CONCORDANT STUDIES: RELIGION VS. CHRIST

BY:  ADOLPH E. KNOCH

CHRISTIANITY NOW A RELIGION

RELIGION TENDS TO RITUAL

RELIGION IS DEGRADING

RELIGION, a dread of superhuman spirit powers, is seldom mentioned in God’s revelation, and even then it is hid from the English reader by the confusing rendering of our Authorized Version, which makes it superstition (Act 17:22; 25:19). This is further complicated by calling {ritual} also {religion (thrêskia}, Acts 26:5; James 1:26,27, {thrêskos}, James 1:26), as well as {venerate (sebomai}, Acts 13:43), and changing {Judaism} {ioudaismos}, Gal.1:13,14) to {the Jews’ religion}. It is remarkable that the Bible in English uses {religion} for three words, when it should represent only one Greek term. And it is still more striking that every one of these is better rendered by another expression. Most remarkable is its absence as the rendering of {deisidaimonia} (DREAD-demonism), which is generally acknowledged to mean {religion}.

By a process of elimination we may be able to clear away some of the haze, which surrounds the term, so that we can use it in line with the inspired contexts. First of all, we may be sure that it does not necessarily mean {superstition}. Paul certainly would not insult the proud Athenians by asserting that they are too {superstitious} (Acts 17:22). They would not have listened to him any further had he done so. He is most careful to bring home their ignorance to them by means of one of their own inscriptions. On the contrary, he is commending them because they are {more religious} than ordinary. They were {devout}, even in their ignorance. Their gods were demons (1 Cor.10:20), and their devotion was dictated by dread of these spirit powers. Yet the apostle diverts this term, without change, to the worship of the true God, the One they did not know.

CHRISTIANITY NOW A RELIGION

In this sense it is used by Festus concerning the Jews who sought to destroy Paul. To an outsider Judaism appeared only another way of propitiating other demons than those worshiped by the nations. These two places are the only ones where {religion} is really found in the Scriptures. What a contrast to the free use of the word “religion” in our day! Now the worship of God in Christ has degenerated to such an extent that “Christianity” is, indeed, little more than a religion, like that of the Jews and the heathen, so that we are justified in speaking of it as a “religion” and the others as “non-Christian religions.” This should not be so. Indeed, the vital elements in it, the genuine believers in Christ, if they are intelligent, abhor religion, and do not form a religious body, except in the sense that their union with Christ takes the place of other religions, not excepting Christianity.

Is it not strange that this word occurs so seldom in the Scriptures? Is it not highly suggestive that it is never applied to believers in Christ by God or an apostle or anyone else in sympathy with them? It never occurs in Paul’s epistles, which contain the special truth for today. But it is quite correct to apply it to that dread of the deity, whether a true One or a false, which is common to humanity apart from the special operation of God’s holy spirit. Man has been called a religious animal, and instinctively dreads an invisible, higher power. He will do what he can to appease it. Christianity consists largely of those who do this, simply substituting the God of the Bible for the demons, and adopting some of the rites and ceremonies of Judaism, as well as those of other religions. They seek to gain favor by good deeds. They seek to attain a righteousness of their own in themselves. They seek salvation as a reward of their efforts. The true saint finds all this and more in Christ.

RELIGION TENDS TO RITUAL

The translation of other words by {religion}, even if they are closely associated with it, has brought the subject into the present state of confusion. The verb REVERE {sebomai} is rendered {worship} six times, and {devout} thrice. Is it not a pity that it should be rendered {religious} (Acts 13:43) in the only remaining occurrence? To one who is acquainted with Paul’s ministry it is like a jarring discord to find that {religious} proselytes followed him, and that he persuaded them to remain in the grace of God. Religion is not concerned with the {grace} of God, but with man’s efforts to merit blessing. Missionaries among those of a foreign religion have great difficulty in connection with grace, for it is foreign to religion, or, rather, incompatible with it. Even Christianity repudiates grace whenever possible, inasmuch as it is concerned with man’s efforts to reach God rather than His means of reaching man.

Religion tends to become largely a matter of ceremony and outward {ritual}, hence it is not always easy to draw a clear line between these expressions. Paul warns us against the ritual of messengers because it denies the headship of Christ. In Him we are far above messengers, and beyond the sphere of ritual. Otherwise ritual is unknown in Paul’s epistles. In James’ epistle, however, which is addressed to the twelve tribes, it is taken for granted. Yet he calls it vain, if the tongue is not bridled. He insists on acts of mercy to man as well as ceremony before God. Indeed, he uses a bold figure, calling that ritual which is quite another matter. Instead of empty physical forms in the worship of God, he substitutes acts of mercy to men, such as visiting the bereaved and widowed, for God prefers mercy to sacrifice, and he would have them unspotted by their contact with the world rather than go through a vain ritual. These are {acts}, which are to take the place of other {acts}. They do not replace religion, or the inner attitude toward a higher power. (James 1:26, 27)

RELIGION IS DEGRADING

The difference between Judaism and other religions is very simple. They dreaded the true God and the nations the false demons. How little effect this advantage had on their hearts is seen in the crucifixion of Christ at the instigation of the leaders of Jewish religion. Is it not remarkable that the word {religion} is applied to the Jews when they are seeking to kill Paul? A philosopher who had carefully considered the course of religion in the world, especially the Christian church, came to the conclusion that “religion has radically vitiated the standard of human morals.” Even those religionists whose holy law declared “Thou shalt not kill,” deemed it their religious duty to murder their Messiah and to seek the life of His apostle.

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CONCORDANT STUDIES – RELIGION vs. CHRIST [Adolph E. Knoch]          1

 

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