From Faith to Religion

When Jesus walked the earth, he made it very clear that he came for something more than Religion, but for Faith.  When confronted by the traditions of the day, Jesus responded:

…”And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”

 – Matthew 15:3

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
     but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
     their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! … Thus you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down…”

 – Mark 7:6-9, 11a

Almost a year ago, I criticized the Emergent Church for throwing out the traditions of the church.  Now, I clarify what I wrote earlier this morning (see previous blog). 

The early church realized what it ment to follow Christ.  Look throughout the book of Acts and you will find what the ‘Biblical Church’ looks like.  They didn’t gather on specific times Sunday morning each week, but the Body of Christ flowed.  It was ever-changing because they were led by the Spirit of God. 

They had something more than Religion.  They had Faith. 

Jesus didn’t come to abolish of the Laws or the Prophets, he came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-20).  The laws the Jewish people (and Christians everywhere) represented the Religion of the day.  Jesus called his followers not to follow these laws, but live up to higher expectations.  Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7).  Look at the teachings of Jesus throughout all of the Gospels. 

His way isn’t easy.  Many left from his teachings disappointed.  Even his closest followers abandoned him, denied ever knowing him. 

Jesus was calling us out of a Religion and into something more:  A relationship. 

The early church in Rome met in each others houses.  They met in the crypts where the dead were laid to rest.  They gathered where they could, because nowhere was safe.  Their calling was dangerous.  They were imprisoned.  They were killed.  All for being Followers of the Way. 

But something happened that changed everything.  Christianity was no longer outlawed.  It became safe.  They ventured out of hiding and the Faith was swallowed up by Religion once again. 

They became structured.  One person became more important than others and they forgot what it ment to make disciples.  Over the years, they forgot what it ment to be in a relationship with God, because Christianity became the Religion of Rome.  It became popular. 

Look at the construction of the Roman  Catholic Cathedrals.  The design and architecture of the Cathedral is taken from the Roman basilica, a town-hall type building commonly used as a courthouse and meeting place for common people.  The Cathedrals replaced the temples and the path of Christianity became the popular thing.

In the construction of the Cathedrals, the early Christians were trying to get as far away from Religion as possible.  They were trying to express their Faith in God.  The unfortunate irony of the situation is the fact that they created something that became the cornerstone for something less:  a Religion. 

With the growth of the Christian movement, through the use of Religion in the Roman Empire and the spreading of the word throughout the world, discipleship and living out the teaching of Jesus faded away, only to be replaced by a growing Religion that had lost sight of Faith. 

It is my belief that in the ‘Dark Ages’ or Medieval Age that the traditions of the Christian Religion became more important than Faith.  The church was a power that was wielded over the people.  The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (the five-fold ministry, found in Ephesians 4) were replaced by a political structure, where powerful men stood behind pulpits and on altars, spreading Religion, because they did not know Faith. 

Traditions heavily influenced the church.  If something didn’t fit mans plan, it was changed.  Teachings of man replaced the teachings of God.  The high expectations of living for Christ were once again, drawn back to laws and human traditions. 

There were men and women in the church that still knew what Faith was.  They still held onto a relationship with their savior.  Some of them dove deep into their spiritual lives, seeking solitude and peace.  Others found their voice as Priests, Monks or in the Sisterhood (nuns).  Some spoke out against traditions, while others stayed silent.  Some of them left the church (both peacefully or by force) and are considered radicals and Protestants. 

I am not saying that all traditions are bad.  Many of them remind us of where we have been, as a Body, while others point us back to God. 

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, so I know how much tradition can help be a stepping block to faith.  But the danger comes when we rely on these traditions, rather than the teaching of Christ, to lead us in our journey of Faith. 

Jesus came, died for our sins, conquered death, and gave us (his disciples) the Spirit of God to lead us.  I cannot say that traditions will not lead you to the truth about God, because one you do dig deep into the meanings beneath most traditions, you will find an aspect of God that may surprise you. 

As a Body, I do not believe that we need traditions.  Traditions come from man, trying to understand God.  They create Religion.  The same type of religion that Jesus spoke out against when he confronted the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.  We, the church, justify our traditions as pointing to God, just as they believed. 

Faith comes from God.  When we let go of everything and begin to follow His will for our lives, we discover what it means to live to the fullest. 

Every word of God is flawless;
     he is a shield to those who take refuge in
          him.
Do not add to his words,
     or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

 – Proverbs 30:5-6

God Bless and PEACE

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8 Comments »

  1. mdm Said:

    No man is an island unto himself.

    There was tradition in the church in the late 1st century (time of the apostles: see Didache). Many of the structures of the church were in place and documented in the Acts of the Apostles. There were bishops, presbyters (priests) and deacons [you can call that tradition if you like)

    And error did not begin to occur after the legalization of Christianity (313 ad) with Edict of Milan, it began after the death of our Lord. All you have to do is read the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s Letters to see the division and error in faith that the church was already dealing with.

    Balance in ones faith is important. One must have a personal relationship with Jesus, but also make sure their beliefs or personal opinions do not lead to error. Once that happens, anyone can interpret scripture the way they want in order to fit “their” own world view.

    [aside: find a bible that is as close to the original text as possible. Many translations are full of the personal opinions of the translator and do not accurately portray the original meaning of the text]

    • stkerr Said:

      There is a difference between the Faith found in the early Christians and the Religion that was established through and after the legalization of The Way. Yes, there were divisions between the Apostles and Disciples because the Spirit of God revealed to different people in different ways.

      The teachings of the Apostles were challenged by both Jews and Romans alike, warped and adapted to man’s benefits. Paul’s writings were calling the Followers of Christ back to God.

      There is also a stark difference between Elders, the Teachers and Prophets, Evangelists, Apostles and Deciples of Faith and the Religious Decons and Bishops of today.

      Look back at the Greek for Deacon (diakonos). It means servant. Waiting-man. Minister. Messanger. Look at 1 Timothy 3:8-13 if you really want to see what Paul’s expectations of them were. Deacons are the helpers or the minister to the teachers and prophets.

      Do the same for Bishop (episkopos). The overseer. An elder. Again, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 shows us Paul’s expectations. The Bishops are the elders of the Church (the Body of Christ).

      The Deacons and Bishops are in place to support the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4). Most specifically, according to the Didache, the teachers and prophets.

      I do not see how one can balance Faith. It’s all or nothing. Faith (Gk. pistis) is belief. You either believe Jesus is Christ or you don’t. He died for the sins of the world or he didn’t. You have Faith or you don’t.

      After professing one’s Faith, is the man who spent every day inside a church any better than the man who stumbled in moments before because he knows all the traditions? Is the faith of the man who just stumbled in stronger because he is seeing the story of Jesus for the first time? I cannot say. None of us can.

      To many times, I have seen traditions of Religion get in the way of my personal Faith. I have seen them get in the way of the teaching of Jesus Christ.

      Beliefs will all be different, but when a relationship with Jesus begins, a true relationship, our beliefs will slowly change. This happens because our hearts will change. Our lives will change. Our thoughts will change. That is what true Faith does.

      If ones Faith is not solid in Jesus, then they will focus on themselves, not on God. That is when they interpret the word of God for their own benefit.

  2. mdm Said:

    Let me know why you feel the mission of Bishops and Deacons is different today from they way they were in the early Church (based on my study [I have certainly read all of the readings you quoted], that at least in the Catholic “tradition”, they are the same). Some may not fulfill the role completely (sure, they are human) but the goal has not changed. It is clearly documented in the constitution of the church. The role of the deacon is still as servant. I do not know of one deacon that does not visit the sick, care for the poor, visit prisons, etc. In fact, you will not be ordained if service is not a fundamental part of your life. And most deacons are quite humble and will not proclaim to the world everything they do in service to the people of God (i.e. just because you have not seen it yourself does not mean it is not happening).

    You make an interesting point about faith (pistis). There is still a lot of theological debate about what Paul meant in the letter to the Romans when he writes about “pistis christou”. Is he talking about faith “in” Christ or faith “like” Christ. Both translations can be considered accurate. Of course it depends upon the context of the specific text but I think both are true. We must have faith “in” Christ as our savior, but our faith must be “like” Christ’s faith because that is “the way”.

    I think I may be fortunate as a convert. I found strength in many of the traditions, which continues to deepen my faith. It is how I found the strength to go to the slums of Kingston Jamaica to care for the least of our brothers and sisters. It is how I found the strength to walk into a hospital room of a complete stranger (whether christian, jew, muslim, hindu, etc.) and let them know someone cares (religion never came up unless they asked).

    So you are correct, faith does change you. If one does not change, one should question whether their faith is real.

    mnm

    Mark

    • stkerr Said:

      It is the calling of all Christians (Deacon, Bishop or not) to visit the sick, care for the poor, visit those in prison, etc. Deacons and Bishops, in addition to being servants to those in need, are supporters to the leaders of the Church (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Teachers and Pastors).

      In many churches, the position of Deacon and Biship have been elevated above everyone else. Yes, they are important to the church, but they are not more important than every other leader of the church.

      Deacons are in the support role of the teachers and prophets. Bishops (aka: elders) are those that the Body of Christ look to for stability. They are the ones that make sure the teachings are based soundly on scripture, in whom leaders confide in, in whom are the sturdy foundation in which the leaders of a community lean on.

      Each community (individual church with a small ‘c’) should have it’s elders. In most traditions of the church, a single Bishop, an elder of the church, leads over a number of different communities.

      Just as Bishops, each community should have it’s own deacon, to support it’s teachers and prophets.

      Deacons and Bishops need to serve more than the people of God and the poor. They serve and support the leaders of the church.

      The goal of the Deacons and Bishops have changed from the time of the Apostles. More power have been given to them, and they have been elevated in the church above others.

      • mdm Said:

        I am confused by your clarification because it seems to support my point.

        The criticism now seems to be that they have been elevated above others in the church. They certainly have their roles and responsibilities but the People of God are the ones who show them respect. It comes from the people. The same is true of any church. I have never been in any church where the people did not show a great deal of respect for their leaders. It may seem more institutionalized in the Catholic Church, but that is because it has been doing it since apostolic times.

        So rather than assume that their role has changed because of something you may have read or what someone has said, I suggest you go to the source. Take some time to read official documents of the church that says what those roles are now. A good place to start is “Lumen Gentium”. Make a point to check out the footnotes. What is the basis for the statements they make.

        Let me know what you think.

      • stkerr Said:

        There is confusion because I am not saying that traditions are wrong. I am not saying that the positions of Elders (Bishops) and Deacons are inferior to the rest of the community. I’ll get back to my original point: Traditions have replaced Faith with Religion.

        Jesus constantly criticized the Jewish traditions becasue they turned from their faith to man made traditions. The current church has done the same.

        It’s no longer a relationship with God, but a step by step guide to ‘being a stronger Christian’ or ‘building your faith’. I have a problem with traditions becasue of this.

        As for Bishops and Deacons, Deacons have not changed as drastically in their supportive role over the years, whereas Bishops / Elders have.

        Elders were respected in the times of the Apostles because the community, their individual gatherings saw their faith in action, word and deed. This is why each individual gathering, community, what we would call a church building, had their own Elders (usually more than one). They were respected because they were part of the community.

        This no longer happens in the modern Religion of Christianity.

        This is something that I have seen with my own eyes. If someone points something out to me, I will go to scripture. This is what every Christian should do. When we avoid the Laws of God and the teachings of Christ, replacing them with man-made traditions, that is when we know that we have become just like the Pharasees and teachers that Jesus scolded in Matt. 15 and Mark 7.

        Our source should be the Scripture where we find our Faith.

  3. mdm Said:

    Enjoyed the discussion. Its nice to see young people inquiring about their own faith. It will be a process that lasts a lifetime.

  4. Jane Swift Said:

    It was very interesting for me to read the post. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on this site soon. By the way, rather good design this site has, but how about changing it every few months?

    Jane Swift


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