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Why Be Religious?
By Brian Knowles
When we look around us at the pain, suffering and chaos created by religion, it’s natural to ask the question, "Why be religious at all?" To tell you the truth, religion makes me sick. I’m sick of religious wars, martyrdom, murder, mayhem, homicide bombings, enslavement, torture, and suffering – all created in the name of God.
And when it comes to the Churches of God Pod, I’m sick of the internal squabbling, the marking, disfellowshipping, law suits, thought police monitoring, and people having to sneak around not being overheard or seen with other people. It’s all nonsense. It’s nonsense that anyone should have divorced because their mate preferred to attend a different spin off Church of God than they did. Yet it has happened.
It’s nonsense that ministers should be out to build personal ecclesiastical empires by coveting the tithe and creating cults of personality around themselves. Yet it keeps on occurring.
None of these things is a manifestation of love. Yet love should be the primary motivating force for anyone connected with the true God. After all, the apostle John wrote, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (I John 4:8). The apostle Paul wrote, "Make love your aim…" (I Corinthians 14:1, Moffatt). The Berkeley version translates it, "Make love your great quest…" Jesus taught that the second great commandment was to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). He said that that is what the Bible is all about – loving God and loving neighbor (verse 40).
Why then isn’t so much of religion about love but rather hate? Is the manifestation of love the "great quest" and goal of the Church? Or is the energy of the Church going into other things – i.e. works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). What do we see most visibly manifested in the Churches of God – expressions of carnality or the fruit of the Spirit? How much love is there (Galatians 5:22)? After all, love is the first fruit of the Spirit. How much joy? How much peace? How much kindness and goodness? Think long and hard about it. Something is clearly wrong.
Why can’t brothers and sisters in Christ sit down as brethren and, prayerfully, led by the Holy Spirit, solve the problem of who, if anyone, gets to publish Herbert Armstrong’s books? Paul wrote, "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints" (I Corinthians 6:1).
The idea of lawsuits going back and forth between Churches of God is obscene. Why spend the illegitimately collected tithe money of the brethren on such ugliness? Isn’t there a more godly way to resolve such disputes?
Of course I realize that all these things arise out of the modern distortions of what the Church is supposed to be in the first place. To address the issue of lawsuits between brethren, one must first examine all of the presuppositions upon which they are launched. Who is the true Church these days? Who really represents God and who represents the devil? Who teaches sound doctrine and who does not? Who are the white hats and who are the black ones? At some point the discussion descends into incoherent gibberish.
As I’ve been saying a lot lately, the enemies of the Christian faith couldn’t care less about our internal squabbles and doctrinal distinctions. They see us either as "Crusaders" or disrupting influences in the kind of societies their elites are trying to build. Whether communists of fanatical Moslems, they will persecute us, torture us, enslave us, jail us, and kill us, simply because we bear the name of Christ. For the political Left in this country, Christians are the only group it is politically correct to persecute and practice "hate speech" against. They view us all as untouchables.
Light or Darkness?
Jesus taught us that his followers are supposed to be the light of the world – but how much light are we shedding these days? What does our example say about the worth of the Christian lifestyle? Can we, with a straight face, tell the world that our way of life is better than it’s if we are filled with conflict and turmoil over everything that comes along? Are we as individuals, or denominations, making things better wherever we have influence – or worse? Do we have happier marriages, more obedient children, better-kept homes, and good reputations on our jobs? Are we part of the solution, or part of the problem? Do non-Christians see in us the answers to life’s issues? Do they see the power of God manifested? Do they see the love of God shed abroad in our hearts? What do they see?
I have to confess that in the past I have embraced many wrong ideas about what it means to be a Christian in the modern world. One by one, I’ve had to jettison those. I’ve had to realize that the Christian faith is personal more than it is corporate. It isn’t really about hammering people about right doctrine. It isn’t about building one’s life around the activities of a leader or of a denomination. It isn’t about tithing, feast going or even Sabbath-keeping.
It’s about learning how to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). It’s about learning how to fill up one’s life with good works – works that distribute the love of God in the real world (Romans 5:5, I Peter 2:12, I Timothy 6:18, Ephesians 2:10). It’s about being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and producing its fruits in abundance Galatians 5:22-23, John 15). It’s about preaching the Gospel and making disciples for and of Yeshua ha Mashiach (Matthew 28:19-20).
If the Church – and the Churches of God Pod – is to become a real light to the world, it’s going to have to repent of doing the works of darkness begin actively pursuing the works, fruit and manifestations of the Spirit. The time, apparently, is short. The night is coming on during which time it will be increasingly more difficult to do the works of God. The darkness is coming on strong and the light of the Church is flickering. The Church is being attacked by it’s own "axis of evil" – Militant Islam, communism and the political Left. At the practical level, the Left is doing more damage to freedom of religious speech in this and other Western countries than any other source. As the political Left gears up for the next Presidential campaign, the religious Right is being targeted for a campaign of relentless demonization. Every conservative Christian from the President on down will be characterized as a fanatic – akin to the Islamic fanatics that seek to destroy our culture. This is not the time for the Church to confirm the worst charges of its enemies. It is a time for repentance, and a major paradigm shift. It is time to begin seeking to build on common ground, rather than dividing over differences. It is a time to seek the Holy Spirit in greater measure. It is a time to restudy the Scriptures and learn just what it is that God really expects of us as individual Christians. It is a time to build faith for the difficult days ahead. The Church has few friends in the world, and it can’t even live in harmony within itself. That has to change. We’re shooting ourselves in the collective foot.
We need a broader, deeper view of what it means to be a Christian in the modern world. We may soon be called upon to "put up or shut up" when it comes to our faith. Will we be up to that ultimate challenge?
©Association for Christian Development