OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew


          Religion in the minds of some people has a negative connotation.  Individuals often think of cold buildings, sober religious observances, strict rules, haughty religious leaders, and hypocritical church members when they think of religion.  Because of these ideas, many have fled from religion.  These people will boldly and stubbornly assert that they will never attend church again.

          Those who say that religion will not be part of their lives often do not know what religion is.  What many do is forsake one type of religion and turn to another type.  Let’s discuss why this is true.

          There are three Latin words from which we get our English word “religion.”  One of them is the word “religio.”  This term is defined as “fear of the supernatural, piety.”  The second word is “religionem.”  This word means “respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods.”  The third Latin term is “religare.”  The definition of this word is “to tie up, bind.”  This word centers upon the convictions and beliefs of the individual.

          With the above terms in mind, we can define religion as follows:  “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.”  This definition reveals that almost everyone has some form of religion that he/she practices.

          We might classify religion into two categories:  formal and informal.  The word “formal” is defined as ‘of, according to, or flowing established or prescribed forms.”  “Informal” carries this definition:  “not according to the prescribed, official, or customary way or manner.”  Most formal religions in the United States gather together on the first day of the week for worship.  Someone who practices an informal religion might arise that day and read a devotional message and have a period of meditation and prayer before going about their normal routine for the day.  Both behaviors, however, are religious in nature.

          Formal religions usually have some common elements among them.  They involve a group of individuals.  These individuals claim to be members of the same religious institution.  They worship together.  They labor together for common purposes.  They serve the needs of others as a group.

          Formal religions are usually very well organized also.  Within the group, there is usually a hierarchal structure.  There are leaders that have authority.  There is a financial budget established to meet the needs of the organization.  There are programs of work in which all of the members are engaged.  Certain days and times are scheduled for the group to accomplish various tasks.

          Formal religions also have some form of a written code or standard that all group members are expected to follow.  The Christian “religions” claim the Bible as their standard.  The Islamic faith revolves around the Koran.  Many Christian “religions” will also have some type of creed or discipline that supplements the Bible.  These standards set the boundaries upon the group.  They reveal what can and cannot be done by the group members.

          Lastly, formal religions hold their member accountable.  Those who do not attend the regular meetings are checked on by other members.  Those who fail to live according to the standards of the group are corrected, rebuked, and disciplined by their brothers and sisters.  The mature members of the group try to train the young to become strong members of the body.  This accountability also involves meeting needs, assisting, and caring for one another.

          Most of the time, it is the elements of formal religion that people reject.  They do not want to be part of an organized group.  They do not want to have to learn the written code and abide by it.  They do not want anyone telling them what to do and not to do.  They want to be “free.”

          These individuals, however, fail to realize that they still have a religion.  It is an individual religion that is based on a certain set of core beliefs.  These individuals will usually say they believe in God, or, at least, in a higher power.  Although they are not organized with others, they usually engage in some form of religious observances:  prayer, meditation, Bible reading, listening to CDs, or watching various “religious” programs.  They also have a religious code.  No, it is not written, but there is a code that they follow.  They believe that it is wrong to lie and commit murder.  Many of them are happily married and feel that it would be wrong to be unfaithful to their mate.  They teach their children to be respectful to authority figures, to be obedient, and to work hard.  Most of them contribute something to charitable organizations that help others.  In addition, they are accountable.  Their own consciences hold them accountable.  Perhaps their spouse or a close friend also points out any flaws or shortcomings they might have.  When they are pointed out, the individual changes these behaviors.

          In essence, almost everyone has a religion that they practice.  People rebel against formal religions only to form their own informal religion.  What’s amazing is how diligent some are in the practice of their informal religion.

          What all religious people have in common is a belief in a supernatural being.  If this being exists, then all religious people need to ask several questions:  1) How has this being communicated Himself to man?  2) Has He created man and left him to function on this earth without instructions?  3) Has He communicated to man either orally or in written form?  4) If He has communicated to man, what is involved in this communication?  5) Does this communication involve any commandments and expectations this being has for His creation?  6) Is His will for man the same for all, or, does He expect different things from different individuals and groups.  7) If this being has communicated to His creatures, what happens when His creation refuses to heed His will?  In essence, what we are asking is:  “Did this supernatural being that we believe in establish a religion that He expects all of His creation to practice?”

          The answer to the last question is:  “Yes.”  The God of heaven did communicate to man.  He communicated to man through a book that we call the Bible (I Cor. 2:9-13).  This book contains His will for all (Mark 16:15).  He wants all to come to the knowledge of it (I Tim. 2:4).  In His will, He sets forth His expectations for his creatures.  In the Bible, He has given a religion He expects all to follow.  In Ephesians 4:4, we read:  “There is one body…”  This religion is a formal religion.  It involves a group of people who believe and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and who have been redeemed from their sins by the blood of Christ (John 8:24; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 6:3-4).  This religion is organized and has a written code.  It is a religion of accountability.  Those who despise formal religions may reject this one, but they do so to their own peril.

          Another consideration must be made by all those who are associated with formal religions that are in the world today.  Are all of these authorized by God?  Are all of them right even though they teach conflicting beliefs?  Are all of them serving God faithfully even though there are great differences between them?  Absolutely not!  God has communicated His desires in religion to man.  Jesus said that man can come to an understanding of “the truth” (John 8:32).  We must turn to the divine standard, study it and apply it to our lives.  When we do, we will practice the true religion of God.  Again, one can reject God’s religion for another that pleases him, but if he does he does so to his own peril.