Monday, January 16, 2012

On Christian Religion, Jesus, and Scripture: Why Religion Matters

“‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17, NRSV).

One cannot preach grace with a machinegun for a microphone.

This past week, twelve million Christians debated over a video that says Jesus>Religion. Jefferson, the Spoken Word creator of the video has a lot to say about Jesus and religion. Is this man preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ or condemning people who call themselves Christians? Yes. In addition to what I’ve said elsewhere, does the Bible back up the claims of the popular video? Yes and no.

Definitions are important. First, who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God, fully man and fully God, he lived, he died (by crucifixion on the cross), and he resurrected from the dead. The work of the cross was done for the redemption of all people because all suffer from a chronic affliction called sin.

Second, what is religion? It is, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs” (

What does Jesus>Religion claim and is it scriptural? Claim one, “Jesus came to abolish religion.” I could not find this in scripture, but here’s what I did find: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt.19:16-21; Mt. 5:17). Claim two, “Just because you call some people blind, doesn’t automatically give you vision.” True, but that judgment was Jesus’ call (Jn. 9:39-41) and I’d suggest it stay his call. Claim three, “If religion is so great, why does it [insert negative here]?” Religion isn’t the problem; sin is the problem (Ps. 25:6-12).

The claims of Jesus>Religion continue. Claim four, “But, in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores.” This is a bit of a stretch, but the Israelites were called whores because God knew they were inclined to sin and turn from the covenant they had made with the Lord (Deut.31:15-21, ESV). Claim five, “Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice.”It is true; Christians are guilty of not practicing what they preach. However, grace is from God (Jn. 1:16-18). And, scripture says a lot more on religion and grace (Mt. 5:3-7:27; Acts15:5-11).

Three out of five is pretty good, right? Claim six, “Now I ain’t judging; I’m just saying, quit putting on a fake look because there’s a problem if people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook.” Unless one is going to take time to disciple “Facebook Christians” this remark is ill-advised (Gal. 6:2-5).

Turning to the opposition of Jesus>Religion; Jesus=Religion. What does the opposition claim? Claim one, “Where do you get off speakin’ up for the man risen from the dead, without botherin’ to quote a single word that he said?” While the point may be valid, it deters from a message of grace and contradicts Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:38-40).

Since I’m a Lutheran, I share more views with the Jesus=Religion author, but I will compare one point of controversy from each video. “Because, if grace is water, the Church should be an ocean” (Jesus>Religion). “The grace is the water, this baptism now saves you, and the Church is the place where this giving out raises you” (Jesus=Religion). Does scripture support salvation through baptism? Yes and it’s been a heated debate for  easily five-hundred years. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-7). Thus, baptism brings us into Christ’s resurrection (1Pet. 3:18-22). This is orthodoxy, not heresy, and there are other views if you don’t agree with it.

Finally, Jesus is greater than religion, but religion points believers to the grace of the cross. Both of these rhyming You Tube preachers have solid points and a common problem. As servants of the Lord, Christians are called to humility: “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor” (Pro. 15:33, NRSV). Where the first falsely slanders religion, the other mocks his brother’s folly, and both preach grace with a machinegun.

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34, KJV).

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