Does God hate religion?

Alex Himaya wrote a book entitled, “Jesus hates religion.” He said that, “Jesus is about love and relationship, not rules and religion.” A quick search online turns up dozens of reasons why God hates religion. “Religion has started wars.” “Religion builds huge churches but fails to feed the poor.” “Religion sees people as the enemy, but Jesus sees sin as the enemy.” “Religion keeps people from God.” “Religion is a replacement for a relationship with Him.” This popular notion sets up a conflict between religious institutions and Jesus. With the problems in many churches, the failure of organized religion to address injustice and the sheer hypocrisy of many religious adherents it is tempting to believe that God really does hate religion.

God created religion. After man sinned, God began to teach sinful man how he could come to God in worship and fellowship. This way of coming to God is religion. Man immediately began to devise his own way to approach God. Cain’s failure in worship is the earliest example of human religion. Man’s attempt to come to God in his own way is also religion. If “God hates religion” means that God hates man’s own efforts to approach him, then yes, that statement is true. The Old Testament shows time and time again that God rejects all attempts to come to Him except according to the way He prescribed. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) If religion is defined, as one author said, as “a man made path to God”, then God hates religion. But if you mean God hates the religion He gave to humanity, then that’s just nonsense. Not only does God not hate His religion, He requires men to follow it.

The argument cannot be made that God liked religion in the Old Testament but not in the New. Jesus established New Testament religion that includes rules, rituals and doctrine. Jesus established the church (Matthew 16:18), appointed its leaders (Ephesians 4:11-12), defined its practices (Matthew 18:15-17, 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13) and established its doctrines. (Galatians 1:11-12) No one can argue that Jesus is all about relationship but not rules. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) and “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14) Jesus does not hate the religion He gave to humanity.

Many religious institutions have abused the teachings of Jesus. Religion has divided people and has been a major factor in a number of wars. Religion has been used to cloak the worst kind of abuse and depravity. God hates man-centered, self-righteous and man-devised religions. God gave religion to man as a good thing enabling the sinner to come to Him. Man has misused and perverted God’s good gift, but God still loves the religion He instituted when it is followed according to His instructions. There is such a thing as pure religion which all who seek to follow Christ must participate in. None can truly say they love Christ but not His religion. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

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What is theological liberalism?

On the Everlasting Trusth website and radio broadcasts we have made periodic references to theological liberalism. The category theological liberal is important, but often neglected, distinction. Theological liberalism has nothing to do with American politics. Liberal politics are usually associated with the democratic party, but liberal theology is a category that refers to what someone believes about God and the Bible.

Liberal theology began to gain ground in America during the late 1800’s. Soon there was conflict in the major denominations between liberal and conservative groups. Those early battles were fought over the inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus and the genuineness of miracles in the Bible. The liberals denied all these. The theological conservatives strongly defended them.

A theological liberal elevates the authority of science and reason to be equal or greater than the authority of the Bible. In the 1800’s when reason declared miracles were not possible, the liberal agreed. When science concluded the world evolved over a long period of time, the liberal began to explain Genesis in ways that accommodated millions of years of evolution. The meaning of Scripture is shaped for the liberal by science, experience, modern philosophy, psychiatry and contemporary morals.

Sometimes the liberal theologian denies outright the truth of the Bible, but often he is more subtle. Many liberal theologians reinterpret a passage by manipulating the historical context. For example, since Paul was writing into a culture that did not value women’s rights, therefore his statements about a wife’s role in marriage have to be understood through the cultural grid of Paul’s day. The liberal theologian believes that if Paul were writing today he would agree with the progressive view of gender roles.

Liberal theology is frequently shaped by a single ethical ideal that is elevated over the rest of Scripture. This ethic becomes the interpretative grid through which everything else in the Bible is understood. For example, in liberal theology the truth that God is love reinterprets the Biblical commands regarding marriage and sexual purity. A loving God would never condemn loving relationships, no matter who were involved. Modern ethical concerns seem to dominate the focus of liberal churches. Usually the ethical standards of theological liberalism are closely aligned with the ideals of political liberalism. The liberal theologian is often concerned with promoting racial justice, economic equality, environmentalism, access to abortion and acceptance of homosexuality. These ethical concerns outweigh doctrinal concerns. Dealing with social injustice is far more important than preaching the Biblical truths of Jesus and salvation.

The great danger of liberalism is its denial of the authority of the Bible. By denying the truth of Scripture, the liberal effectively denies the gospel. Those who deny that Jesus is God, that Jesus was a perfect man and that Jesus rose from the dead deny key truths that must be believed to be saved. A message that ignores these core truths of the gospel is not a Christian message. Theological liberalism is not just a different viewpoint about certain difficult or minor doctrines. Theological liberalism rejects historic Christian doctrine and it rejects Biblical doctrine. Though it claims the name of Christian, theological liberalism is not Christian.

Why are there two different versions of the Ten Commandments?

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments. Even those who have little religious background know the Ten Commandments are a list of rules given by God. The ten commandments can be found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are divided into two groups, the first group contains the commands relating towards God and the second group the commands regarding others. Yet, the lists of ten commandments found in the Catholic catechism are different from that taught in most Protestant churches.

Protestants typically divide the ten commandments into four commands about God and six about others. The first four are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” and “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The second table of the law begins with “Honor thy father and mother” and ends with the, “Thou shalt not covet.” Unlike Lutherans and Catholics, the Protestants view the commands against covetousness as one.

Lutherans and Catholics divide the ten commandments into three about God and seven about others. They believe the first three commands are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This first command includes the prohibition against graven images. The second command is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” and the third is “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The commands regarding others are the same as the Protestant version, except the last two commands are “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”

Does this difference matter? Not a whole lot. Protestants, Catholics and Lutherans agree with one another on the content of the ten commandments, just not the division of them. Catholics consider the prohibition against graven images to be part of the first commandment and Protestants view all the commands against covetousness as one. These differences are trivial.

All Christians agree the Ten Commandments were given to Israel and are still important for all people today. They provide a basic standard which shows that all stand guilty before the Holy God. No matter how the commandments are divided, they show the sinfulness of sin and the impossibility of anyone being saved by his own obedience. (Romans 7:13; James 2:10; Romans 3:20)

What are “idols of the heart?”

Idolatry is common around the world and has been for almost all of recorded history. Most civilizations have a long history of extensive idol worship. In America and most western cultures very few people bow to idols, make offerings to statues or worship carved images. However, the absence of outward trappings of idolatry does not mean Americans do not worship idols. Theologians have long warned of a hidden idolatry, the worship of “idols of the heart”. John Calvin said, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

An idol is something that a person devote himself to or trusts in for ultimate satisfaction, security or salvation. An idol is anything that is loved more than God. Tim Keller says, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The phrase “idols of the heart” comes from Ezekiel 14. In the third verse God says that certain elders of Israel had “set up idols in their heart.” Though they were maintaining the outward practices of true worship, in their heart they were worshiping false gods. In the next verse God warns, “Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart . . . I the Lord will will answer him . . . according to the multitude of his idols.” God evaluates idolatry based upon the attitudes of the heart, not just the actions of the individual. God views heart idolatry to be as severe a sin as external idolatry.

A person can maintain all the external features of faithful worship of God while harboring in his heart a pantheon of false gods. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) The greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30) Loving something more than God not only breaks the great commandment, it is idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11 God promised Israel He would bless them if they remembered His command to “to love your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” He then warned them of judgment if they “turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.” Breaking the great commandment breaks the first commandment. To love something more than God is to worship idols.

First John ends with the command, “Little children keep yourself from idols.” The first commandment forbids idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Idolatry is so significant that Scripture repeatedly warns that those who practice idolatry without repentance show themselves not to be the children of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Idolatry goes much deeper than bowing before carved statues of false gods. Idolatry is found in a heart that loves and desires something more than God.

What does it mean to “evangelize”?

Evangelism is an important part of Christianity. A large portion of Christianity is known as “evangelical.” Some preachers are called “evangelists.” Many Christians have been told it is important for them to “evangelize.” What does this mean?

To evangelize is to tell someone good news. A messenger that brought a report of victory in battle brought the evangelion, the “good news.” In the Greek world, an evangelion was a message from the gods. In the Roman world the announcement of the birth of an emperor was good news. Any good news was an evangelion. To evangelize is to tell the evangalion.

The first mention of the good news- usually translated “gospel”- in the New Testament is found in the Gospels. John the Baptist and Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the gospel to all the communities of Israel. After Jesus’ death and resurrection He sent His disciples to go into the entire world and “preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

The good news was prophesied in Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;” Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 in His hometown of Nazareth to announce that He was the prophesied Messiah.

The good news as described in the Bible is not just a message, it is a person. The good news is Jesus. The content of the message of Jesus is defined by the Bible and contains several objective, historical features. The good news is the truth of Jesus’ deity, death on the cross and resurrection. The gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

To evangelize is to tell others the truth of Jesus. He is good news indeed. To evangelize is to tell others the gospel. This is why Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” This is why Paul quoted Isaiah when he wrote to the Romans, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)

What is Arminianism?

The competing position with Calivinism is Arminianism. They are not polar opposites. They in fact share significant agreements about hte plan of God to save, the inability of man to save himself, the need of grace and the sufficiency of the death of Jesus. However, Arminianism elevates the importance of the will of man in the process of salvation. Arminianism does not have a cool acronym like Calvinism, though some have put together a similar flower based outline around the word DAISY and others have made one with the word GRACE. I prefer my own acronym, GRITS:

Grace of God can be rejected
Redemption was purchased for all, but is applied only to those who believe
Intention of God to save only by Christ those who believe
Total necessity of Divine grace
Salvation can be lost

Central to Arminianism is the idea that God’s saving grace can be rejected, or believed, by the individual. God’s grace is not irresistible but the person has a legitimate opportunity to believe or refuse the gospel. This idea finds support in passages like Acts 7:51, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost:”

Redemption was purchased for all men by Jesus’ death on the cross. This is universal atonement that does not imply universal salvation. The Divine plan was for Jesus to make a sacrifice on the cross for the sin of the whole world, but would only bring salvation to those who believe. This idea finds support in passages like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The intention of God regarding salvation- Divine election- was not an election of individuals to salvation. God’s election was to save those who believe by Jesus. Some modern Arminians believe God’s election was based upon his foreknowledge of those who would believe. God elected to save those whom He knew would respond in faith to the message of the gospel. This idea finds support in passages like John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Though man is able to respond to the gospel message, he can only do so because of the working of the grace of God. God’s prevenient, or preceding, grace makes it possible for sinful man to believe the gospel. Man is corrupted by sin and cannot save Himself. Apart from the grace of God none would chose to receive Jesus. This idea finds support in passages like Romans 3:11, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

Salvation can be lost by those who turn away from the grace of God that they had previously received. God gives sufficient grace for the Christian to grow and remain faithful to the Lord. God sustains His children, but the Christian can reject the grace of God. Those who turn away from the grace of God lose their salvation. This idea finds support in passages like Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is the popular term for a particular body of teaching about salvation. Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. The five major points of Calvinism flow out of this emphasis on God’s absolute rule over all things. Calvinism is often taught using the acronym TULIP:
Total depravity of man
Unconditional election to salvation
Limited atonement by Jesus
Irresistible grace of God
Perseverance of the saints

Total depravity is the doctrine that all have been entirely corrupted by sin. Though none are as bad as they could be, none are good in the eyes of God. None are all able to bring about their own salvation. This finds support in verses like Romans 3:10, “There is none good, no, not one” and Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Unconditional election teaches that God predetermined who would be saved. Because God is sovereign over salvation He chose, based upon His grace alone, to save certain individuals. His election is of the specific individuals He would bring to salvation. This finds support in verses like Ephesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

The phrase limited atonement is not liked by many Calvinists. Some prefer to idenitfy this doctrine as particular redemption, or definite atonement. Limited atonement teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross, while sufficient to purchase salvation for all humanity, was designed and intended to purchase the salvation of the election. Jesus’ death on the cross secured the salvation of those God graciously elected to save. That is why one Calvinist author calls this doctrine, “Mission accomplished.” This finds support in verses like John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Irresistible grace teaches that those God elected to save will inevitably be saved. This does not mean God will save people whether or not they want to be saved or that He will save apart from the preaching of the gospel. Those God chose to save and Jesus died to save will be inexorably drawn to God. They will not, in the end, refuse His call to salvation. They cannot refuse to believe because God works in their hearts in such a way that they will desire salvation. This finds support in verses like John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

Perseverance of the saints teaches that those whom God has elected, atoned and saved will persevere in faith until the end. Salvation, once received, can never be lost because God will continue the work of their salvation. Just as the elect could not resist the grace of God that brings to salvation, they cannot turn away from the salvation that God has given them. This finds support in verses like Philippians 1:6, ” Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

What is the difference between a sacrament and an ordinance?

The Catholic church observes seven sacraments. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and many others observe two sacraments- the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Baptists observe two ordinances- the Lord’s Supper and baptism. If these things are discussed in casual conversation, the terms sacrament and ordinance are often used as if they mean the same thing. Even the thesaurus treats them as synonyms.

In a technical, theological sense a sacrament does not mean the same as ordinance, and in fact, every denomination intends something different with the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Though the outward practice of the Lord’s Supper may be very similar in  a Lutheran church and a Baptist church, the beliefs about what is taking place are very different. The difference is not just a difference of terms. The differences cannot be brushed aside as unimportant.

A sacrament is something that gives grace to the recipient. By receiving the elements of the sacrament, whether it be water, bread or wine, the person receives the grace of God. The grace received is not necessarily saving grace, but grace for Christian living. For example, a baby baptized in the Presbyterian church is believed to receive grace that makes her a member of the covenant community. In the sacramental view, participating in the Lord’s Supper gives a person a measure of grace which strengthens him to live in obedience.

An ordinance is a command to be obeyed. In the observance of communion and baptism the church and the Christian obey the commands of Jesus. The ordinance presents a memorial of the work Jesus to save. In communion and baptism the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are graphically portrayed. No grace is transferred to the individual by either ordinance. By participating the individual testifies of grace received. This view is held mostly by Baptists.

Differences over the sacraments/ordinances are not something that should cause great controversy between Christian brethren. Nor is this generally a gospel issue which marks someone out as unbeliever or a false teacher. Space exists for friendly disagreement among Christians, but the difference of understanding over ordinances and sacraments is important. Many theologically conservative churches will expect a person to accept the church’s view of the rite before participating. This issue shapes how one views the function and purpose of two of the most important memorials given by Jesus to His church.

Do church shootings prove that prayer does not work?

The calls for increased gun control were repeated in the days following the mass murder at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Various individuals on Twitter drew the ire of Christians by asserting that more was needed than prayer. Things were said like, “If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn’t people at a church service be safe? Please make gun laws.” “They were praying when it happened. They don’t need our prayers. They need us to address gun violence”

Aside from the failure to realize that one can pray and address the causes and solutions to mass shootings these kinds of statements reveal a deeper misunderstanding of prayer. Wil Wheaton, known to Star Trek fans as Wesley Crusher, drew much hostility when he tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Does the failure of prayer to protect a church from a murderous maniac prove that prayer does not work?

The failure of prayer to stop tragedy from occurring shows that what is commonly understood as prayer does not work. In America prayer is viewed as a means of getting protection, healing, provision, security or guidance. God is seen as the celestial Santa Clause who gives the devout what they want when they ask Him. The God of most Americans answers prayers like the Jesus in the country song, “Jesus take the wheel.” When the car starts to slide off the road just ask Jesus to take control and He’ll keep you from harm.

The God of the Bible promises to answer prayer but He never promises to keep Christians from harm, suffering, difficulty or tragedy. God promises to answer prayer if it meets certain criteria. The prayers God answers are those that are in accord with the character and purpose of Jesus and are prayed by a child of God through the mediation of Jesus. God does not promise to answer the prayers of the unsaved nor will he hear prayers offered to saints, relatives, spirits or dead people. (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). God only answers prayers prayed in Jesus name and prayers that are according to His will. God will answer those prayers that are seeking His will and that are in keeping with the eternal purposes of God. (1 John 5:14-15)

God never promised to protect His children from every bad thing that could happen. God promised the opposite. “No man should be moved these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” (1 Thesalonians 2:3) God is not working to protect His people from all bad situations. God is working through bad circumstances to perfect Christians. Biblical prayer claims the promises of God. God promises to make His children like Jesus and He uses every trouble to fulfill that promise in those who love Him.

Prayer is not a magic formula to make life better. Prayer does not protect from all bad circumstances. Prayer is a bowing of the person’s will before the perfect will of God. Prayer asks for Divine favor and trust God’s goodness in all things. God works through prayer to perfect His people.

When did Christian’s start meeting on Sunday?

Why does the church meet on Sunday? In the Old Testament Saturday was the day set apart for the Lord. The Christian church was initially made up of Jews but within a few decades the majority of the church was Gentile. The Jewish way of thinking and living faded away, including the observance a Saturday Sabbath. The church met together on the first day of the week and treated Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Why did the church start to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?

The New Testament indicates that the early church began meeting on Sunday from day one. The church began on a Sunday. The day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and thousands of Jews believed the gospel, was a Sunday. Pentecost Sunday was the beginning of the New Testament church.

Other New Testament passages indicate they church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday. In Acts 20:7 Paul met with the church in Ephesus. The meeting took place on the first day of the week, “when the disciples came together to break bread.” The custom of the church seems to have been to meet together on Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Paul instructed the church in Corinth to be taking up a collection “upon the first day of the week.” This instruction makes the most sense if the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday.

Church and Roman history reveal that the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday very soon after the death of the apostles. Pliny was a governor in the Roman Empire in the early 100’s. He wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan asking what to do about the Christians. In that letter he describes their meetings. “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” The early Christians met early in the morning on a certain day each week. Pliny does not say what day that was, but other historical references make clear that day was Sunday. In 150 AD Justin Martyr wrote in “Dialogue with Trypho a Jew”, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read.” “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly.

The Didache, a series of teachings written to the churches late in the first century, says, “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks.” Though this day is not specified in the letter, the church obviously knew what day was “the Lord’s day.” The epistle of Barnabas, a letter to Christians written around 100 AD, says, “Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead.” In the gospel of Peter, written sometime in the early second century (100-150AD), Sunday is called the Lord’s Day. “And at dawn upon the Lord’s day Mary Magdalen . . . took with her friends and came to the sepulchre where he was laid.”

The change of worship from Saturday to Sunday was something that began very early in the church. The New Testament does not give a definite command to worship on Sunday, but the pattern that unfolds in Scripture and the earliest church history is of the church observing Sunday to gather together in worship and instruction.