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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

The Kingdoms of Man—Religion

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

The Kingdoms of Man

Religion

Maybe at this point, a few disclaimers might be in order.

I am not a literalist, or a dispensationalist. I am not Reformed, Calvinist, or Armenian. My view of eschatology is not pre-tribulation or post-tribulation. And I am not a pre-millennialist, post-millennialist, or a-millennialist. I don’t align with any of these, or other big-word theological positions. I’m just trying to live by faith, and follow Jesus.

In this category of my blog titled Reflections of Faith, I have been attempting to offer my perspective on the Bible and what I think its message is. I am trying to trace what I believe to be the long threads of truth running from Genesis to Revelation.

I am not attempting to answer all questions; I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. I have more questions than answers myself. Scripture tells me that my knowledge is both incomplete and imperfect. This not only means that I don’t know everything, it also means that even what I know is flawed. My hope is that what I have said has not been overly confusing, and that someone may have been encouraged on their own journey of faith.

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In my last two posts in this category, I have been writing of Humanity’s attempts throughout history, to control life on earth by way of Government (or Politics) and Money. The third player in this human triad of power is Religion.

Government by law, policy, mandate, regulation, and in some governments by force, controls many details of peoples’ lives, Although government is needed, and some forms are better than others, favoritism, bribery, and corruption always seem to become a part of any system.

Money, which brings power, usually gravitates toward the few. Wealth, often hand in hand with government, strives to reinforce and insure that this dynamic, remains intact.

Religion tends to control people, often through guilt, fear, duty, and obligation attached to a deity.

In this post I want to focus on what history and the Bible have to say about religion.

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Some of the greatest atrocities our world has known have been perpetuated by the power exerted by institutional religion:

—The human sacrifices of the Mayans.

—Islam’s mistreatment of Women, and ethnic cleansing such as the killing of Hindus, and the Armenian genocide.

—The Christian Crusades which killed one to three million people.

—The Spanish Inquisition that tortured and killed those who would not conform to Church doctrines.

—The slaughter of indigenous people (justified by the doctrine of Manifest destiny) in the colonization of America.

—Slavery in America was preached from many pulpits with preachers quoting such men as George Fitzhugh, “Men are not born entitled to equal rights! It would be far nearer the truth to say, that some were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them—and the riding does them good.“

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What I am saying is not promoting some sort of conspiracy theory. And this in no way means that all people involved in government are evil, that anyone with a fair amount of wealth is wicked, or that all churches are wrong.

Many good people of conscience, integrity, generosity, and faith are involved in these institutions. I am simply saying that throughout time, these three systems seem to hold the greatest risk of being seduced by power, and hold the greatest potential for becoming corrupt and oppressive.

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As I have said before, in the Genesis creation story, which I believe reveals God’s purpose for life, worship is never mentioned. I think the reason for this is that God’s intent from the beginning was that worship not be merely one activity among many. It was to be woven into the fabric of all life. It would be like the air we breathe.

However, not long ago I read this pathetic definition of Worship: “To participate in a religious service.”


I think worship simply means to be all that I am created to be, and to live as God intends me to live. It is not something I do in certain places and at certain times. Worship is a posture of life in all places and at all times.

Throughout history, humanity has gone to great lengths to reduce faith, worship, and God to a small, limited, predictable, and manageable religion, while the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself, kept calling them back to a life of wholistic faith and worship. What follows is only an overview of this contrast revealed in Scripture.

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The ancient Hebrews offered to God, sacrifices of cattle and sheep. They brought grain and oil offerings. They were meticulous about tithing and fasting. They strictly observed feasts, festivals, and sabbaths. They were obsessed with what foods to avoid, proper washing of hands, how far one could walk on the Sabbath, and hundreds of other rules…..

The prophet Micah used sarcasm to challenge them: Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

To Act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

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Amos went way beyond the sarcasm of Micah. He confronted them directly with what God thought of their worship. Amos 5:21-24

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In its broad sense, justice means “to set things right.” The implication is that rather than getting together on a specific day, singing some songs, giving an offering, and then going back to your “real” life, worship means to do all we can to return God’s world to His purpose (to set things right); at least that part of the world where my feet walk.

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In the Old Testament, fasting and strict observance of the Sabbath, were required parts of Hebrew worship. The prophet Isaiah calls the people out on this practice of religion without connection to a life of faith.


…On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists…

In other words, your worship has become totally separated from your life.

Isaiah continues.…

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast (worship), one day acceptable to the Lord?…

But didn’t the fourth commandment say, Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy? Isn’t it a day set apart for worship? Well, actually, no. I believe that it was tradition, not God, that put forth the idea of the Sabbath as a day of worship. The Hebrew word for holy simply means set apart. Nothing is said in the fourth commandment about worship. A day was to be set apart for rest.

As Isaiah says, to set apart only one day each week to worship God is a travesty. Then Isaiah tells them what true fasting (worship) looks like.


“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?


Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?…

…do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,…

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In the New Testament John the Baptist confronts Jewish religious leaders.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham….

John insulted these religious men, implying that for all their position and power in the religious realm, they did not know God. Their claim to knowing God was based on their ancestry. John shatters their confidence in this idea and points to the true meaning of repentance—to bear the fruit of faith in their lives.

In Luke’s account, John the Baptist is more specific, explaining something of what the fruit of repentance would look like. “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

All of these admonitions are about how faith and the kingdom of God are always set within the context of everyday life.

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Jesus made it clear that statements of faith mean little without actually living that faith. Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say.

Jesus was often very harsh in his criticism of the Jewish religious leaders. This is my own paraphrase and summary of what Jesus says to them throughout the New Testament…

…You live by a bunch of rules. You are very evangelistic, calling people to join you in your religious practice. You tithe, you fast, you pray, you attend church, and you diligently study the Bible. You are very concerned with where you worship, how you worship, and when you worship.

…However, the testimony of your life reveals pride, greed, self-indulgence, and hypocrisy. You proclaim your good deeds, parade your piety, and condemn others. You ignore justice, you oppress the poor, and show favoritism to the rich. You are unforgiving, and you are more concerned with maintaining your own traditions than you are with living the truth of God.

Wow! Maybe some of us could find a hint of ourselves in that list.

Did Jesus mean that there is something wrong with gathering together, singing songs, praying, and sharing Scripture. No, not until it becomes a substitute for living by faith, and pursing the kingdom of God in my everyday life: helping the poor, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, showing mercy, loving my neighbor, being a peacemaker, encouraging the broken hearted, and pointing people to Jesus.


I think that what Jesus tells us is that religious observance and faith are not the same things. May God give me the wisdom to know the difference in my own life.











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