo, far from feeling insulted, I find your earnestness and exlanations quite engaging and refreshing. From the “negative responses,” which are fine, I realise that there are quite a few people who like the phrase “religion,” because they regard it in the true gospel/biblical sense. Unfortunately, today, many people relate “religion” to phariasiasm, self-righteouness and hypocrisy. That’s why the Gospel/Religion video has over 15 million views already on Youtube in 1 week. Everytime I check it has several more million views!

  32. I totally agree with MJ. My point has always been it both/and not either/or. We cannot separate ourselves from being religious we are by the very nature in which God made us. God would not judge us for being in very nature the way He made us. He would judge us for our sins (hypocrisy, malice, hate and the list is endleses). He came to Redeem us so we could live the ONE TRUE RELIGION as mentioned in the Bible and taught  by the Church.

  33. Thanks, Paul, MJ. From your insightful comments and from reading posts from objectors to the Gospel/Religion dichotomy, your definition of religion is biblical, and that it is the result of the gospel. Unfortunately, religion has already taken on such a negative (unbiblical) connotation today, that religion is no longer connected to Jesus, the gospel, the grace of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the love of God, mercy, forbearance, gentleness, compassion, kindness, etc.

    That’s why I think this Gospel/Religion dichotomy, though not technically and doctrinally correct, is nonetheless true in how many today (mis)understand religion. That’s why it works for me, and it works for those whom I attempt to explain it to.

  34. Justifying the contrast between Religion and the Gospel, Tim Keller has pointed out that the Greek word for “religion” used positively in James 1:27 is used negatively in Colossians 2:18 where it describes false asceticism, fleshly works-righteousness, and also in Acts 26:5 where Paul speaks of his pre-Christian life as strict “religion.” So, according to Keller, the word “Religion” certainly has enough negative connotations to use as a fair title for the category of works-righteousness. In the Old Testament the prophets are devastating in their criticism of empty ritual and religious observances designed to bribe and appease God rather then serving, trusting, and loving him.

    • Excellent. For me the debate ends right there in Scripture: Christianity is the end of religion. My mind has some objections to this concept, but I will continue to allow my ideas to be transformed and conformed to the Bible (in the past I tried to conform the Bible to my ideas).

      Your point about OT prophets is quite relevant.

      As I continue to come out of my ultra-religious life, I am finding a strong pull toward the OT books, 1 Samuel, Job, Ezekiel, Amos, Zechariah, Zephaniah. We who claim to be Christians would do well to heed God’s message spoken through them.

      For me, this debate ends in Philippians 3:1-21. Especially Philippians 3:7-9 speak to this matter. I really believe Apostle Paul was “losing his religion” (80’s pun intended…) “7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

    • Dr. Toh,
      I feel you still do not get the point of people’s primary objections to this idea. No one is saying, “religion is good.” People are saying that it is important to point out the difference between false religion (e.g., false asceticism) and true religion (e.g., feeding the poor, taking care of orphans, trusting in God for everything, looking forward to spending eternity with him, etc).

      You said, “religion has enough negative connotations to be use as a fair title for the category of works’-righteousness.” James 1:26 says those who consider themselves religious **and YET** do not hold a tight reign on their toungues deceive themselves **THEIR** religion is worthless. 

      Notice a couple of things, it does not say RELIGION is deception. It does not make such a blank statement as you would like Tim Keller might like us to believe. Also, to use the word **AND YET** denotes the idea that they are falling short of what it means to be religious. The fact that there is a worthless type of religion obviously assumes that there is one that is not worthless. 

      The fact of the matter is, Saint James is clearly differentiating right from false religion here. I am sorry if our opposition comes off as harsh towards your particular interpretation of the bible. But you need to keep in mind that your interpretation of the bible is slap in the face to billions of Christians. And you make this claim in light of an absent biblical passage that specifically condemns all forms of religion. I know that your intention here in making a distinction between faith and religion is to precisely combat self righteousness through a works focused perspective on having a relationship with God. But please, dont throw out the baby with the bath water! 

    • As to your point about the Old testament. I concede that it is a valid way of introducing the differences between Christianity and other religions to non believers or those who have a weak understanding of their faith. But is this something that needs to be promulgated in a forum like UBFriends where I assume most people have a semi strong biblical background?

      You said, that the religion/faith distinction is not technically doctrinally correct? So why would you continue trying to teach this to a group of people who more or less have a strong understanding of religion? Technically incorrect = not correct. It is a useful analogy but you can’t push much father than that. My concern has always been people taking flashy, pwowerful or cute sayings, that try to convey a particular truth, and then extending them to be truth itself. 
      As I have said before, such messages need to be tempered or else they run the danger of being passed off as true and confusing the faithful. I think we need to be responsible of the messages we preach in the pulpits, in our bible studies etc. 


  35. Thanks, Gerardo. Please read this with a sense that I am typing with a smile (which I am), not a smirk, and not with retaliation or a spirit of argument. I think I totally get your point, which I have stated before that I do not at all disagree with.

    The word “Religion” used in this post obviouly denotes “False Religion.” Linguistically and ascetically it is a lot easier to just say/type/blog “Religion” instead of saying “False Religion,” which I think is cumbersome.

    I would dare say that most people outside of the church, when they hear the word Religion, James 1:27 is not what they think. Rather, I would bet my life on it, that they would more likely think of Pharisees, self-righteousness, self-justification, being sanctimonious, condescending, hypocrisy, Jim Swaggard, Jim Baker, pedophile ministers, and the list can just go on and on.

    Also, I would say from observations of myself and other Christians, that we default to thinking that if I do good, God/Jesus will be good to me. That is “Religion” speaking, and it is clearly NOT the Gospel. The Gospel is, even though I am rotten to the core (which I am), God still loved me and gave me His Son and His Spirit. Only the Gospel touches and transforms my rotten heart. Religion can never do that.

    • Dr. Toh, so you are saying that you will keep the distinction because most people have come to associate false religion with the word religion? Wouldn’t it be better to teach them what real religion is instead of creating bible students that will later condemn people like me and Paul Thorn for holding on to the religious title? 

      Read Brian’s message below. It seems like you can tell the difference between right and false religion but Brian says he can’t. I feel this inability comes precisely from these kinds of quirky messages that confuse the faithful who are deeply committed to serving Christ with their lives. 

  36. Gerardo, the bottom line is that many of us (myself included) cannot make the distinctions you and others are making. We cannot tell the difference between “true religion” and “false religion”. We cannot see how “religion” is any different from “legalism”. And what is more, I am finding the “religion” vs “gospel” distinction repeatedly in Scripture, both OT and NT and even in the Apocrypha.

    I listened to an atheist’s response to this debate recently. He couldn’t tell the difference between religion, legalism or the gospel (so he hates them all!). Yet he had some very valid points. And he actually had some thinking that (in my observation) expressed what Jesus actually meant by what He said and did.

    People in and out of church are confused these days. Why? I believe it is because we Christians have been confusing them and ourselves (to the Devil’s delight). We say “by grace through faith!” Yet we add “and also by religion and tradition!”. We say “you don’t need anything but Jesus!”. Yet we also demand “Come to church! It’s good for you!”. 

    • Brian, 
      The reason you cannot tell the difference is that you have been immersed in an evangelical *tradition* that villainizes religion. After hearing for so many years “you only need Jesus!” people have come to believe that they need nothing else. Ofcourse, that is not true since some read the bible, some go to bible studies, some think it is very important to write testimonies, many think you need to be babtized. 

      You say you find this distinction everywhere. Show me ONE passage in which religion was being practice as God prescribed (e.g., animal sacrifice with a circumsized heart) but God said to do otherwise. I imagine you will come up with a handful of passages in which God is displeased with particular religious practices because of the condition of the human heart and not the practice itself. 

      If you read the old testament carefully, you will see that God himself prescribed many of the religious rituals which the Jews practices. For instance, God told the Jews to built the arc of the covenant. God told the Jews to abstrain from certain foods. These things had a point ofcourse which is why God was often angry at the Jews when they practices these things outside of their points. 


    • Gerardo, just a couple comments: I was immersed in Catholicism for the first 18 years of my life. Then for another 21 or so years I was immersed in UBF. In RCC, I heard, “You need Jesus, but you also need the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Catechism, the Sacraments, the Councils…” In UBF, I heard “You need Jesus, but you also need testimony writing, fishing, offering, message training…”

      Neither of these groups villainize religion in general. Rather, both claim that they are the only true religion (or at least the best religion). I’m fine with people being in either the RCC or UBF, but I choose to be part of neither and see no requirement in Scripture to compel me to do so.

      As I mentioned above, for me, this debate ends in Philippians 3:1-21. Especially Philippians 3:7-9 speak to this matter. After listing his major religious accomplishments, Paul says all that is rubbish to him, compared to knowing Christ.

      Who practiced God’s religion better than Paul? Yet he says all that religion is a loss compared to Jesus (the gospel).  The word religion or religious only appears 11 times in Scripture (by my count in the NIV84). But the concept of religious activity being pitted against the grace of God found in the gospel of Jesus is a repeated theme of Romans and I would argue even in James, and I think is a central concept in Job’s discussions.

      Amos certainly had something to say about it as well (Amos 5:21-27).  Amos asks if Israel brought sacrifices and offerings (religion) in the desert? Although this is a rhetorical question, No, they did not, at least not in the fully prescribed way of the permanent temple. I see a repeated theme that God does not delight in sacrifice–religion (Psalms 51:16-19), even though God allows true religion and prescribed certain practices for a time.

      As one person wrote: “So, reasons YHWH with His people, were you accepted by Me because you correctly offered sacrifice? Or was it on a different basis?

      Although the nation in Amos’ day looked to the sacrificial system and thought that their acceptance was founded in the correct offerings and procedures, a consideration of their history would have shown up that belief to have been a false one. As Amstu writes

      ‘God’s point via the rhetorical question…is simply that offerings are not really what make His people right with Him. In the absence of a regular sacrificial program, the people were still covenantally His during the forty years in the wilderness’” (source)

      Although yes we all have some form of religion, Christianity marks the end of one prescribed religion for everyone and reveals God’s heart for many things beyond religion. Instead of one religion, we have one faith, one Lord, one mission, one gospel — and are free to put our religion into practice as God directs us. So to me, it is fine to be RCC and it’s fine to be UBF, but neither can claim that they are the only religion, and neither can coerce me to become part of their religion.

      “7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”


  37. And my questions for anyone who cares to answer from Scripture.

    1) What is the difference between true religion and false religion?

    2) What is the difference between true religion and legalism? 

    3) What role does true religion play in the life of a Christian?

    4) If God prescribed Judaism as His religion, should Christians practice Judaism?

    5) If Christianity is not the end of religion, then what religion should we follow? 

    • Paul Thorne

      excellent questions Brian, I will have to give your questions some thought.

    • It is going to take me a couple of days to answer your questions. But I promise I will get to them. best. 

    • Yes, please do!  I don’t think these are rhetorical questions. I really want to discuss these things. I want to hear what people think and also share my thoughts, so that we can indeed learn from each other.

    • Paul, what would you accept as a good answer to question 1? A biblical passage that says, true religion is such and such… and false religion is such and such? If so, then I am afraid I wont be able to give you a good answer. But neither will you be able to show me that faith is “the end of religion.” 

      I feel like you and Dr. Toh have been using the “end of religion” to describe a giant amalgamation of pagan belief, old covenant law that was meant for the Jews as well as abused old covenant law.  You previously cited Philipians 3:7-9 as evidence for golspel vs. religion. 
      #1 The passage does not say the gospel is better than this boogy monster called religion. It says “knowing Christ” surpasses this X thing. 
      #2 This X thing is described as Pauls previous profit and later describes is as much less great vs. knowing Christ. He doesnt say it was wicket just compares it’s value against this new thing (e.g., knowing Christ). That is, he is contrasting the new covenant with his previous way of life which was founded in the law. Jesus ofcourse told us something similar when he said that we should not put new wine in old wineskins (see also Gal 3:24-25). I say Amen with Paul. The law is of no avail to those who know Jesus Christ. Again, he is contrasting a dark mirror to one which allow us to see Jesus face to face (1 Cor 13). So yes, I do consider a clear mirror much better than a dark one. And having experienced the goodness of a clear mirror, the dark one is rubish. But where does he say it is a bad thing in of itself? Saint Paul clearly identifies the goodness of the old way of doing things in Romans but he is merely contrasting how useless it is now that the messiah is known. It is easy to strawman religion by claming that it is a holding on of old things or pagan ideas. But I am doing either. I accept the new covenant with God. 

      What I am talking about when I refer to religion is:
      *a prescribed belief system for understanding who God is (e.g., Father, Son and Holy Spirit as defined by the council of Nicea) and what he wants from our life (our total complete self). This belief system has certain moral guidelines that say’s dont do this (kill a baby) and you should do that (avoid supporting murder). Furthermore, religion has prescribed method of conducting sunday worship service to avoid having individuals sacrifice bulls. 

      I don’t understand why you insist on seeing these things as bad things. I can gurantee most of your life revolves on some form of religion. In fact, the very act of believing in the bible alone or in the idea of validity only through the bible is RELIGION. It’s called reformation theology. No matter how much you try to avoid religion, it is in your face. Even the very act of refusing a denominational title is a religion, its called non denominationalism.  

      In question #2, you ask what is the difference between true religion and legalism. Based on my definition of religion described above, I would say the difference is that one is done for a good end purpose and out of a desire to be in union with the will of God (e.g., not killing babies, ensuring that husband do not divorce their wives for silly reasons, preventing blasphamy from being commited during sunday worship service etc…) whereas, the is simply motivated out of ignorant obediance. This is like questioning the difference between a Child who loves his mother and a child who only listen to his mother to avoid getting punished. BIG DIFFERENCE. 

      Your third question asked what role does true religion play in the life of a Christian. To answer this, let me ask you several questions.
       – Do you believe in the trinity? Do you believe that the cannon of the bible is closed? Do you believe that abortion is wrong? Do you believe that human cloning is a moral evil? Do you believe that people should be prevented from doing whatever they want during sunday worship service and that not all biblical interpretations are valid? If you answer YES to some or all these questions then hopefully you can understand what role religion plays in the life of a Christian. Whether you are Catholic or methodist, you are shaped by a prescribed moral system that guides you attitudes, behaviors and life of faith. Whether your Lutheran, non denominational, or babtist, you are guided by a particular interpretation of the bible. Heck, the fact that you believe the Gospel is the end of the religion gives a perfect example of what role religion plays in the life of a Christian. 

      I continually reference moral issues like abortion and the liturgy because these are very obvious ways in which true religion guides our lives. This is true of the earliest Christians. For instance, Justin Martyr gave us an account of the earliest Christian liturgy during the third century. He wrote

      65. We lead him who believes and is joined to us, after we have thus baptized him, to those who are called the brethren, where they gather together to say prayers in common for ourselves, and for him who has been enlightened, and for all who are everywhere. . . . We greet each other with a kiss when the prayers are finished. Then bread and a cup of water and wine are brought to the president of the brethren, and he having received them sends up praise and glory to the Father of all through the name of his Son and the Holy Ghost, and makes a long thanksgiving that we have been made worthy of these things by him; when these prayers and thanksgivings are ended all the people present cry ‘Amen’. . . . And when the president has given thanks (eucharistesantos, already a technical name for the Eucharist) and all the people have answered, those whom we call deacons give the bread and wine and water for which the ‘thanksgiving’ (Eucharist) has been made to be tasted by those who are present, and they carry them to those that are absent.66. This food is called by us the Eucharist” (the well-known passage about the Real Presence follows, with the quotation of the words of Institution).67. On the day which is called that of the Sun a reunion is made of all those who dwell in the cities and fields; and the commentaries of the Apostles and writings of the prophets are read as long as time allows. Then, when the reader has done, the president admonishes us in a speech and excites us to copy these glorious things. Then we all rise and say prayers and, as we have said above, when we have done praying bread is brought up and wine and water; and the president sends up prayers with thanksgiving for the men, and the people acclaim, saying ‘Amen’, and a share of the Eucharist is given to each and is sent to those absent by the deacons.  (I Apology 65-67)

      As a man who previously attended Mass, I think you might find these description a bit familiar. I present it to demonstrate that religion formed this particular liturgical practice. It had significance for the earliest Christians who were taught by Jesus own apostles! Were they wrong in having a prescribed worship service? 

      In your fourth question, you ask if God prescribed Judaism as His religion, should Christians practice Judaism? God does not contradiction himself. He tells us in  Matthew 16, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Clearly he claimed he would build his church in the backdrop of Judaism as I imagine he realized that the Jews would not all accept his teaching. 

      You lastly asked, if Christianity is NOT the end of religion, then what religion should we follow. We should follow the religion that Jesus Christ founded through his Church. Obviously as a Catholic I claim that this is the Catholic Church but a babtist would claim that that is the babtist Church. The question is, who is right? That is a discussion for a different topic. I hope you will not try to derail this conversation by pointing out that there are many different denominations as evidence for the failings of religion. Your own view is a religion that prescribes the Gospel as the end of religion and creates it’s own denomination in light of the million of other denominations that already exist. The fact that there are millions of denominations, if anything, proves the neccesity to identify right religion as opposed to simply relying on “the gospel” and our particular interpretation of it.

      My hand is tired. I hope we can continue this discussion Brian.  

    • Hi Gerardo, before I share my thoughts, I want to try to understand your answers (just as I did with Paul’s response here). Before I do, though, I want to point out an observation. As someone here to learn, I can rather easily understand Dr. Ben’s comments. His words (for the most part) correspond with what the Spirit has been guiding me into the past 5 or 6 years, after a significant event that happened around 2005 and in 2009. 

      In an attempt to comprehend the points you are making, I repeat my questions below, followed by a brief summary of what I hear you saying. Please correct my understanding if I missed what you are really saying.

      1) What is the difference between true religion and false religion?
      G: There is not a good Bible reference to answer this question. 
      G: Christianity is a clear mirror (religion), while Judaism was a dark mirror (religion).
      G: Religion is defined as: “*a prescribed belief system for understanding who God is (e.g., Father, Son and Holy Spirit as defined by the council of Nicea) and what he wants from our life (our total complete self). This belief system has certain moral guidelines that say’s dont do this (kill a baby) and you should do that (avoid supporting murder). Furthermore, religion has prescribed method of conducting sunday worship service to avoid having individuals sacrifice bulls.”
      G: We all have some form of religion.

      2) What is the difference between true religion and legalism? 
      G: True religion a belief system that is done for a good end purpose. 
      G: True religion is a belief system that is done out of a desire to be in union with the will of God. 
      G: False religion is a belief systme that is motivated by ignorant obediance. 

      3) What role does true religion play in the life of a Christian?
      G: Religion’s role is to shape your thinking and actions.
      G: Religion is a prescribed moral system that guides your attitudes, behaviors and life of faith.
      G: Justin Martyr’s teaching about the liturgy shows that true religion existed in the early years of Christianity.

      4) If God prescribed Judaism as His religion, should Christians practice Judaism?
      G: Jesus claimed he would build his own church on Peter with the backdrop of Judaism.

      5) If Christianity is not the end of religion, then what religion should we follow?
      G: We should follow the religion that Jesus Christ founded through his Church.
      G: The fact that there are millions of denominations, if anything, proves the neccesity to identify right religion as opposed to simply relying on “the gospel” and our particular interpretation of it.

  38. This e-book describes my thoughts on this post extremely well:

    Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is Christ. There was no religion in Eden; there won’t be any in Heaven. I am far less confused about this point than at any other time in my life. I am also convinced that the prophets cry out a message that points to this truth, that it is what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob looked forward to:

    “The affirmation that Christianity is Christ, that “Christianity is the divine,” is not merely advocacy of another variant epistemological ideology or the defense of a more precise orthodox belief-system. This is a call to return to the reality of the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ as the ontological essence and behavioral expression of Christianity.”  

    My personal thoughts: Christianity is not religion, yet religion (a set of beliefs about a diety or dieties) normally does develop around Christianity. In fact, numerous religions have been built up around Christ. As long as that religion is put into practice in a way pleasing to God (as the book of James declares) and as long as that religion is transparent enough to still see Jesus, that religion is acceptable to God and to people.

    One problem is that a lot of today’s generation has not seen Christianity– because it has been blocked out of sight by religion so thick and so demanding and so full of failure, that we cannot see Jesus. So God is breaking down the walls through His Spirit. This makes religious people angry, upset and/or nervous (those who have a lot to lose from their religion falling down).

    • There will be no religion in heaven? Oh boy… read the book of revelations. Again, you will see many parallels with what already goes on in the Catholic Mass. 

    • Gerardo, if religion is a set of beliefs about God, why would we need religion in Heaven, where we will know God fully? (1 Corinthians 13:12)

    • Because religion is more than a set of beliefs about God. It helps us understand how we should properly honor him. What is our role in his divine plan. The angels have a role, and so do we. For isntance, revelations tell us that there are angels in heaven who light incense and that the saints offer up prayers. These should sound familiar as they are behaviors associated with earhtly religion as well.

  39. One last thought on this and I’ll let it be for now, from articles I’ve been reading: “It is the propensity of man to formulate religion  to take that which is of the invisible God and attempt to make it visible, tangible and controllable. Man-made religion! The apostle Paul refers to it as “self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23), and goes on to indicate that it is of no value against fleshly indulgence. In essence, Paul is saying that “religion is of no value against man’s sinfulness.” In fact, religion is a co-dependent enabler of the sins of mankind. It is itself an addiction” (source)

    • Paul Thorne

      Since what is made is unseen first it is hard to be certain what one call’s man made to that which can actually be and often is of God.  If it serves only man then fine call it man made from the standpoint of there being no repentance or change of life.  But if it is individual revelation from God who are we to be calling it man made.  God clearly speaks to us individually and in oft ways not directly from the Bible and never in contradiction to His word.  This being the case who are we to stand proud and judge the calling of God in others lives as something being man made. No one has the market on Jesus individually and unless a doctrinal body makes a judgement let the free will of man remain unfettered in its pursuit of God without personal judements and with abounding encouragements. Otherwise show me your authority to do so.   

    • Brian,
      How do you go from  Saint Paul critiquing manmade religion to deducing that all religion is of no value? If you read the entire chapter, you will clearly see that Saint Paul is referring to Pagan practices and perverted Judaism (e.g., worshiping angels).  Saint Paul identifies these as human commands, not because they are taught by humans but because they do not originate in God but came out of the sinful imagination of man. 

      Want biblical evidence between true vs. false religion? Read the passage again. Saint Paul critiques certain teachings as man made and then admonishes his readers to do what he prescribes and teaches. But guess what, Saint Paul is merely a man! But obviously we identify his human teachings as true because we know they originate in God. In fact,  we know from 2 Thessalonians than Saint Paul asked his bretheren to stand firm and hold on to the traditions which were taught by you either through word of mouth or by letter. Again, Saint Paul was merely a man. Are we going to claim that he was teaching man made religion? Ofcourse not. There is obviously a difference between what is taught by men. 

    • Gerardo, you raise some good questions:

      “How do you go from  Saint Paul critiquing manmade religion to deducing that all religion is of no value?”

      Here is what Paul wrote:

      “3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh–  4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  (Philippians 3:3-7)

      In these verses, Paul is listing out his Jewish heritage, the religion God prescribed. He says whatever value he had gained through following this religion, it is now a loss.

      What does Paul say replaces that Jewish religion, his heritage? If I keep reading, I see that Paul expresses God’s desire to replace the Jewish religious system (which was prescribed by God and served a good purpose for a time) with Christ, and with a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (not from religion).

      “8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  (Philippians 3:8-9)

      “If you read the entire chapter, you will clearly see that Saint Paul is referring to Pagan practices and perverted Judaism (e.g., worshiping angels).?”

      Did I miss something? I don’t see any reference to pagan practices or worshiping angels or perverted Judaism in Philippians 3 or anywhere in Philippians.

      So my question is: Did God intend to replace Jewish religion with a new, better, more clear, Christian religion? All indications to me are “no”. I am becoming more and more convinced that God intended to replace Jewish religion with Jesus Christ, to replace religion with the Son.  

    • ** I did miss something. You were likely referring to Colossians 2 in regard to the “pagan rituals” and such. Colossians 2 actually makes it even more clear: God intended to replace religion with Jesus. If I redefine terms in Colossians 2, I can understand your thinking Gerardo. But if I just accept what Colossians 2 says, I’m not able to follow your train of thought. Christ is the fullness of God.

      Colossians 2:1-10 “1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. 6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

    • Perhaps I shouldn’t just keep posting Scripture, but it is so abundantly clear to me as I keep reading! 

      God indeed canceled the written code with its regulations. Why would I accept a new set of codes and regulations, even if it might be a better, more clear code?

      “13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,  14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Colossians 2:13-16) 

    • Brian,
      As I have said before,in  Philipians Paul is rightly considering the previous religious practices as pointless in light of knowing Christ. I agree with him here. But again, I dont see the logical connection between Paul saying these previous precepts are no longer binding as I know have Jesus INTO all religion is pointless and God no longer expects us to hold certain doctrinal practices and give him praise through certain NEW predescribed practices. Where does it say that?

      You ask did God intend to replace the old religion with a new religion? My reading of the bible seems to indicate yes as we read in the gospels and in the book of acts that the earlly Christians did certain things on a regular basis (e.g., read scripture, sing psalms, break bread). They also did other things like meet in councils  and decide on certain practices. For instance, in the council of Jerusalem they said no longer should we bind the gentiles with these precepts but they should still do these other precepts. This all sounds like a new religion to me. Doesnt it to you? A new religion that is promulgated through a new Church. 

      You quote colosians chapter 2 as evidence for your position. But read it careful. Saint Paul is attacking *deceptive philosophy*, which depend on human tradition and are worldly. Does that mean he is attacking all philosophy? Absolutely not! Just as he might attack false beliefs but not true beliefs. He is not attacking all forms of tradition but those that take on their origin in the human imagination and not the imagination of God. See 2 Thesalonians 2:15. I would still like to hear a response from you on this. Since he is clearly adminoshing the early Christians to let go of false traditions for true traditions. I know the word tradition is a taboo word among evangelicals but one cannot make a blanket statement that ALL form so of tradition passed on by humans is bad. 

      Brian, go ahead and post all the scripture you want. I am perfectly fine with that. I disagree with your particular interpretation of scripture ofcourse as well as the conclusions you are drawing from it. You lastly cite colosians again but Brian, read Acts. There is clearly some form of religious practice going on when they decide on how should gentiles behave. They *people* proclaims that the gentiles should do so and so but not so and so. Sounds very religious to me. 

    • Gerardo,

      You mentioned:
      “You ask did God intend to replace the old religion with a new religion? My reading of the bible seems to indicate yes as we read in the gospels and in the book of acts that the earlly Christians did certain things on a regular basis (e.g., read scripture, sing psalms, break bread).”

      I’ll grant that the things you mention do indeed sound like religion. I think I am arguing against a future point that you haven’t made yet, but I suspect you will based on other discussions elsewhere. It seems your train of thought is heading where all of my discussions with Catholics have ultimately gone, and unfortunately, ended. I will discuss religion with you, but I simply cannot go there.

      Although I’ve not acknowledged it, quite a few of your points ring true and make sense. But your over-arching reasoning is starting to show dark clouds to me. I’ve been through this logic several times before, and I know where it usually ends. If you are not going there, then I apologize and am eager to continue the discussion.  

    • Brian,
      I am actually not sure where you think I am going. My only point in this discussion was to show that the early church had a very religious life of worship. I use the early Church because we know that there was something very special about them. They were full of the Holy Spirit and taught directly by the apostles.

      Beyond that, I am not sure what point you think I am going to try to make. If you think I am going to say.. given all of these facts you should convert to Catholocism! .. then your a bit wrong. If you read my previous posts, you will see that I purposely sideline that issue to stay focused on the issue here. 

      If this is not what you think i was going for, then I am at a lost. Not sure what dark secret you think I am trying to unleash on you. =) 


    • Gerardo, I believe you when you say you don’t want to make me Catholic. In fact, I don’t recall ever meeting a Catholic who wanted me to convert to Catholicism.

      The few ardent Catholics I’ve had discussions with (for many hours in person in the past) only wanted to convince me of one thing: that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church of God. They did so by binding the words and actions of the NT apostles to RCC.

      For example, they argued that Peter was the first Pope; that the apostles’ meetings were the first RCC councils; that the actions of the angels in Revelations confirms that the RCC mass is God’s way to worship; that the Eucharist is the body of Christ and has power in itself to bring salvation; that the deacons mentioned in the NT were the first bishops, and the list goes on and on. They bound Scripture to the RCC religion.

      In other words, they wanted me to admit that the Apostles were Catholics and practicing RCC, and that they instituted RCC as God’s Church and God’s religion.

      My concern is that I see these same arguments being made in your comments here in defense of religion. If I am mistaken, then maybe you could succinctly clarify your points?

    • Brian,
      I never said I didnt want to make you RCC. I said I wasnt trying to do that here in this particular blog. =)    I just want to be clear about that.

      Your right that I am using very similar arguments that you have heard in these previous encounters. But that is just because RCC and the early Christians were very religious in their life of worship. While I could attempt to make the connection, I wasnt trying to do so. Instead, I was simply trying to encourage you to look at your experience as a RCC in your earlier life with all it’s religiosity and point out that the early Christians did many similar things which are found in modern day RCC or lutherans or methodist. Hence, the early Christians were also religious. 

      That is my argument. You seem to agree with it. I think your last comment really get’s at the heart of what I has been at the back of mind as I read your comments. I feel like you have a lot of baggage from your past as a RC and UBFer. 

    • An evangelistic Catholic! Awesome. Yes, you are correct; I have a lot of baggage! I hope it is because God wants me to go somewhere and do something for Him :)

      If I take your argument at face value, I agree. And I do very much appreciate your earlier clarifications of the Catholic faith. As you can tell, I am currently hyper-sensitive to the word religion, and I was using it at times to springboard into expressing my disgust from my prior baggage.  

    • Mark Mederich

      “As you can tell, I am currently hyper-sensitive to the word religion”
      i hear ya bro, & am glad to be on guard against ‘religion’ increasingly

      unfortunately, religion is alive & well, causing spirituality to wane in America

      oh Lord, save us from ourselves:)

  40. Paul Thorne

    The argument to chastise the word religion is seemingly pointless. There is such a thing as the Chrisitian Religion(s).  If not then which religious Christian denomination is the true Christian Faith. This logic only brings separaion much the same as religion being a bad ‘thing’. Call it a co-dependent enabler or whatever you want is plain scapegoating and escapism from our true selves (fallen as we are). Jesus is not Christianity anymore than our personal selves can comprehend Jesus. What is not of God or Jesus may not be religion. It would definitely be of man. But to say Jesus is Christianity does not tell me who Jesus really is. Nor does it help me define who Jesus is apart from the Christian Religion. If anyone has finally arrived at the fullness of who Jesus is please tell me about it.  Ohh….forget it they must be perfect and in heaven!!!  How can our personal Jesus mode be protected from being anything other than religion. Attacking Religion as a dirty word is no different than discrediting through our own ignorance 40,000 Christian denominations. For every person who stands apart from any of these denominations basically is starting a new one in the name of Jesus of course and in the name of  ….Christianity or Religion? Lets not split hairs on this anymore.  Build one another up. I work with people suffering in and for and because of their faith. They are all of different and search for God. I don’t say your religion as a Lutheran, Baptist or Episcopal has you failing in your Christian faith. I use all things to bring people closer to God and free of their sins. I do not say you are not a Christian because you are from such and such a Church/religion. I help them grow in faith and often help them to love themselves right where they are at. You cannot truely love yourself apart from the love of God…..Jesus is God. i have to go.

    • Mark Mederich

      “Call it a co-dependent enabler or whatever you want is plain scapegoating and escapism from our true selves (fallen as we are).”

      sorry, religion is imbued with extra influence in people’s lives & is collective endeavor, so must be held extra accountable & must respect all members

  41. Paul Thorne


    Studying the Catholic faith does reveal more than what others tell you about that faith. That Church at least has very clear teaching in their catechism.  But lets say you are of the Church that adopts the Westminster confession.  They also have some clear teaching.  For the sake of unity I will not speak contrary to the doctrines the leadership teaches within my particular body of believers.  I have not found a perfect church yet.  The most amusing Catholics. They live their own religion apart from the teachings of that Church and truely think they are Catholics.  They are the renegade Catholics or cafeteria Catholics and their individual faith tells others falsehoods about Catholicism.  That particular Church claims they have the FULL deposit of faith. To be a Catholic for what that faith truely teaches and claims takes more faith than I could imagine and have rarely seen.  Some of the most virtuous people I have known lived the Bible, didn’t seem to have their Bible memorized, were people of prayer AND were Catholic.  They have more faith than me and they love Jesus, others and themselves.  I can say that many that I have met in the Catholic label would discourage one to become Catholic.  It is the individual and not the denomination that usually fails.  If we all lived the faith we say we believe, truley live it!!!!  ….. what A JOYOUS world we would live in!  It is not the religion or denomination most the time that fails it is the individual.  So, lets build up the individual and not attack their religion.  If they conclude their religion ’caused’ them failings lets pray they grow in maturity and move on.

  42. Thanks, Paul, Gerardo, Brian. I thoroughly enjoyed reading what you guys wrote! Just to state what I may have assumerd to be obvious: By using the word Religion in this blog, I am not attacking UBF or Catholism or any other denomination or world religion. I am using it primarily in man’s perception of the way to get right with God through man’s efforts (religion), rather than through God getting it right with man (which is only possible through the Gospel).

    I often say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship and a response. Sorry for my love of alliteration, like another post: Happy, Healthy, Humble View of Self!

    • Dr. Toh,
      I understand that your not refering to UBF, Methodist or Catholicism. But if your going to attack religion and use that word, then you inadvertantly encourage an attack on organized religion. That is why I have asked time and time again that you use a different term. Because while you might know what you mean, those who you teach may misunderstand you.  

  43. Hi Paul, and thank you for your thoughts. I share some more of my thinking here as a learner, not as a teacher. For more than 2 decades I dictated my ideas about Christianity in UBF (for the most part separated from all major denominations). So my thoughts may be rather blunt at times. But please remember I am sincerely seeking to learn (and change) if necessary.

    I had some difficulty sifting through your words, but here are some points I could pull out of your comments above. Before I reply, I want to make sure I’m hearing you correctly.

    Are these points correctly representing what you wanted to say? If not, please correct my understanding.

    1. It is difficult to discern what is from man and what is from God.

    2. God’s individual revelation is important.

    3. We should not judge God’s calling as being manmade.

    4. Chastising the word religion is not helpful.

    5. Calling religion bad is scapegoating.

    6. Anyone who stands apart from the 40,000 denominations is creating a new one.

    7. We should not split hairs, but build up one another.

    8. Our religion does not cause us to fail in our faith.

    9. There is no perfect church.

    10. Many people tend to live below their religion, not living up to its standards.

    11. If we all did live our faith, it would be a joyous world.


    • I feel like much of this four way discussion is convulated by a different definition of religion. =) 

    • Gerardo, I accept your definition of religion above. Your definition matches what I was thinking. 

  44. Thanks, Gerardo. By your definition, as stated in earlier comments, I am super-ultra-religious and ultra conservative in my orthodoxy as a Protestant Christian and Calvinist (but I am not an angry Calvinist!). I do not hate the word religion. I am not attacking any religion. I am not even attacking the word religion.

    But I am saying that living a good, moral, ethical, religious life, following the 10 commandments, the golden rule, the great commandment, etc (what most people regard Religion to be), CANNOT save us. Only the Gospel saves us freely by Jesus’ grace alone.

    • Dr. Toh,
      Your answer I think highlights my issue with the way the word religion has been attacked. Because the ability to live a good moral and ethical life, following the 10 commandments, the golden rule etc..comes from grace. That is, you are pitting living a good moral life against grace. When I argue that these things are possible because of grace. So It is confusing to me why you would pit them against each other. 

      At first, you made it seem as if you were arguing against the popular notion that God wants people to simply do good deeds here and there and that is all he wants from us. You pitted the gospel against this notion. I agree with you here. But not when you try to pit a genuine desire to keep the commandments out of Love for Christ against grace. I disagree with you on this point because I think it creates a false dichotomy. Loving God so much that you would desire to keep his commandments is in itself an act of God working in one’s life through grace. I object to you attempting to different the two.  

  45. Here are the thoughts I have thus far in regard to the questions I posed above. Keep in mind that I am a RCC/UBFer/Baptist (since my current church is Baptist). Perhaps that explains a lot… 

    1) What is the difference between true religion and false religion?

    James 1:27 “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.” Religion that enforces a written code is false religion. Religion that distinguishes between “good” and “bad” people is false religion. Religion that results in perpetual guilt is false religion. False religion is a love for self and a desire for the power, fame or possessions of the world.

    Religion that submits to the Spirit and to Scripture is true religion. Religion that distinguishes between “repentance” and “unrepentance” is true religion. Religion that results in helping people in need with compassion is true religion. Religion that does not delight in the sinful ways of the world, but acknoweledges God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, is true religion. True religion is compassion for those in distress and pursuit of God’s ways. Does your religion fall under the Bible’s description of religion accepted by God? If so, then I accept it, regardless of what “ism” you hail from.  Is your religion so opaque that I can’t see Christ? Then I reject it. Is your religion transparent enough that I can see Christ in you? Then I say “amen.”

    2) What is the difference between true religion and legalism? 

    The difference between true religion and legalism is nearly the same as between true religion and false religion. Legalism is really just one example of false religion. Legalism is a passion for doing things “by the book” or “by the letter of the law.” Legalism provides no room for mercy. True religion is “by the Spirit”, full of mercy, and not simply mercy (the removal of due punishment) but also grace (the undeserved, abounding blessing and favor).

    3) What role does true religion play in the life of a Christian?

    I am convinced from numerous passages in Scripture (in fact all 66 books), that God’s desire is for us to know Him. The role of true religion, is not to help us to know God better or more perfectly. In other words, I will not know God better by studying the RCC councils or obeying the practices of UBF or even being baptized. But if I go help a distressed person, I have the possibility of discovering much about God. Once I know something about God, I may find that I can learn something from the RCC councils, and I might even find that I enjoy the practices of UBF, and I may have a desire to be baptized as a testimony to the world that I no longer live, or want to do things my way, but I submit to God’s ways.

    The role of true religion is to demonstrate our faith and knowlege of God to the world. Our true religion is an expression of our love for God and is refined as He teaches us more and more about Himself through Scripture and the Spirit. 

    4) If God prescribed Judaism as His religion, should Christians practice Judaism?

    Colossians 2:13-14 “13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,  14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” God indeed did prescribe Judaism as His relgion (though perhaps not all of Judaism, for much was built on what God prescribed). No one is requried to practice Judaism because it was nailed to the cross when Christ died.

    5) If Christianity is not the end of religion, then what religion should we follow?

    It is clear to me that Scripture does not intend to teach us to follow a religion. Rather, Scripture teaches that we are to follow Christ. If we follow relgion, we will fail. But if we follow Christ, we will succeed in achieving that which religion promises. Our religion follows us as we follow Christ. In other words, Christianity is not so much about shaping us by our religion as it is about Christ shaping our religion through us.

    As best as I can see it in Scripture: Christianity is a relationship with Christ Jesus, both personal and communal, which results in sinners being transformed, to have and to express, compassion, love, joy, hope, kindness, peace and all good things.  


    • Brian,
      You cite James 1:27 which is a written code on how on should behave if he is really religious and then conclude “Religion that enforces a written code is false religion”
      I am a little confused.

      You then say that “Religion that results in perpetual guilt is false religion. ” I agree that it is false religion is a religion in its doctrinal tenants wants you to only feel guilty and nothing more. Jesus told us he came not to condemn the world but to save it. So which religion are you attacking which holds in it’s tenants that we should only feel guilty and nothing more? It’s true that there are many religious who feel guilty because their religion defines certain actions as morally evil so when they perform them, they feel guilty. As they should! I know your not asking for a cumbayah religion so I am a little confused what you are asking for in a true religion. Religion is naturally going to define and clarify further what is good and what is bad. It is the sign of a good religion to be able to adress new ethical questions and give its adherants answers that will help them to work towards the will of God in their lives. For instance, the Catholic Church (my religion) tells me that abortion is murden and that if I encourage abortion, I am commiting a grave error and put myself at risk for spending eternity in hell. I am glad they teach this. Otherwise you have “I did it my way” Christianity that defines truth, goodness and beuty based on their own feelings and the biblical passages that coincide with them. 

      You pose several litmus tests for true religion. I know several protestant denominations that would fit that bill. So i am again unclear by the point you are trying to make. It sound slike you are saying, “I dont like it when certain people get together , call their group something and dont practice the gospel. But I do like it and accept when certain people get together, call their group something, and DO practice the gospel.” Is that the heart of your message? If so, then why are you attacking religion in general? It sound slike you are on board with me and Paul in saiying religion depending on its practice and what it teaches, can be a good thing. 

      Brian, at this point my head is beggining to hurt because it sounds like you and I are totally on board but you always conclude by condeming ALL forms of religion. You say, these kinds of religions or definitions of what religion is are good . but all religion is opposed to the gospel and hence bad. 

    • Gerardo,

      I suspect this discussion is becoming pointless. I am really not trying to teach anything, but to learn. I suppose my history of dictating what I learn is not helpful. In any case, I’ll attempt to clarify a few things and reply with my answers to your questions. Then I have to go watch the Super Bowl… :)

      “You cite James 1:27 which is a written code on how on should behave”
      >>> Fair enough. I admit then, that I accept one written code, which is the Bible.

      “…then conclude “Religion that enforces a written code is false religion”
      >>> I still agree with that statement: Religion that enforces a written code is false religion. The key word is “enforces”. I reject any religion that uses the Bible like a law book and has “policemen” enforcing regulations, even if they are regulations from the Bible. I further would explain that even the Bible can become an idol, just as mission itself can become an idol. False religion enforces a written code; True religion facilitates a relationship with God and with other people.

      You pose several litmus tests for true religion. I know several protestant denominations that would fit that bill. 
      >>> Fair enough. Protestant or Catholic, I think the same issues I have with religion apply. I am not attacking any particular religion, but attempting to explain what I’ve learned (and to adjust my thinking if necessary) about religion in general.

      “It sound slike you are saying, “I dont like it when certain people get together , call their group something and dont practice the gospel. But I do like it and accept when certain people get together, call their group something, and DO practice the gospel.” Is that the heart of your message? 

      >>> I don’t think that is the heart of my message, but it is a pretty close summary of what I meant, yes. I’m saying that religion can be acceptable, but can never be required, not for life nor for salvation.

      “If so, then why are you attacking religion in general?”
      >>> As I write each comment here, I’m not thinking how I can attack religion. I’m thinking, how can I be for the grace of God? I’m attempting, though perhaps not very well, to further express the truth of what Ben posted in this article, which matches what I’ve been learning the past couple years.

      It sound slike you are on board with me and Paul in saiying religion depending on its practice and what it teaches, can be a good thing. 
      >>> No, I’m not quite onboard. I’m saying that religion is acceptable as long as it is transparent enough to see Jesus, but religion is not required and not to be enforced. So if I am attacking anything, I would be attacking the requirement of religion. So if someone is RCC, then I am fine with them being RCC. But in fact, what infuriates me is the binding of religion, that is, the binding of Scripture to religion. For example, UBF claims in its official doctrine book that UBF activities are “the truth of God” and that there isn’t any better way (or least hasn’t yet been discovered) to grow to be like Jesus. 

      Brian, at this point my head is beggining to hurt because it sounds like you and I are totally on board but you always conclude by condeming ALL forms of religion. You say, these kinds of religions or definitions of what religion is are good . but all religion is opposed to the gospel and hence bad. 
      >>> I am intrigued by your repeated referral to “good” and “bad”. While I agree that the definitions of religion given in these threads is “correct”, I do not think religion is good in and of itself. There are two pictures that the pastor team I’m currently learning from have drawn that may help. Hopefully this doesn’t add to your headache!

      First, Christianity is not a priority list, where Jesus fits in somewhere in our priorities, religious or secular. Instead, Christianity is a relationship with Jesus where Jesus is in the center of our hearts, and our religion is subordinate to that relationship. I would argue that the “priority list” mindset is fostered by religion and is very different from the “central relationship” mindset.

      Second, Christianity is not about having a checklist, where we check off our work each week and feel a sense of relief if we did them, or guilt if we did not. Christianity is not about making our plans and asking God to bless them. Instead, Christianity is about living our lives at the foot of the cross, seeking to let Jesus rule and submitting our plans to God’s plans.

      All this is exceedingly clear to me, having lived 20+ years with both a priority list and a checklist. I felt good as long as my priorities and checklists were bigger than most people around me, yet I always had a nagging fear and hopelessness and futility in my heart. That is all gone now that I have surrendered to the grace of God. 

      This article describes my position very well although like most people these days, the writer uses the words “legalism”, “moralism” and “performancism” instead of “religion”. When I hear the word religion, I think of all three and see not Scripture imperative to separate them out or not to use the word religion. Still, this article expresses my thoughts much more eloquently than I can:

      “It’s almost as if, for me, the gospel changed from something hazy and monochromatic to some- thing richly multicolored, vivid, and vibrant. I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel—that the gospel doesn’t simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance (more on all this later). Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before.

      The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is the one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism. Strictly speaking, those three terms—legalism, performancism, and moralism—aren’t precisely identical in what they refer to. But there’s so much overlap and interconnection between them that we’ll basically look at them here as one thing… It shows up when behavioral obligations are divorced from gospel declarations, when imperatives are disconnected from gospel indicatives. Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game.” 

  46. Paul Thorne

    I have been absent a while and have run behind to comment. I will not try and catch up but believe there is unbending in the use of the terms religion and gospel. Our fallen natures, despite being new creations in Christ. Brian you gave me many good things to think and consider in what I said previously. I sense however perhaps I could make an illustration that you may be able to relate to insofar as your past with the Catholic Church. If I am mistaken the illustration will stand by itself.
    Would one say the Catholic Faith is a Religion. Would one say the Methodist Faith is a Religion. Being Catholic or Methodist does not save you in and of itself. I know of no one who would disagree with this statement. I would say many are being led to heaven in the ______ Church because they love Jesus and are growing in holiness. We can say that Jesus Christ saves us and lives in the Catholic Church. We can say that Jesus Christ saves us and lives in the _____________ Church. So just as Paul described the works of the law and even called it good we should accept the good works of religion and call it good!~ If you take away ones religion where they live with Christ, through Christ and in Christ have we not taken away the very foundation for Him to live and reign in our lives WHO LIVE IN COMMUNITY!  Is going to Mass the gospel or religion? You can separate them if you choose to but for most they are inseparable. One saves but the other in and of itself does not. To ‘kill religion’ is impossible as even those who are not of an organized religion have their own religion. We cannot even say we are saved because we do not have religion only the the gospel. The gospel is defined differently by many but we cannot argue that we are saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Lets say you invite someone to dinner to share the good news about Jesus Christ and enjoy them for who God made them. Upon sharing the gospel the person comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and is baptized. Of course prior to this we have become someone this person has considered desirable enough to join us for dinner. Does the dinner save the person? Of course not but it certainly fed the person’s faith to trust Jesus Christ. In the same way Religion shares greatly the gospel with others.
    Now this same person grows in the faith of his religion (organized) lets say he’s Catholic. He starts sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned and does many charitable and loving deeds. Is that person’s religion bad or good? I would by appearance say good. Is that religion that saves or not? We do not know. Only God knows if these are works of faith and love. Since we don’t know should we say what is done is bad. NO. We should love others and ask God to use us to live in the love and light of Christ. Paul did comment on one occasion that even the pagans practice such things to our shame. So people of pagan faiths can illustrate our shameful ways.
    If we become convinced that religion is not necessary but only the gospel too many will fall for a different gospel and or quit being Methodist or Catholic. Should a Catholic quit being Catholic because all one needs is the gospel? NO.
    So Brian, I guess you were Catholic? Is being Catholic being only religious or is it being a full gospel believer? Can we know? Those outside the individual may not know but the individual is admonished by Paul to ‘examine himself’. I believe one can be Catholic and live the fullness of truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That Church can claim that they were  from the beginning even though many object to the Catholic Church’s hold on what they teach about what Jesus said about His Church. Including words like “he who hears you, hears me” and “who’s sins you forgive are forgiven who’s sins you do not forgive are not forgiven”. Is this religion or is it Jesus since these are Jesus’ words? Are we free to decide yes. Do we accept it or not. If we don’t accept it as the truth we can attack it as religion and claim we don’t need it and live ‘the gospel’. We can do this with every Christian denomination. Lets just attack what we do not like and call it religion. Do we see it as gospel or reject it as religion. It seems to me that that is what this whole religion and gospel stuff is about. Obedience to the TRUTH. Yes Lord Jesus I’ll be careful to follow everything you have commanded me through your Holy Word and the Truth you reveal to me. Our religion can serve this pursuit and most Christian denominations do this. Dr. Fowler’s book saying Christianity is not Religion is not for the common people but more for the professorial to appreciate. To what extent are we living through, with and in HIM is what is important. It cannot be done without HIM, It cannot be done but through HIM and it cannot be done if we are not in HIM. WE must put our heart into it not just our failing comprehensions about the faith. Love covers all. So let us love one another.

    • Paul, I’m having difficulty sifting through your train of thought, so I’ll respond by answering a few of your questions, in hopes to keep a healthy dialogue going.

      You asked, “I guess you were Catholic? Is being Catholic being only religious or is it being a full gospel believer?”  Yes, I grew up Roman Catholic, until age 18 (then I joined UBF until 2011). It is clear to me that being Catholic is being religious. Being UBF or being Baptist or being Methodist is being religious. My point, if I have any, is that all those religions should be transparent and subservient to Jesus Himself. If they are not transparent, then they will eventually crumble or become instruments of Satan to wound and destroy.

      Certainly it is possible to be RCC and be a full gospel believer. And as you point out, we could substitute “RCC” with any denomination and the statements would remain true.

      You also asked, “Is this religion or is it Jesus since these are Jesus’ words?” We are indeed free to decide and we can indeed discern the difference, under the guidance of the Spirit and Scripture. I left UBF last year because I could no longer see Jesus. I had resisted and grieved the Holy Spirit for too long. UBF became an opaque religion– as long as I performed certain actions every year, UBF considered me “ok” and I was given absolute authority to run my chapter.

      I left as an “independence movement”, to demonstrate or go “on strike” to show that there is a better way. I left in order to call leaders into repentance for building up walls of religious activity, ignoring the pain of those wounded by UBF ideals and for not living out the love and compassion of Jesus. I left to call attention to sinful and illegal activity. I left in hopes that new dialogues would open up and that UBF could become an instrument of God’s healing and example of a vibrant, healthy community, a community no longer ruled by dictators, but ruled by Jesus.

      Before leaving, my family found a “healthier, normal, church community where there are sinners who know they are part of a hospital, and not a separate, special, unique and holy club with ALL the truth.” The problem with any religion (especially of RCC and UBF) is that the religion eventually becomes an exclusive holy club, and not an instrument of God’s healing for the world. When I read Scripture, I see that God clearly wants to form a community of believers (a royal priesthood) so that He can live in us and be His instruments.

      So the title “Christianity is the end of religion” doesn’t really capture my thoughts or what I believe Dr.Ben was saying. A better title might be: “Christianity is not religion, it is the fulfillment of religion.”


    • Galatians 5:6 says this succinctly: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  I think a study in circumcision would be most helpful here: how God instituted circumcision, fulfilled it in Christ, and did away with it through His teaching through Paul.

  47. Paul Thorne

    Baptism is the new circumcision.

    • Paul, the rebellious part of me really wants to agree with that statement. However, I must accept what Scripture says. Jesus and the Scriptures clearly allow for at least two traditions: baptism and communion (Ephesians 4:4-5; Luke 22:19). So while circumcision is an example of a tradition that God did away with, baptism and communion are examples of tradition that God did not do away with.

      This brings up a good point: if Christianity is not religion, does that mean Christianity has no tradition? I would answer that with “no”. Christianity does have some tradition. Still my point above is valid: even the small amount of tradition found in Scripture should be done transparently, and not in a way that turns tradition into religion and overshadows Christ. 

  48. Paul Thorne

    I am not the best writer and struggle in expressing my thoughts clearly. I like all of what you shared in your earlier reply and journey in the faith from the Catholic Church and UBF. I would suggest that what causes us to leave one faith assembly or ‘exclusive holy club’ is what you will find in every denomination over time as you acclimate yourself to each new group. Each religious group of the Christian faith holds transparent those things they believe to be true and insofar as they live those believes at all costs for the cause of Christ they show the fullness of God’s Love. The lack of transparency is a shrinking from the faith which has its remedy in LOVE for perfect love casts out all fear. Fear is the threshold hiding us from what is all good which is God Himself. Picture Adam and Eve being stricken from the garden because of sin and the loss of transparency (full fellowship and communion) with God.
    You mention that you discern the difference through the Guidance of the Holy Spirit and Scripture. This is the language of the Reformers of the Reformation and commonly holds the individual’s ability to discern the will of God and sticks strictly to the revelation of truth to that which is only in the Bible. The BIBLE ALONE AND FAITH ALONE.  You have 40,000.00 denominations and still growing today based on this rule of faith. In fact many within these denominations do not hold to the teachings of Calvin, Luther, Swingli, Melancthon and the list goes on. Protestants are oft times as unaware of their roots as Catholics are of what their Church truly teaches. I have to believe there is some authority that would not allow 40,000 divisions of the Christian Faith. You have thus far experienced the exclusive holy club phenomenon in the Catholic Church and UBF. Insofar as we are all human and fallen even as true believers I do not think you will escape these realities…ever!
    Interestingly, the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations believe in the priesthood of the believers. The striking difference is the Catholic Church holds to the body of believers as a priesthood just as Israel was declared to be in the old testament and has the fulfillment of the priesthood in the old testament in its new testament form. The Paschal lamb is the fulfillment of the Judaic system of theology.
    I have to go but I appreciate deeply your ability  to express so succinctly what you believe. God bless you.

    • Paul, you raise some very important points here. Most importantly, you say “I do not think you will escape these realities ever”. I agree. 8 years ago, I just wanted to escape all religion, UBF included. That is partly why I moved to Detroit. Then I realized escape is not possible. Where can I hide from God? :) So I furiously defended UBF practices publicly and privately. That left me exhausted until 2006 when I started to realize the truth in what many of the UBF critics said. Then in 2009 I read about one person’s description of something I did to cause their family much harm (which is posted here on ubfriends). It was then that I realized how blinded I had been, all in the name of religion. 

      So perhaps my comments here are coming more from experience than theology. But I am making an attempt to reconcile my thinking with Scripture, i.e. if even one verse contradicts my thinking, I need to change my thinking. I appreciate all who are listening and anyone who comments; this is helping me immensely to find clarity in my thinking and expression of faith.

      One other thought in regard to the numerous Protestant denominations and the Catholic church. I see God’s providence in this. Luther sparked the Reformation, and all kinds of religious groups sprang up. The Catholic church is kind of a father figure, holding fast to its positions.

      Perhaps there may be a prodigal son type reunion between Catholicism and the Protestant denominations? Perhaps the RCC may become flexible enough to learn from the Spirit’s work to demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God through thousands of believers? Perhaps the Protestant denominations may be flexible enough to learn from the Spirit’s work to establish the RCC? 

      What if we all submitted to the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17? What if we forget our minor differences, let our religion fall to the background and begin to claim that we are all Christians with one Lord, one faith and one baptism? There clearly seems to be a core set of identifying marks of Christianity in Scripture that we could all agree on. What a force Christianity would be!

  49. Paul Thorne

    Communion and Baptism are usually regarded as commands of our Lord in most Protestant Faiths and the Catholic Church. I would not consider there practice as a tradition only but certainly we are commanded these. Some consider them ordinances others sacraments.  Baptism is the new circumcision as taught by Scripture. The ‘Real Presence” (the body and blood of our Lord) in the communion table has always been taught from the beginning. It is clear that this teaching is confirmed by early Church Leaders as a must belief of the faith as well as Scripture. Tradition is not all bad. In fact I would submit that the same battle of religion versus gospel has interesting parallels of the Scripture Alone argument of the Reformers (a human tradition not taught in Scripture) to that of Sacred Tradition taught by the Catholic Church. Under what Authority did the Reformers justify removing 7 books from Scripture that had been established in the 4th Century? Then after removing Scripture of some books that did not support their beliefs (which they said the Jews did not accept which is partly true) they established the Scripture Alone standard of faith based on what they defined as Scripture. Clearly it is a forceful argument to consider; a ‘human tradition’ cancelling out Sacred Tradition and some of the Sacred Writings of their day. Sacred Tradition would include the Catholic Mass for example. So is the source of Truth only Scripture. For the Protestants of the Reformation I would say they have to honestly say no because they imposed by their declaration as to what Sacred Scripture is, based on what they believe to be true—–. For the Catholics I would say it is not because they transparently and without apology teach the importance of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. You want to believe what Scripture teaches and I say Amen. The Reformers believed in ‘sola scriptura’ but today this has morphed into ‘solo scriptura’ in the mainstream of Protestant theological teaching.  All these interpretations of Scripture are challenging for one to know the one true faith and I believe there must be one true faith or we would not be all divided as we are. For most of us the one true faith as we grow is having a upright heart in doing the things God has commanded us. Even if I were to come to that ‘one true church’ belief I could not afford to say those of other faith denominations have religion and not Jesus.  We are all on our journey to know, love and serve God. We are all in varying stages of becoming like Jesus. To the extent we all have Him we increase in love. To the extent we increase in ourselves without him in our sin we do not. We are all of one faith on the journey of love and truth with HIM who IS LOVE and TRUTH. In Him is that fullness of Truth and not only the Bible.  I like looking in the Bible at the words of Jesus and His commands as though I have never heard them before and then ask what does this mean. I have been surprised on the assumptions I have made based on what I have been told they mean. What I have been told has often been contrary to the text or the “whole truth”. At least through this resultant confusion we will have a lifetime of searching and trusting God in our prayers in each new challenge we face. We do not know what tomorrow holds but we do know Him who holds tomorrow in His Hands. I do not know if we are allowed to share personal emails as I would refrain to go more personal on these matters. I want to thank you for your sharing and I will pray for your desire to learn and know the TRUTH which will set us all free….to do His Work.

    • Paul, ever since you starting posting on this forum, I have had this sneaking suspicious that your Catholic. Now I am convinced that you are either Catholic or protestant on the verge of becoming Catholic even if you dont know it yet.  =)
      UBFriends is generally a very charitable place towards Catholics and friends of the Catholic Church. There are some exceptions but overall I think you will find this is a place that welcomes all Christian perspectives. I look forward to hearing more from you on future topics. 

      I agree on your point that even if we are to believe in one true faith it does not necessitate that we put down other denominations as simply religious but not having Jesus. Have you ever read the the Vatican II document lumen gentium? It speaks directly to this point. Have you considered written an article for UBFriends? Your train of thought is very interesting and much more coherant than my usual ramblings. 

  50. Brian and Paul,  having followed your discussion, I just want to suggest a few authors, both Catholic which I think you may find very interesting on many points: Anthony Gittens  Reading the Clouds and Called to Be Sent, and Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible. Protestant authors that might be interesting: John Armstrong, Your Church is Too Small, and The Unity Factor,  and Scot McKnight, Blue Parakeet.  Have you read any of these?

    • Thanks Sharon, I’ll make a note of these. I read “The Unity Factor”. I am currently still finishing up “Once an Arafat Man” by Taas Saada and “The Grace of God” by Andy Stanley. I’m a slow reader, but I know I need to be much more well-read.

  51. Thanks, Sharon, for Blue Parakeet, which I enjoyed reading. Thanks, Paul, Gerardo and Brian for your in depth comments. I’ll state again that I am not attacking the word Religion nor am I against any particular Religion or denomination or a “religious” lifestyle; in fact I would even go so far as to say that I LIKE the word Religion, and that most of my close friends and my own 4 children could be termed as “religious.”
    This post is to state what may not be so obvious, which is that just because someone lives a “good,” moral, ethical, “Christian life” based on the Golden Rule, does not necessarily equate with them doing so because of the Gospel. Again, I would go so far as to say that all people default to living a life of Religion, not because of the grace of Jesus, but in order to get something from Jesus, like the older “religious” son in the parable who lived a religious life for his “goat” (Lk 15:11-32). I know that for a FACT, because I do the exact same thing, and default to being the older “religious” son!

  52. Paul Thorne

    In heaven there will be no faith or hope ONLY Love. For the greatest of these is LOVE. God is LOVE. We will be fully known as He is known.

  53. Paul Thorne

    Dear Mr. Ben Toh,
     I like the emphasis you gave. Pursuing religion as a means of getting something from God. Such temporal desires could not satisfy eternity could it? To satisfy our religious natures – God given natures I believe – we oft satisfy ourselves by pursuing temporary pleasures created by of our worldly kingdoms and human desire. To often we say to God “God prove your love for me by giving me what I want” instead of being satisfied with God Himself or Love Him and receiving the priceless pleasure he gives to all who love Him. Such transparency is a mystery. To seek the unseen to taste what could not otherwise be known…God Himself. Desire and need are not equal. We need God – not God to satisfy our desires unless our desires are for God Himself. God wants us to Love for the sake of the other without anything in return.
    Sharon, I will look at the references. Thanks for thinking of us is so kind a way. Looks very good thus far. Perhaps some Catholic Social teaching will be inspiring for me. Under His Mercy and may I always seek His grace.

  54. Brian,
    I am trying to reply to your comments but UBF comments section seems to have been cut down. I cant get to your comments. I only see the last 4 comments that were posted.  

  55. “God does not say, ‘I love you, if …’ There are no ifs in God’s heart. God’s love for us does not depend on what we do or say (or how religious we are), on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity.” Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest:
    Nouwen understood the gospel, which is God’s unconditional gift to us, that is irrespective of us. But “Religion,” as understood or “functionally felt” even by Christians, including myself, is that “If I am religious and good, then God will be good to me.” God’s goodness to me is not dependent on my goodness to him. That is the Gospel.

  56. Paul Thorne

    Brian,  I can not get to anyone’s comments either.
    Authority is an issue for us all.
    As a member of various churches throughout my life whether single or married there was the need to bear with one another in love. To be in submission to some authority. It seems our struggle is with authority and you have done a noble thing and have accepted the Bible as sole authority in your life. If I am wrong correct me but even so suffer me a bit longer. Bearing with one another in love is always necessary regardless of religious affiliation. It seems that 40,000 denominations have concluded differently about the authoritative meanings of the Bible as sole authority in living like Jesus in worship, community and the applications for living are endless. So love has a mighty challenge for us. This love should bear all things and we are admonished to not be judgmental of others. I have never found a perfect Church and I have always found those who bear the name Christian in name only and most times these people were in the minority and had many struggles. I pray the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, that sin I see in others and my failure to love what I am so quickly to judge. God does not run away from the sinner He embraces us much like the prodigal, much like His coming to Bethlehem, much like His embracing the cross. Church hopping often occurs for these reasons. Human stone throwing, judgments including offenses of one’s religion will cancel a greater message of the Mercy and grace of God in many instances so while I ask the Holy Spirit to convict of sin I also ask for the compassion and understanding to love or witness to that sinner a greater good than they have. I sin in failing to do this. To do this though can be very redemptive and can aid in our maturity in Christ as the mercy and love of God bears all things through us. In loving others including non-christians we are really asked to love Jesus. We do not mature in Christ with intellectual assent. We must but our faith to work for faith without works is dead. We must put on the fullness of Christ. Offenses, slanders, anything that you could imagine may be required of us to forgive for the love of God and with love, others. Call it our cross or love bearing all things I see it the same. This is our call wherever we set our tent stakes (religiously affiliated).  Authority establishes that which is Truth, Truth is that which defines what is real…reality. Reality is that which is seen and unseen. I agree with you that the Bible can be made an idol. This sounds repulsive to some evangelicals but I think oft times the Bible can be made a substitute for Jesus Himself. Just as Religion can be used for a substitute for Jesus; or to satisfy that which lacks within us that only Jesus can satisfy, I would not say Jesus in the end of the Bible anymore than I would say that Christianity is the end of religion. The Bible is Good much the same as Religion ‘can’ be good. Religion and what we do with it can be like those who use the Bible as a substitute for Jesus. But is the person who makes these decisions and not always the religious house they life in. Our faith (everyone has faith, even the atheist) makes up our religious self and what we live is our true religion. We are by nature fallen the same as we are by nature religious. We can never escape religion in our fallen human condition. Its a sever distraction from our true desire, Christ, to contend so. I ‘personally’ believe our religion is the soul’s search for God, who alone gives life and fulfillment to our true selves. Our true selves is that which makes us eternal in seeking the fullness of God’s will in us…our souls. In pursuing Christ, that I may know Him and the power of His Resurrection we are able to mold and shape our inner life (soul) to an exercise of faith that becomes characterized by virtue to transform us to be more holy – Christ like. Our purpose in this life is to be holy. We become holy by loving as God does. As long as we are in this life Christ will continue to perfect us (with our cooperation-never against our will) by imparting divine life(grace) for our souls. As long as we are in this life our souls will hunger for the divine life. If we cooperate with God we will feed our souls.  I do not need to concern myself with religion because in pursuing Christ my religion more maturely reflects the grace and mercy of God. They are not either/or they are both/and. But Christ is Supreme! I am most like Christ when i suffer for the good of others and I have His Truth and Authority abiding in me through the works of faith.

    • Hi Paul, I am glad for your response, and will certainly “suffer” you a little more. I am grateful that you have also “suffered” me up to now. Two things I want to clarify: 

      1) You mention that I “have accepted the Bible as sole authority in your life”. This is not how I see my reality. I have accepted the Bible as the primary authority in my life. In no way am I advocating lawlessness or rebellion against all authority. Freedom can only be fully experienced within the boundary of law. 

      2) I am not arguing from a specific position (other than the position of grace). I am attempting to re-formulate my “position”.  For too many years, I argued from the position of religious piety, preaching obedience and conformance to a very specific set of spiritual discipline. Now I have surrendered my life to the grace of God, and working out my beliefs, attempting to reconcile my thoughts with Scripture and to avoid negating my testimony from the past 24 years. 

      From time to time, I get caught up in the anger toward certain people and institutions, which I lump under the term “religion” (and probably wrongly so). And perhaps I’m caught up in what some are calling the Third Reformation. In any case, I am thankful for your words and your call to love and pursue Christ. 

  57. Paul Thorne

    GerardoR and Brian,
    I went all day with some colleagues from South Korea visiting the Washington D.C. Area on business. In order to better appreciate my comments I will try to answer some questions posed and share a bit about myself. I enjoy dialogue but try to tread lightly as to not be forceful. My goal is truth learned through revelation and being lived in my life as a tool to help others know the mercy of God. We cannot be forceful with the truth but we should not shirk from it either.  For example, Brian has anger toward certain institutions so I assume ‘organized religion’ might include one of those categories. Whether RCC or UBF it matters that we strive to put away all bitterness. The most common observation I have seen about prior Catholics living in other Christian denominations is usually one of deep hurt toward the RCC. They oft feel betrayed and sometimes proclaim the Pope as the anti-christ. I had been in the military for 37 years and I retired June 1st last year. I have been around the world and have experienced (not by practicing) first hand many religions including Bahai, Islam (Arab and Indonesian/ Sunni and Shia) Buddhism, Morman, Judaism, Sikhism, and everything you could imagine. These exposures were unnerving some times. I had an ardent Muslim give me a tour of Jerusalem, and introduce me to their most holy leader and share with me his view of what ‘he’ believes, Jews, Christians and Catholics believe. Yes he made a distinction between Catholics and Christians and it was ironically a distinction without a difference. Muslims respect the Virgin Mary as Ever Virgin much like Luther, Calvin and others. I have benefited in seeing the Human Response of seeking various types of fulfillment through escapism in these religions BUT really the primary escape is from their inner self hurting and in not being transparent and reconciled. In Christian denominations I see far less escapism than other religions. The impediments are oft more the psychology than theology. The psychology of the person transfers blame to the religion (or others apart from self) and covers their inner hurt. Most Christian denominations have I John 1:9 down pretty well…the Catholic would more readily experience this in a Sacrament.  Christianity is a varied experience and is unique from all other religions. So my comments naturally reflect in some way these experiences I have had. I am convinced that the God who made us, made us all in His Image, and in all of us there exists, the Christ to love. Now in saying that; I clarify that I am not saying Christ is indwelling unbelievers in the same sense of those who have been born again (John 3) of the water and the Spirit.
    I have friends who have converted from Protestantism’s to Catholicism and the Reverse. Most interesting is that usually Protestants seem to know what they believe but held different beliefs about Catholicism than what they found Catholicism to actually be. They received Revelation (this is different than knowledge) and put up a white flag to their ‘protest’ ways when they come to understand the RC Church and its teachings.  For Catholics who leave the Church they are commonly bitter and have various feelings of being deceived, lied to or betrayed or various intensities of all the above and have responded to the testing of their faith by surviving in a community of faith that usually reflects some form of Reformed theology(usually opposed most to Catholicism). They are generally searching through the confusion of their past, with the exhileration of their new found faith and perhaps even hold that for the first time in their lives they have truly believed…and this may actually be so! I have known very few Catholics when tested who have understood ‘sacramental theology’ and their faith as taught by Rome. They had not realized that they were going through the motions without the faith and hope of the promise, these sacraments promise. They did not blame the RCC but looked at no one else but themselves and decided to take a different approach to their faith. The religion stayed the same; what they did with it changed. Without being stopped by hurt we are better able to give the self to God through the grace God has given us. Reject truth because of hurt; reject God for God is truth. Although God is mercifully understanding we must be careful to not reject truth. To me this equates to the works of faith (our cooperation with God) which bring Him Glory and makes us Holy. No small task for us but through God all things are possible. Grace returns from us to theTriunity of God with us having greater communion with God and others.
    Regardless of our past religion love must cover all in order to eliminate bitterness that closes us to knowing the truth which can set us free. Love covers all things. I know a family with several children and all the children left the Catholic Church because their mother attempted suicide and lived in condemnation in their formative years. The mother married outside the RC Church and believed her soul was condemned to hell and the anguish nearly ended it all for her. The tragedy their lives experienced growing up is beyond anything you have read in books and frankly I sometimes wish I did not know. A couple of these children as young adults returned, many did not; some even came to believe the Pope to be anti-christ. When i observe the two who reconciled with the Catholic Church they realized they did not know their faith, neither did their mother and they quit blaming the RCC, the Pope or worshiping statues (false beliefs about Catholics)  for their problems in life and somehow came to see clearly and convincingly the source of strength the RCC offered to helping them overcome their hurts and weaknesses and sinful ways. Point is, resentments of this nature is a very harmful hurdle to the truth and love and we must be careful not to fester the hurt of others when they are not ready. Their mother knew fully well the ramification of her decision before she married outside the RCC. Free will can lead us down the wrong path! Do not violate conscience especially when it is properly formed.
    Seems Brian may be closed to reverting back to RCC and suspects others might  be trying to influence him in that direction. I say this based on some emails Brian sent earlier today. WE are all most blessed of God to know of His wonderful Mercy. My goal is to heal and reconcile those who hurt and help them to know love and serve God….and be joyous!! . Jesus said to come unto ME all ye who are burdened and heavy laden. If we believe, we must pray for the strength to willingly place all our hurts, anger and bitterness away and love when we are repulsed or tempted not to….regardless of our religious affiliation. We must look outside ourselves to love those who have need of greater reconciliation than that which we have thus far received. I think Brian has an extremely strong intellect and I perceive a sensible heart. Its best to try not to be suspicious of the suggestions by others. If we seek the truth we have nothing to fear. if we reject truth we must fear greatly! Try to be objective to what is true regardless of who is saying it and Please don’t exclude absolute or universal truth you cannot find in the Bible. I make these recommendations based on some of your previous comments about those who make the Bible an idol. Chapter and verse types. Do a study on grace, justification, sanctification, and sacraments along with memorizing the Nicene Creed. Between all Christian faiths I find a general acceptance of this Creed. Its a unifying statement of our faith where I find much common ground.  I have learned that Catholicism cannot be understood with a Protestant mind set. In fact I have known some who have converted to Catholicism tell me that they had to learn to quit treating Catholicism like a Protestant and came to realize this after 3 or 4 years  converting to RCC. To try and understand Catholicism in a Protestant mindset cannot be done. Find out what Protestant theology PROTESTED AGAINST and what changed. The Church of England is a separate case from the Reformation in my opinion. Take away all my pride Lord and help me to understand these differences.
    GerardoR: I have not read ‘lumen gentium’ but perhaps will look it up. I purchased the books Sharon recommended and I have a week or two of reading! Thanks for the recommendation. I think that we are oft hindered by our psychological hurts and rarely know the philosophy we have which forms the basis of a sound theology. I am not solo scriptura but definitely a realist. The Reformers were Sola Scriptura. The most tragic of the early Church Leaders is Tertullian and the most fortunate was Origen.  I hope I have helped to better explain myself by sharing some of my past. 

    • Paul, thank you for sharing. I am glad to hear more about who you are and your background, which is always difficult in the blogging arena! Your observations are sound and much appreciated.

      Yes, I am a bit suspicious these days, having been excommunicated from Toledo UBF and then leaving UBF in general because of it. 

      These discussions have been quite helpful for me, though I do recognize my need to separate my personal experience from theological discussion. For me this may not be possible. Still, I am thankful for our discussions, because dialogue has purpose beyond what we can imagine, so I have no qualms about discussing such things publicly.  

      One valuable fact I learned is that in reality I am still RCC, since I never officially left (just stopped going) and the Catholic teaching actually still accepts me (well at least according to Gerardo :). 

      I also learned that my “fight” is not against religion, but against legalism and perfectionism primarily. Thank you again, as well as Gerardo! I thank God for both of you and appreciate your speaking out of love for Christ and respect for God, both of which I need to keep learning. 

    • Brian,
      You are indeed still Catholic as you never alerted the Church about your intention to leave. The Catholic Church is not a club that ceases your membership when you don’t renew. It is a family that does not break off it’s affiliations whether someone dies (e.g., the communion of Saints) or ceases to attend Mass. ^_^ 

      You would still be a part of the family even if you were excommunicated. You should watch the Catholics Come Home campaign commercial. They give some perspective from which to understand your current family membership

    • You are correct, Gerardo, I technically remained RCC the past 24 years. And yes I saw the “Come Home” videos– well done.  I think I would be one of the Knights Templar type Catholics, and would have been one if I lived in the 1100’s. 

    • I would have wanted to be a Trinitarian. These guys would try to secure the funds to pay off the ransom to free Christian slaves from the bondage of Muslims during the crusades. If they could not raise the funds, they would free the slaves by trading places with them. Powerful order. 

  58. Hi Brian, this is related to your comment. I read your link. I didn’t realize that you were “excommunicated.” I am sure that Toledo UBF will deny that they ever excommunicated you. Perhaps, they marginalized you, and maligned you, but did they really officially excommunicate you?
    I would add traditionalism to legalism and perfectionism to make it a trio or an “unholy trinity.” As often quoted, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, but traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” I just love the play of words!

  59. Hi Ben, it is an odd situation. The director excommunicated me; the other leaders and congregation probably didn’t realize this either and wouldn’t use that word. But I find no other word that accurately describes what happened. Perhaps we could say it was an “unofficial excommunication”. I had every intention of staying in UBF and was close to finding a new role in UBF.

    • It was the same pattern that has happened repeatedly to 99% of the leaders raised up there the past 20+ years. 

    • Mark Mederich

      ‘The director excommunicated me; the other leaders and congregation probably didn’t realize this either and wouldn’t use that word. But I find no other word that accurately describes what happened. Perhaps we could say it was an “unofficial excommunication”.’

      blessing in disguise? being cast out of quicksand is not a bad thing:)

  60. Hi Brian, when you say “the director excommunicated me,” what exactly did he say?
    Another sad thing is that “excommunication” should be done by the entire body of church Elders, and not by the whim of a top leader alone, or by the leader and those who never question him, otherwise known as puppets or “yes men.”

    • Ben, I’m not going to share such details publicly. I will say that it was not just a single word or event, but a process, a series of events, that happened over the course of about 4 months. I have it all documented in PDF form. It would be helpful to discuss such things in person.

    • Yes, it makes sense, Brian. But I still would say that if anyone asked him point blank, “Did you excommunicate Brian from UBF?” his answer would be “Absolutely not” without flinching or hesitating.

    • Yes of course he/they would. In fact, all kinds of glorious, wonderful words would be used to describe what happened last year. If there is a better word than “excommunication”, I’m all for learning what that word would be. I didn’t suddenly become crazy and go on a rampage. There are factual reasons for my reactions.

    • Mark Mederich

      since Jesus is Lord of Sabbath, i excommunicate myself from all ‘religion’:)

  61. Brian, I’m pretty sure that people who have experienced what you experienced in your chapter do understand that you are NOT crazy, nor going on a rampage, and that your reactions are quite understandable after going through what you did for several decades.
    A better word might be “coercion” or “manipulation” to get you to do what he believes you should do (“fix” you), without trying to listen to you or to understand where you are coming from.

  62. Mark Mederich

    borrowing from wizard of oz: hey hey the witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead!

    hey hey religion is dead, the wicked religion is dead!:)