I am religious. I go to church. I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus. Yes, I can say all of these things with all sincerity, but what, exactly, do they mean? For instance, if someone tells me that he is a Christian but doesn't go to church because it's full of hypocrites, am I to believe that person has found a way to follow Christ without being a part of His body? (Romans 12:3-8) Or if someone says that he's not religious but believes in Jesus, should we recognize his faith as valid no matter how selfishly he pursues the pleasures of the world? (James 1:27)
I've touched on four words that are frequently thrown around and misunderstood in "religious" circles: religion, church, Christian, and faith, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. In my life's journey, I've been quite rattled to find many significant words in our "Christian" vocabulary susceptible to disastrous obfuscation. Basic words like the gospel, grace, salvation, repentance, and love are used so frequently that we think we know what they mean without actually thinking about them.
Misunderstandings about biblical concepts are not the end of our confusion. We have terms that are so ingrained in our "church" culture that we accept them without a second thought, but are they biblical? If so, have we defined them correctly? What is a saint, a missionary, a pastor, a preacher, an elder, a bishop, a deacon, and a layman, and what role do they have in our churches? What about the terms clergy, altar call, revival meetings, sermons, Vacation Bible School, the choir, the worship team, the Sunday School board, ordination, church denominations, church guidelines, or church membership? What IS a church, anyway?
By now you're probably wondering if I have any beliefs at all. I've disparaged every tradition in the book, right? I'm not trying to be ultra-critical, but in our search for truth, the question is, what IS our standard for Christianity and the Church? What, exactly, is the foundation for our set of beliefs?
My faith in God was first kindled through the marvels of creation. I came to believe in His existence as Creator because I couldn't reconcile the existence of our world with evolution. (Psalm 19:1-4) My next step in faith centered around the Bible's reliability. I already called myself a Christian, but I realized that if the Bible wasn't trustworthy then I was basing my beliefs about Christ on pretty shaky ground. The more I studied the history of the canon, fulfillment of biblical prophecies, and apparent contradictions in Scripture, the more I became convinced of the Bible's authority as God's word. (2 Peter 1:19-21) The most recent step in my pilgrimage was my acceptance of Jesus Christ. I believe it is impossible to historically and reasonably deny that Jesus lived, died, and lives again today. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) This is the foundation of our faith. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
We're now getting back to defining one of those first terms I mentioned: faith. What does it mean to say, "I believe in Jesus"? Is it enough to simply have faith that His story is true? Yes, and no. If we really believe what is recorded about His life and teachings then we will listen when He says that He is God (John 8:58) and King (John 18:37) and obey the laws He gave to us on the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 5-7). This is true faith in Jesus. Any other faith is only as good as that of the demons. (James 2:19,20)
So the foundation for my set of beliefs is the Word of God. (Revelation 19:13) Jesus, as the Head of His Body (Colossians 1:18), is the authority in my life and that of His Church. Are we inventing novel ways to help Him out? Or are we more loyal to tradition than His commands? (Matthew 15:3-9) What are your beliefs based on?
I'll take some time later on to examine our religious terminology more thoroughly. Until then, I'd like to leave you with a challenge from the book of Ephesians:
"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:6-11