By Norman E. Fultz
The radio talk-show guest was discussing the evil effects of hard rock music. Lyrics promoting Satanism and glorifying suicide were specified as areas of concern. A caller took issue with the speaker and referred to him as a religious fanatic. The show’s guest quickly responded with, “I’m not a religious fanatic. I hate religion. I’m a Jesus fanatic!”
Admitting sympathy with much that was said about the evils that can be purveyed with music, the speaker’s response nonetheless gave reason for pause. How con one be a fanatic for Jesus, yet hate religion? Jesus’ followers practice, a religion, Christianity. The speaker’s statement reflects a misconception widely held-claiming to love God while disavowing formal religious practices. It is akin to confessing the Lordship of Jesus while affirming that doctrine is unimportant (2 Jn. 9-11; 1 Tim. 1:10; 4:16). To such folk, Christianity is something completely divorced from religious practice. Theirs becomes a bumper sticker Christianity – “Honk if you love Jesus.”
Very likely, what is opposed is the ritualistic performance of external religious actions which are cold, heartless, lifeless forms and rote reciting of prayers professionally written by the clergy as well as many prevalent religions that are completely unbiblical. Surely much that is practiced in the name of religion is without divine authority. It has ever been so. Cain offered what he wanted God to have instead of what God required (Gen. 4:3). Perhaps sincere in what he did, nonetheless his works were evil (1 Jn. 3:12), and God rejected his offering. Every instance of idolatry is an example of religion without divine sanction. Even engaging in divinely sanctioned practices but without proper motive and from corrupt lives led God to reject the worship of some in the days of the Old Testament prophets (Amos 5:21-25).
It is possible to be religious but wrong. The Jews who stoned Stephen were devoutly religious, even zealous for God (Acts 7). But zeal can be without knowledge (Rom. 10:2). Saul of Tarsus, the man who became the great apostle Paul, diligently applied himself in the Jews’ religion (Gal. 1:13-14), a religion based more upon tradition developed by their religious leaders from the institutes of God than the simple keeping of divine instruction. What he practiced, he did in good conscience (Acts 23:1), but he was wrong. And Cornelius, sterling in character, deeply devotional and prayerful, was unsaved even though religious (Acts 10:3; 11:14). It is even possible for one to be a “Jesus fanatic,” yet be unacceptable to him if one’s practices are outside the realm of divine authority (Matt. 7:21-23). Much that is done in the name of religion today has no basis in divine authority, the Bible. Worship of God authorized by the doctrines of men is vain worship (Matt. 15:9).
True religion must be based in truth, God’s word (Jn. 17:17). Acceptable service must directed thereby.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 24, p. 741
December 19, 1991