Tag Archives: religionless christianity

The Unnatural Nature of Religion

religion1What is normal Christian Body (i.e. church) life like apart from religion? I submit to you that it is not found simply by moving the church from one venue (e.g. the religious building) to another (e.g. the home). Yet, I would say that the religious building sets the stage for religious thinking and practice.

We must know that religion can be seen lurking around in any meeting of God’s people. So, the issue is not so much with where the church meets as much as it is with whether or not the destructive practice of religion is found there. Obviously, the home is the most natural place to gather in familial community.

The best way I have been able to describe the difference in the religious and the non-religious… and the difference between what God is doing in a biblical ‘house church’ versus the institutional ‘religious church’ and her buildings… would be by pointing to the natural vs. the unnatural.

Religious activities are unnatural. Religion can be seen in man’s devising of an unnatural means to approach God in worship and to do the work of God in practice. Religion can only function by the unnatural ritualistic order invented by man. This order is accompanied by the religious hierarchal order of leadership (i.e. clergy, priesthood).

Outwardly, things appear to be running smoothly in religious activity. The tithes and offerings are plentiful, the religious building projects are in full bloom, thousands have repeated the ‘sinner’s prayer’ at the crusade, and one more staff member was added this month. Surely this is beneficial to the Kingdom of God… the church has a new billboard, my preacher was on Larry King Live, and our attendance has now reached into the thousands!

In religion… a person can measure their work and make a human decision about whether or not they have been successful. After accomplishing a ‘ministerial’ task of some kind or attending a religious gathering of outward expressions of the flesh… they can step back with a feeling of worth and accomplishment.

Man’s religion can be measured. The undercover work of the Kingdom is not visible with man’s eyes. It is something Christ measures. He has not given man the ability to measure it. Man has the promises of God on which to rely, not a measuring stick by which to judge his work. The promise ought to be enough. Specifically, “I (Jesus) will build my church… and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18 )

Christ’s work was primarily done in the dark corners of the Empire. If Jesus were to walk the earth today… I’m sure the religious leaders of the day would have plenty to suggest in order for him to have a successful ministry. I can hear them now. They might say, “For starters… you have to write a book, Jesus. The title should contain the words ‘purpose’ or ‘better life.’ Also… you need a large building.

We can put your face on books, magazines, and the Internet. We are emerging, Jesus. Question everything, but offer little answers. And of course, the larger your audience… the greater your influence, Jesus. You must travel all over the world and sell your books and preach crusades. Don’t concern yourself with investing in twelve men. Go to the masses! What do you think, Jesus?”

I believe Christ’s response would be similar to the words he spoke to Peter and his disciples for suggesting that he choose a different path other than Jerusalem. Jesus rebuked them saying, “Don’t you understand… not only must I walk this road, but you too must take up your cross and follow me. You too. Not just me… you too.” (Matt. 16:24 paraphrased)

Religion is not satisfied with the simple foolish message of the cross. (1 Cor. 1:18 ) It reaches for worldly power and influence. Dying on a cross is fine for Jesus, but participators of religion seek other means to win the hearts of the people. And they will use any excuse not to follow the primitive ways of Jesus.

These religious people have forgotten that the means by which we attain the end (i.e. Thy Kingdom come!) is important to the Lord. He purposely chose his method in order to communicate the divine message. When the method is tampered with… the message is lost.

I must say that the crowd did eventually gather round… but it didn’t take long and the Lord turned to his closest followers to say, “Will you now leave me too?” Only those who have surrendered to the upside-down ways of the King shall see his Kingdom. Only they will want to see it… the rest will leave.

Religion is rooted in the pride of man finding worth in himself. The purpose of this religious Christianity then becomes about doing things for Christ instead of being Christ to all we come in contact with. The pursuit is no longer Christ alone… it is about what I can do for Christ. Religious Christianity is about doing the work of Christ instead of knowing the person and work of Christ.

Today, the most virtuous things are those things which are measurable (e.g. religious activities, services, programs, etc). Yet, Christ’s work largely went unnoticed and misunderstood. He never wanted to draw attention to his work alone, but his person… who he was (and is). The signs and wonders did not bring salvation… he did. His work was only to serve as evidence that he was the Messiah promised by the prophets. Should our work not be done in the same manner: working only that we might introduce others to the person of Jesus Christ?

The religious men of Jesus’ day did not approve of his methods or of his ministry. In the same way, many will disapprove of the upside-down ways of the ‘house church.’ To the worldly minded person, it would appear that it does not do much for the Kingdom. Where is the outward visible evidence of its influence?

Religion is not satisfied with undercover ways of the Kingdom of God. It must have results. It must maintain the unnatural. It must keep the machine oiled. Therefore, when times get rough, a religious person can rest in a false peace of knowing that everything has been done that can be done. How does the religious person know this? They have their religious work by which to measure the depth of their faith and commitment.

For example, it is simply unnatural to set a time aside to have a “quiet time.” Do you tell your family and loved ones you will only give them certain times in your day to meet with them? Of course not! They would be offended and be left to feel like your love is given out of obligation instead of free loving will.

Is it not the same with God? Yet, a religious “quiet time” can be measured. I am right with God today because I had a quiet time. Is this not how man thinks? What really proves that this kind of “quiet time” is simply religion… is when a person asks you to keep them accountable to doing it regularly. Are you kidding? Now we need someone to ask us if we are loving the one who saved us? Do we really need someone to encourage us to set time aside to talk with the Lord? Religion is unnatural to say the least… and it shows.

Would it not be natural to have the freedom to meet with the Lord at anytime of the day instead of chaining yourself to the bed until you have met with the Lord? Please understand that I am not discouraging quiet moments with the Lord. But I am accusing the religious habits as being contrary to the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.

This unnatural religious activity is only giving us a false confidence before God. It causes us to view the privileges of meeting with the Lord and his people as being a burdensome thing. When we have to be coaxed into spending time with the Lord and his people… there is evidence that we are living unnatural religion instead of the natural faith of Christ. It is not just this way with the little things. All things religious will follow this same pattern.

Is it any wonder why you constantly hear the institutional pastors pleading with their people to get involved and do something… just do something for the Lord, please! Reason: religious people need to be coaxed into loving the Lord and doing the right things.

The worse part of this religious Christianity… most of its leaders wouldn’t even care about the motives and reasoning behind why the congregation is having their “quiet times” or why they signed up for VBS. The important thing to the religious leader is that they do it… regardless of the reasons why. The machine must continue to run. The success of the ministry depends on it. See anything wrong with this picture?

Christianity should be a natural expression of personal relationships intertwined into community. As family gathers for a reunion or a weekly meal… the church gathers around Jesus Christ to share him with everyone in the fellowship. Everyone brings something to the table of fellowship (1 Cor. 14:26 ). A bulletin would be unnatural, therefore, religious. Who hands out an order of service and activities at their earthly family gatherings? When you are with people you love… there is no particular order. Yet, there is order.

There is order… still there is freedom. Freedom to naturally express yourself… be yourself… and enjoy the company of the family. How much more ought the church to be expressing herself naturally? Religion chains the bride up. It bounds her by needless rules and destructive rituals that cage up the free moving Spirit of Christ. Religion is unnatural. Wherever religion is found… you will find bondage therein.

I am reminded of what the Chinese missionary said to his people upon returning from the United States. They asked him, “What impressed you most about the church in America?” His reply… “What the church in America can do without the power of the Holy Spirit.” The machine has been oiled and it runs fine… even without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

This is the way it is in religion. You can observe the religious by human wisdom and logic. You can organize and publicize and deputize others into doing your religious bidding. It would appear that a great deal is happening in institutional church work… yet the statistics reveal something very different. The great machine is running… but the product is counterfeit!

Religion stinks. Christ is everything!

D.D. Flowers, 2008.


Religionless Christianity

“…you and I will never be Christians, or servants of the Lord, in real spiritual life and effectiveness beyond the measure of our inward apprehension of the Lord Jesus.” T. Austin Sparks, The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, 10

Why are we wasting precious time and energy attempting to answer the problems with the church today by tweaking the old paradigms?  We ask the wrong questions within a broken and flawed model of the church that Constantine built.  Our problems grow greater still. We must begin asking the right questions.  We must allow the Lord to exchange our old paradigms for new ones.

This sort of revolution will only come by us truthfully asking the Lord to give us the right questions and reveal to us the true knowledge of his Son Jesus Christ. How do we know which questions are wrong and right?  How is it possible for old paradigms to be crushed underneath the feet of brave revolutionaries?  The Scripture is the key because Christ is the treasure within it.

The written word of God unlocks the living Word of God who is Christ Jesus our Lord. Ultimately, He is the answer we are looking for. He is the pursuit of our hearts whether we recognize it or not. Unfortunately, too often, believers stop short of their purpose for living. They settle for some other passion other than the master. The answer is not found in a method, movement, or post-modern program.  It is not found in 12 steps, purpose-driven products, or some other religious gimmick published by Zondervan. It is Christ; he is the answer to our problems in the church today.

So, in order to see a biblical image of Christ we must ask questions which are biblically sound instead of denominationally or culturally colored with bias and misconception.  We must forsake everything else but Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it best when he said, “Besides Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” The Cost of Discipleship, 59

Question Everything

When we speak of religion… our concern first and foremost must be, “What does the Scripture say about religion?” We can say a lot of nice, fanciful, and deep philosophical things for and against religion and we can seek to answer our problems by continually asking the wrong questions. When we do not ask the right questions we will most certainly get the wrong answers.

We must leave the realm of the familiar in order to ask the right questions. If we do not leave the familiar, we will continue to ask the same kinds of wrong questions that only lead to a reform of dead religion instead of a revolutionizing answer that brings a radical return to Christ. The only way to have a revolution in thought and practice is to leave the familiar and seek answers outside the previously accepted beliefs and practices of the majority. We must question everything believing that there are answers. Some see this as evil, yet I find it is most productive in the honest pursuit of truth.

To not question, is to accept unexamined truth claims.  To accept unexamined truth claims, even truly biblical ones, would be the same as accepting a lie. In other words, you are taking another person’s digested information and making it your own. If you were to do this with food you would see a very disgusting problem. You chew your own food and digest it yourself. It would be unhealthy, to say the least, if you were to make a habit of swallowing every “truth” that came to you from your “leaders” without first chewing on it and digesting it yourself.  When it comes to spiritual things we are referring to discernment, personal study, and personal experience. The healthy spiritual man will not only discern whole pieces of doctrine, but the words we use to describe our faith.

The one who divides the Word of truth correctly is the one who will go outside his preconceived notions to let the Lord speak whatever he so desires.  Even when it means redefining words in our language or to stop using certain words altogether.

The point I am making is this: If truth is to be discovered, the believer must offer everything up and be willing to let the Lord reveal things that previously were hidden and closed; letting go of previously held understandings so that the Lord may bring new understanding as he sees fit.

The Lord must have your preconceived ideas in order to give you his sight in return.  We must surrender everything be willing to let the Lord tell us we were wrong before he can show us the light of his wisdom. If we do not allow the Lord to do this we will continue to ask the wrong questions and keep getting the wrong answers.  We will fall short like so many men in the history of the church.

Defining Religion

Religion is something we hear spoken of in good and in evil ways.  I recently read a book entitled, When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball. Obviously, the author believes there are benefits to religion when it is not evil.

The author even went so far to claim that Islam worships the same God of Judaism and Christianity. He believes all religion is capable of bringing about peace in the world.  At the same time, he spoke of the exclusive way of salvation through Jesus Christ. See anything wrong here?

He has asked the wrong questions in his book because he does not allow for a redefining of religion.  Among his many problems, he has a preconceived belief that religion is not inherently evil in itself (i.e. religion is not the problem), and that religion is good or evil, true or false. He will inevitably come up with wrong answers because he is not allowing everything to be questioned specifically, his biblical understanding of religion. It is important that we understand there are several different ways of understanding what is meant by religion.

The popular understanding of religion is found on the lips of the majority today. They speak of religion to describe worshippers of a particular deity or devotion to a set of beliefs and ideas. Webster defines religion this way, “belief in a supernatural power… an objective pursued with fervor or continuous devotion.”

Most professing Christians, ignorant of church history, would describe Christianity as a “religion.” They of course would say it is the only “true religion.”

Learning a Religionless Christianity

I do not consider myself religious in any sense of the word and I make a concerted effort to learn of a “religionless Christianity.” I like to go so far as to distinguish the difference between the religious and the faithful; those committed to man’s unnatural rituals and laws vs. those committed to the natural faith of Christ. My heart longs for this distinction not to be cliché and clever “God talk,” but to sincerely be something totally set apart from man’s religion and our modern American “pop-culture” Christianity. I, along with many others in my generation, seek a faith of Christ free from all forms of religion that threaten to contaminate the natural faith of Christ and the communal Body life that is to ensue around it.

We must know that all religion contaminates that natural faith and Body life. Even religion that claims Christ is at the center.What is false religion? In the past, we have been conditioned to respond in the following ways, “Well, it is Islam… it is Buddhism… it is Mormonism… etc.”  Again, this is thinking inside the box. This reflects culture’s definition. We must speak a new language! Claiming that Christianity is the only true religion is unbiblical. You will not find it in the Bible.

So, what does the Bible say? Some may quickly quote James, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” At first glance, we might think James is condoning some kinds of religious activity. Yet, a second look, I believe, will reveal that James has absolutely nothing good to say about religion.

As a matter of a fact, the way in which he mentions it is to really tell of its true worth. He goes on to say, “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.” (James 1:26-27)

This is the only place in the New Testament where the word thrēskos (“religious”) is used. According to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the adjective describes “a person who performs the external acts of religion, such as public worship, fasting, or giving to the needy.” Another source refers to the word as meaning, “the ceremonial service of religion.” It has been used in Greek to speak of the practices of Egyptian priests. The noun form of the word appears but four times in the N.T., two of which are here in James.

The other two times the word can be found in Acts 26:5 and 1 Timothy 5:4. In each case, the word “religion” is not used favorably. It would be accurate to paraphrase James as saying, “Religion is in fact worthless. It is man’s outward display of works done in the flesh (i.e. looking the part, attending services, being seen by the world, etc.). The faith that the Lord approves of is FAITH PROVING ITSELF BY WORKS BORN OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST.”

These works born of the Spirit will largely go unnoticed. For example… caring for widows and keeping your mouth shut when you have nothing to say that will edify… this is real faith in action! You will not find these works on a billboard, but you will find them showing up on the radar of God.

Therefore, the normal Christian life springs from an inward spiritual reality that is expressed in love and purity. Religion is only concerned about those things which are external (i.e. the outward appearance).

Furthermore, religion claims it can effect the internal by way of external modifications. This is not the method that Jesus taught. Who were the examples of the religious in James’ day?  You know them as the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots.

There is little doubt that James was indeed thinking about these kinds of religious people. This was his context. Continue reading James and this will become clear.  It is the faith of Christ (commonly taught as “faith in Christ”) that is true. It produces real spiritual life that is made manifest by not only listening to the Word, but doing what it says (James 1:22). Our faith is the sum of all spiritual things: Christ Jesus our Lord!

Nothing else is needed but a natural out-flowing of that faith in our lives and in our lives joined with other Christians in the church. Religion is concerned with doing, the authentic faith of Christ is concerned with being. If you will look around you today, you will notice there are many Christians attempting to do great things for the Lord, but have little concern for the actual knowing of Christ and being an extenuation of his person.

The Natural Faith of Christ

Religion trains people to think about the doing.  The New Testament speaks about the being. For example, I bet your evangelistic practices have been influenced by religion to a large degree. Instead of simply being Christ naturally by showing love in lifestyle evangelism… many have resorted to a “in your face” non-stop display of religious solicitation. Many Christians learn an outline, similar in style to a salesman, and only regurgitate it for their client. Is this not unnatural?

When the Lord’s people begin with their primary purpose as doing for Christ, they will fail to ever reach the most important aspect of the faith: being Christ! They will devise many forms of unnatural religious practices and they ultimately will not be able to say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) They will continue to resort to scheduled “quiet times” and Avon evangelism.  And this is only the beginning of the nasty fruits produced by religious thinking.  If the faith of Christ is ever to be expressed naturally, religion has to go!

Finally, did Jesus say anything about religion? Well, he never gave a discourse over comparative religion, nor did he attempt to build a case that Christianity is the only true religion. However, he did say many things to those who believe themselves to be religious. From these things we see Jesus’ attitude toward religion. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus refers to these religious men as “hypocrites” and that they like to be “seen by men” on the street corners.

In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus tells the religious Sadducees, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Remember, Jesus said this to the religious of the religious. He said this to those conservatives and moderates who loved for their presence to be known on the street corners and in the synagogues. These men were highly regarded and respected by the worshippers of God.  And Jesus tells them, “You don’t know the Scriptures.” I believe this reveals the very root of the problem today. Many Christians have relied upon the denominational interpretations of the religious and have rejected the simple plain teachings from those whom the religious have discarded.

Primarily, we have rejected Jesus as being all-sufficient for life and living.  We have failed to discover the endless depths and riches that are found in Christ.  It is much easier to follow the seen instead of the person and the works of the unseen; instead of following the one who asks us to do better than obey some rules, but deny himself that he may live. (Matt. 19:16-24)  Jesus said it will not be on a particular mountain or temple that we will worship (Jn. 4:21-24), not a location or a building, but an attitude of the heart and a place of the Spirit. The Lord rejects the outward display of hypocrites, but says, “Well done!” to the faithful servant who has left all to sit around his feet in natural familial community.

Religious Christianity believes dominance, power, and visible presence is the way by which Christianity wins triumphantly.  Religionless Christianity is in no need of pagan rituals and edifices; no need of political power and the desire to conquer by baptizing the cultural.  Religionless Christianity is relational Christianity.  This faith is simple and its power comes from love and sacrifice.

Are we to say that all religious people are hypocrites? Not exactly. They may be true sincere followers of the Lord only involved in the activities of hypocrites because that’s all they know. They have grown up being taught that religion is a necessary function of ministry in this new and “post-modern” age.

Nicodemus is an example of a religious man, yet a sincere lover of God. He was practicing what he truly believed was the Lord’s will for his people.  Jesus challenged him in his understanding of spiritual things in John 3.

We do not know for certain what happened to Nicodemus after the resurrection, but we do know what happened to another religious Pharisee named Saul. And this man was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, the religious of the religious. Saul of Tarsus left it all to follow Christ into uncharted territory free from religion’s chains! He traded his religion for a faith of Christ that is natural. His aim was no longer serving the letter of the law, but to knowing the “power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

Embracing Religionless Christianity

Therefore, we must say with boldness and confidence, “Religion is rooted in the pride of man finding worth in himself apart from the simple way of knowing and being satisfied with the person of Christ.” It is really an English double negative to say, “false religion” for it can be nothing more or less. All religion is counterfeit life.

Can you imagine how our conversations would change if we would adjust our language and living to this truth? Never again would you tell someone from another religious devotion, “Christianity is the only true religion.”  Doing this would only continue the never-ending cycle of religious talk. You would say nothing new and absolutely nothing that would reveal your true identity: You do not belong to the world! Your faith founded in Christ is out of this world. This is not theoretical talk, but the true language of the alien, stranger, sojourner, and follower of the King whose kingdom is coming!

Religionless Christianity is a return to the simple faith of Christ. It is the only way to communicate who we truly are to a world filled with religion. The world has enough of religion.  It needs true citizens of the eternal kingdom to show it her King. May the Lord keep us from being polluted by the world.  Lord, help us to embrace your person that your life may naturally flow from our spirits.

Note: I have borrowed the phrase “religionless Christianity” from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I believe many have misunderstood this phrase.  I’m not sure that Bonhoeffer himself even had a full understanding of what this “religionless Christianity” implies for Christians living in community.  We would do well to ask the Lord to reveal to us its true meaning and begin a much needed dialogue on spiritual revolution instead of religious reformation.

D.D. Flowers, 2008.

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