Someone recently told me they believe religion to be an invention of man, and one of the oldest lies in history. This same person said they went to churches to hear the word of God. This seems to be a variation on the “Jesus yes; church no” movement of a few decades ago. Another variation is the person who said religion has done more harm than good throughout history. Yet a third variation is the question, “which church/religion should I belong to in order to be saved?”
What all three of these questions share is a misconception about religion, the church, and the role of each in a person’s life. Let’s look at the last one first, because it brings what many people will believe is the most shocking response.
“What church should I belong to in order to be saved?” The answer is “none.” Religion does not save anyone; the church does not save anyone; only the blood of Jesus the Messiah can save anyone. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) In fact, people are not in the church to be saved; people are in the church because they are saved. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47) It is true that Christians are then required to live a certain way, but even then the requirement is based on what they have become rather than a set of rules. A Christian lives like Christ because he has been saved (had his sins forgiven) rather than to achieve salvation.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Rom 6:11-13)
I would also question anyone who says religion has done harm. There may be some religions that advocate evil rather than good. Nevertheless, in most cases the real harm comes from selfishness in religious clothing. The wolf enters the flock, in the old fable, by wearing a sheepskin. Selfish men use religious fervor to accomplish non-religious ends. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (Jas 4:1) I challenge anyone to show one war fought in the name of religion that had its real impetus in religion. There may be religious people fighting for a propagandized religion, but the war is always started for economic or political, rather than religious, reasons. The crusades, the conquest of California, the Irish Problem—all happened under the guise of religion, but had economic roots. Religion, and Christianity specifically, when not corrupted by ambitious men, abhors all the injustices perpetrated in its name. I wonder if God has a special punishment in hell for those who blaspheme his name by hurting people in the name of religion.
Can one really say “Jesus yes; the church no”? Religion in the form of the church is an essential part of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Jesus is inseparable from his church. “And he is the head of the body, the church.” (Col 1:18) Separate the head from the body and the result is death. The blood of Jesus is the lifeblood of the church. The problem is that many have established their own churches in the name of, but without the authority or power of, Jesus. No wonder people think religion and God can be separated. They are looking at façade religions without seeing if there is a building behind the set. Why is it so easy for movie and TV producers to make religious people look ridiculous? It is because they have such ridiculous models to work from, without checking to see if they are truly religious people. These models are no more representative of Christ than Job’s friends were of God.
God yes; religion yes. But only if the religion is from God.