A STUDY OF TRUE RELIGION
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.” (Colossians 2:8)
(Excerpts from C. C. Crawford, Genesis: The Book of the Beginnings, Vol. 2; College Press, pp. 364-376)
It is doubtful that there is a more ambiguous word in our language today than the word ‘religion.’ It has literally come to mean ‘all things to all men.
“The pagan etymology of the word is given us by Cicero, the Latin essayist. He derives it…from…relego, relegere, meaning ‘to go over again,’ ‘to consider carefully,’ that is, in thought, reading, and speech; and hence, as used by him, to mean ‘reverent observance’ of duties to the gods. This etymology expresses fully the concept of ‘religion’ that lay back of the idolatry and ritualism of pagan cults.
In our day the word is used to embrace everything from per se devotion to an object, on one hand, to sheer superstition, on the other. Considered subjectively, of course, as devotion to an object, it can take in almost any attitude or cult imaginable. From this ‘common denominator’ point of view alone, to be religious is to be serious about something as of supreme value in life, and to take an attitude of commitment to the object that is so valued. Obviously, from this viewpoint, religion may have anything for its object, provided the anything is regarded as worthy of devotion…. Others have defined religion as ‘anything in which one believes.’ From this point of view devil-worship could be called a religion. From this viewpoint, the object of religion may be a Party or a Cause…an idol or an icon, or a whole pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and goddesses; it may be a fetish or an amulet, or some impersonal magic force…the celestial bodies (sun, moon, star) or it may be ‘Mother Earth’ (Terra Mater), as in the ancient Cult of Fertility; it may be an animal, a bird, or even an insect…man himself…it may even be the Devil, as in some ‘spiritualistic’ cults. Or, indeed it may be the God of the Bible, the living and true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What True Religion Is Not
1. It is not just respectability.
2. It is not just a status symbol, although thousands of church members undoubtedly use it as such.
3. It is not ritualism. Pagan cults have always been built around solemn festivals and processions, and pagan temples have always reeked with the fumes of incense.
4. It is not a matter of barter, saying to God, ‘You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.’
5. It is not an escapist device.
6. It is not just wishful thinking.
7. Religion is not just a convenience…something that needs to be maintained to stabilize moral and social order.
8. Religion is not primarily a social institution. Nor is it designed to be used as a support of social stability.
9. It is not just morality…it goes beyond morality.
10. It is not nature-worship.
What True Religion Is
1. True religion recognizes ‘the existence and the awfulness of sin.’
2. True religion recognizes ‘that man has allowed sin to separate him from God.’
3. True religion recognizes that because God is the offended One, He alone has the right to state the terms on which He grants forgiveness, pardon, remission, justification, etc., and so receive the offender back into covenant relationship with Himself.
4. True religion recognizes that if man is ever to attain that righteousness and sanctification ‘without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14; Rom. 8:10, 14:17; Matt. 5:8), he must have a revealed system of faith and practice designed to heal the schism caused by sin and to effect his reconciliation with the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9).
5. True religion must provide an adequate Atonement (Covering) for sin—adequate in that it is sufficient to vindicate the Absolute Justice challenged by man’s rebelliousness, and at the same time sufficient to overcome that rebelliousness by a demonstration of God’s ineffable love for the one whom He created in His own image (John 3:16; Gen. 1:27, 2:7). That there is such a Remedial System, and that its details are revealed in the Bible, is our thesis here. The essence of true religion is reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21; Eph. 2:11-22), and this is the grand objective of the Christian System as fully revealed in the New Testament.
6. The Bible has little to say about the meaning of the word ‘religion’; indeed in one instance it seems to equate ‘religion’ and ‘superstition.’ Scripture makes it clear, however, what true religion is per se, and how it manifests itself. Essentially, as stated above, true religion is reconciliation. This is in complete harmony with man’s spiritual needs as determined by his own experience, that is, if he is honest with himself and honest with God.
7. Hence, the etymology of the word, in its Biblical sense, is precisely what it is said to be by Augustine…from the…Latin verb, religo, religare, meaning ‘to bind back’ or ‘to bind anew.’ The close relationship of the family of words formed around the root lig (ligament, ligature, oblige, etc.) to that formed around the root leg (lex, legis, ‘law,’ hence legislate, legal, etc.) is too obvious to be ignored. These two families of words both have the connotation of a binding force. Whatever the word ‘religion’ may have meant to the pagan world, the fact remains that the essence of Biblical religion is a binding of a person anew to God (healing of the schism caused by sin: the God of the Bible is the covenant God) and is fully expressed in the word ‘reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Just as the essential principle of music is harmony; of art, beauty; of government, authority; of sin, selfishness; so the fundamental principle of true religion is reconciliation. (Eph. 2:11-22; 2 Cor. 5:18-20, 6:14-18)
8. In the Bible, and only in the Bible, do we find revealed the Remedial System by which is effected the healing of the wounds caused by sin. As a consequence of this healing through regeneration and continuous sanctification (2 Pet. 3:8, Heb. 12:14), the righteous person ultimately attains holiness (from holon, ‘whole’), which is wholeness or perfection (that is, completeness, from per plus facere, ‘to make thorough, complete’). For the true Christian, eternal life begins in the here and now, through union with Christ (Gal. 3:27, Rom. 8:1); the attainment of spiritual wholeness is consummated, of course, in the ultimate redemption of the body (Matt. 5:48; Co. 1:12; Rom. 8:18-24, 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:35-58; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 3:20-21). (Cf. also Rom. 3:23 and 2 Cor. 5:20.)
The Formula of True Religion
True religion, as defined above, is that System of faith and practice revealed in Scripture that is designed to bind man anew to God in Covenant relationship. This system—the actualizing of God’s Eternal Purpose, His Plan of Redemption, for man—necessarily includes two departments…The departments are (1) the things that God has done, and will do, for us; and (2) the things we must do for ourselves in obedience to His revealed Will. That is to say, God overtures and states the conditions on which He will grant us forgiveness and remission of sins; and we, out of loving obedience, accept and comply with the terms; and so reconciliation is effected, and we are bound anew to our Father in covenant relationship.
The Root of True Religion on the Divine Side
The root of true religion on the divine side is the grace of God (Eph. 2:1-10, esp. 2:8)…. God’s grace includes, necessarily, the Atonement provided by the Son through the offering of His body and the shedding of His blood (Rom. 3:25, 5:11; 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 John 1:7, 2:2, 4:10).” “The Son was under no necessity of providing this Covering for man’s sin, but did so willingly, because of His overwhelming love for mankind (Heb. 10:10-13, John 15:13), and ‘for the joy that was set before him,’ the joy of making possible the redemption of lost sinners (Heb. 12:1-2). God’s grace also includes the revelation by the Holy Spirit sent forth from Heaven (1 Pet. 1:12) of the conditions on which God proposes to receive men anew into covenant relationship with Himself. The Bible is the inspired and authoritative record of this divine revelation (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 2:6-16; Eph. 3:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 1:21).
The Root of True Religion on the Human Side
The root of true religion on the human side is an obedient faith...Man’s part in true religion is that of accepting and appropriating the benefits and blessings of ‘the gifts and the calling of God’ (Rom. 11:29). This he does by faith in Christ (Heb. 11:6; John 1:10-13, 14:1, 20:30-31; Matt. 16:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 5:1, 10:9-10; Gal. 3:26-27). This faith in Christ, however, is far more than mere intellectual assent to the Christian formula as embodied in the Good Confession (Matt. 10:32-33, 16:16; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Tim. 6:13): it is full commitment, in spirit and soul and body, to the Mind and Will of Christ (Jas. 2:18-26), Rom. 12:1-2, 1 Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5, 4:13; Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:17). The faith in Christ that is faith unto the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:39) necessarily includes both obedience to Christ (John 14:15, 15:14; Heb. 5:8-9; 1 John 2:3, 5:2-3), and stedfast abiding in Christ (Matt. 7:24-27, 28:20; John 8:31-32, 15:4-7; 2 John 9; Rev. 2:7, 14:13). It should be noted that abiding, in Scriptural terms, signifies activity on man’s part, consecration, worship, service—in a word, continuing stedfastly, ‘always abounding in the work of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 15:58, Matt. 25:31-46).
The Dispensations of True Religion
It is often taken for granted that we have revealed in Scripture at least two, and probably three, different religions, namely, the Patriarchal, the Jewish, and the Christian. Strictly speaking this is not true. In the light of Bible teaching itself, we do not have three religious systems revealed therein; we have, rather, the record of the three successive Dispensations of the one progressive revelation of true religion (cf. Isa. 28:10, 13; Mark 4:28). Those who fail to recognize this fact, and those who deliberately refuse to recognize it, put themselves outside the possibility of any comprehensive understanding of the Scriptures. Only those who accept the Bible for what it is—one Book, the Book of the Spirit, with one theme, redemption through Christ Jesus (John 1:29), can hope to acquire any adequate knowledge of its content. (Cf. 2 Tim. 2:15, 1:13, 2:2.) Failure to distinguish what belonged to each of the Covenants, and to each of the Dispensations, of Biblical religion, has been, from the beginning, a prolific source of error and confusion throughout Christendom, and even more so throughout the non-Christian world. A vast percentage of professed church members in our day have no concept whatever of these distinctions, and the so-called ‘clergy’ is not far behind them in maintaining this tragic lacuna in Scripture knowledge.
The word ‘dispensation’ is a Bible word: it occurs four times in the New Testament, in 1 Cor. 9:17, Eph. 1:10, Eph. 3:2, and Col. 1:25). It designates the procedure by which God, in each successive period of revelation, has chosen to ‘dispense’ both His requirements and His blessings on all who choose to enter into covenant relationship with Him (Jer. 31:31-34, 2 Cor. 3:1-11, Heb. 8:1-23, 1 John 1:1-4). The Greek original, oikonomia, means literally ‘household management,’ commonly designated the ‘economy’ of a given system; hence it may be translated ‘administration,’ ‘provision,’ ‘dispensation,’ or even ‘stewardship’ (even God is sometimes presented in Scripture as a steward).
The three Dispensations of Biblical religion are the Patriarchal, which extended from Adam to Moses at Sinai*; the Jewish, which extended from Sinai to Pentecost…and the Christian, extending from Pentecost to the Second Coming of Christ…Dispensations changed as the type of priesthood was changed. Throughout the Patriarchal Dispensation the patriarch or father of the family…acted as priest, that is, as mediator between God and the members of his household (Heb. 7:4; Acts 7:8). Throughout the Jewish (or Mosaic) Dispensation, the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood served as mediators between God and the nation, the children of Israel (Exo. 6:16-20; Exo., ch. 28; Num. 17:8-11, Heb. 5:1-10, 7:11-28). Under the Christian Dispensation, the New Covenant, all Christians are priests unto God, and Christ Himself is their High Priest (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 7:16-17, 9:11-12, 9:24-28; 1 Tim. 2:5; Rev. 1:6, 5:10, 20:6, etc.). Thus it will be noted that Dispensations changed as the type of priesthood changed—from the family to the national to the universal (John 1:29).
*The Patriarchal Age ended at Sinai for Israel only. For Gentiles it continued to Pentecost.