MIDDLE EAST, INDIA, October 4, 2011 – One question that consistently comes up in the feedback I receive is whether it is possible to follow Christ without institutional membership in Christianity. One reader recently asked five clear questions on this subject, which I will try to answer in this week’s column:
Can one be a follower of Christ and belong to an organized religion?
My response is that anyone can follow Christ from any religious background if he understands what he must give up and what he can keep. More importantly, the act of becoming a true follower is not of one’s own choosing. It is the intervening act of divine love, which anyone can pray for in humility.
The Ten Commandments spell out the No-No’s clearly, and Jesus makes the main issue plain in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Not only do we know God by Jesus Christ alone, but we know ourselves only by Jesus Christ. We know life and death only through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ, we do not know what is our life, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves.”
– Blaise Pascal
We don’t come to Jesus through Mary or the saints, nor through a religion called “Christianity.” We don’t come to him by doing good works to bribe or win brownie points.
Those who are convinced they can follow Christ only through Christianity are misled. They unnecessarily complicate what is meant to be a direct relationship.
It is hard to keep a focus on Christ along with man-made traditions that Scripture warns can nullify the word of God. Fundamentalist Christians have a formula that offers “instant Christianity”: Just say their special prayer and bingo – you’re a Christian!
A.W. Tozer points out, “It is hardly a matter of wonder that the country that gave the world instant tea and instant coffee should be the one to give it instant Christianity. If these two beverages were not actually invented in the United States, it was certainly here that they received the advertising impetus that has made them known to most of the civilized world. And it cannot be denied that it was American Fundamentalism that brought instant Christianity to the gospel churches.”
Whether it is a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, or Protestant who wants to follow Christ, the requirement is not church membership; it is repentance, belief and confession of faith in Christ. And the Scripture is clear – there is no formula, it’s God who decides: “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”
Do all branches of Christianity teach wrong teachings of Jesus Christ? Has no one got it right thus far?
Let’s consider this: Jesus was a Jew; did he teach that Judaism was false? He could have dismissed it, but he didn’t. Instead Matt 5:18 records his words: “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
The simple fact is Jesus accepted the entire Old Testament.
Some people could interpret that to mean we should all convert to Judaism!
Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to the garage makes you a car.
– Dr. Laurence J. Peter
I have no theological qualifications to discuss whether the various branches of Christianity have got their teachings wrong. It is enough for me that Jesus pointed to the Word and to himself – not to any religion, not even to the one he endorsed.
After spending three decades of my life in Christianity, I am clear that a life in Christ can be lived authentically without a religion or dependence on religious middlemen. The royal priesthood of believers, (1 Peter 2: 9; Revelation 5: 10) which abolishes the sacred-secular dichotomy between the so called ‘laity’ and clergy is one of the least taught doctrines in Christianity, for obvious reasons.
I have several relationships with clergy as my fellow pilgrims, friends and mentors. But pope, cardinal, archbishop, priest or pastor – we should not in the least be in awe of such individuals, regardless of their piety, titles, long beards, impressive religious attire, or how many books they have published. Iron can sharpen iron, but I don’t think they are indispensable in our walk with Christ, nor is the institution they draw their paychecks from.
How do you propose we organize Christ’s teaching without a religion?
Don’t you think if Jesus wanted his teachings to be “organized,” he would have recruited the finest minds from among the learned Pharisees rather than the crude, uneducated fishermen he chose?
Mark Twain got it right when he admitted: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
As much as I appreciate sound theology, there is an aspect of understanding the Bible that cannot rely on human wisdom, only on spiritual insights. “I will never leave you,” was Jesus’ promise, and in John 14:18 he explains how he will accomplish this: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”
I think he was much more concerned about our obedience.
He certainly could not have been referring to religion when he asked, “when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18: 8).
What are the different faults found in different Christian faiths – Protestants, Catholics and Orthodoxy?
Besides the fact that they all perpetuate something called Christianity, deflecting the focus on Christ, they are all in the business of building a large earthly religious following with numbers as their priority. If God’s priority were numbers, he would not have given only eight people sanctuary in Noah’s Ark.
Religions also try to act as go-betweens for connecting God and man, while 1 Timothy clearly states there is only one mediator – the man, Christ Jesus. According to George Barna and Frank Viola, authors of Pagan Christianity, many rituals and traditions of Christianity have a pagan basis (Greco-Roman), not a biblical one. People are hooked to religious folklore and with it to the false sense of security such practices engender.
Are you suggesting we practice the teachings of Jesus without attending any formal religious institution?
Let me try and answer that with a simple question: Is it possible to love and belong to your family without joining an organization for families?
The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. … all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him.
– A. W. Tozer
For the purpose of discussion, let’s say on one hand we have a worldwide religion, which claims to employ the teachings of Christ, has created an impressive theology, liturgy and a phenomenal 2.1 billion membership. It blows you away with stunning architecture in its great cathedrals around the world.
More than half the world can see, however, that this western religion is not the authentic way, the truth and the life of Jesus.
On the other hand there is the way of simple, trusting faith in a genuine relationship with our Maker – all it requires is spelt out in Micah 6: “He has shown you, O mortal, 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.”
Frank Raj is based in the Middle East where he has lived for over three decades. He is the founding editor and publisher of ‘The International Indian’, (www.theinternationalindian.com) the oldest magazine of Gulf-Indian society and history since 1992. Frank is listed in Arabian Business magazine’s 100 most influential Indians in the Gulf and is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘Universal Book of the Scriptures,’ and author of ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ He blogs at www.no2christianity.wordpress.com
Read more of Frank’s work in No 2 Religion, Yes 2 Faith in the Communities at the Washington Times.
Follow @frankraj08 on Twitter