Religion is Useless

Religion is useless.

I hate it when someone says that I’m religious. I try not to overreact because I know that for the most part they are just trying to acknowledge the fact that I talk about Jesus all the time and try to live according to God’s word. From most peoples’ stand points, that makes me religious.

But religion is useless.

I got back into the book of Mark this week where I had left off before Christmas in Chapter 11. Mark strings together four really strange events in Jesus’ life. They’re tough passages but I think that together they say something about religion.

First, we see Jesus riding into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds who welcome Him as their king crying “Hosanna” which means “Save us”. Remember Godspell with the song Save the People – that’s the feel and translation of Hosanna. When wilt thou save the people? O God of mercy when? The people, Lord, the people, not thrones and crowns but men?

Next, we see Jesus notice a fig tree in full leaf which would normally indicate that it was bearing figs but it isn’t. This seems to annoy Jesus and he curses the fig tree that it will NEVER bear fruit. Later on, the disciples pass by the fig tree again and it has withered. Jesus tells them that if they have faith, they could not only wither a fig tree with their prayers, they could move mountains. And He reminds them to forgive others before they pray. Wonder what the disciples thought – following a guy who can wither a fig tree with a word. Even scarier when they saw what He did next!

Jesus witnesses the rampant corruption, greed and consumerism that has taken over the temple and overturns the tables, throwing out the moneychangers and proclaiming His father’s house as a house of prayer! Instead, he shouts, that it’s been turned into a den of robbers. You’ve got to love the whole action hero aspect of this scene with Jesus showing up armed with a whip and an attitude. Not Jesus the milquetoast nice guy from the posters.

Finally, Mark records a little incident when the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders ask Jesus by what authority He is doing what He’s doing. He asks them by what authority they think John the Baptist baptized. This group of men discusses the question among themselves but can’t come up with an answer that they think will please the people. They’re so worried about protecting themselves they can’t give Jesus a straight answer so He refuses to answer them. (How cool is He?).

I’ve been thinking about this passage all week. I’m sure there are hundreds of sermons to be taught from anyone of these stories but to me they point to the useless nature of religion.

The people crying out to be saved had religion coming out of their ears but they were in desperate need of salvation! They knew Jesus issued in something new from God, something unheard of before (except in prophecies) and they cried out for it.

Religion is a lot like that fig tree – beautifully adorned in leaves that hold out the promise of fruit but, upon closer inspection, yield nothing that was promised. Jesus tells the disciples that prayer puts them in touch with a power they’ve never before imagined but warns them that forgiveness and faith are part of what release that power.

Religion often provides just another marketplace for people looking to make a buck – swindling the innocent who seek salvation and God. Again, Jesus reminds the people forcefully that His house is a house of prayer.

Finally, religion is often a harbor for men who want power scented with the incense of devotion. These men are as people pleasing and conniving as politicians but operate under the guise of serving God and the people. Jesus calls them out and continues to call out those serpents who wrap themselves in the robes of religion to hide their calculators and brass knuckles.

Then, in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, my friend posted this verse from James 1:27 as his Facebook status today “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Hundreds of Jesus- followers are responding to the plight of the Haitian people by – first- falling to their knees in prayer and second – organizing the bucket brigade of assistance that will be vital to the survival of thousands of people affected by this disaster.

Most religion is just another faulted human institution that promises much and delivers little.

Jesus didn’t come to start a religion but a revolution. He came to save the people, to provide us access to God the Father and to do nothing less than to conquer death and break the curse of sin that keeps us chained to greed, corruption, deception and the hunger for power and praise and issue in the Kingdom of God.

Religion is useless.

Jesus is access to the Creative, Healing, Delivering, Saving, Restoring, Forgiving Power of the Universe and Beyond – access to the great I Am. Jesus is the Gate to more than we ever dreamed. Jesus is the answer for the Haitian people in their poverty and suffering and for the American people in their relative affluence and comfort.

We all need to be saved.

Religion is useless.

Jesus saves us in every way we need to be saved.


Please pray for the people of Haiti and give sacrificially to alleviate their suffering.


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6 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Cheri says:

    Lori,

    You wrote: “Most religion is just another faulted human institution that promises much and delivers little.”

    Religion’s promises are empty, very true. It cannot provide, because it looks to man and reckons him God.

    You also said: “Jesus tells the disciples that prayer puts them in touch with a power they’ve never before imagined but warns them that forgiveness and faith are part of what release that power.”

    Man’s nature is always to want something for nothing. Mankind is under the impression that they are owed everything. Either that, or we want to be God, in the omnipotent way, but never in the sacrificial way.

    We cringe at the idea that we must forgive to receive forgiveness, and that we must have faith in something we cannot understand or dictate, yet when we do, the very gates of heaven are at our disposal through communion with the Creator of the universe!

    As always, well done, my friend. You have told it like it is.

    Blessings,
    Cheri

  2. sarah says:

    I agree, Jesus came to start a revolution but also to renew a religion that had fallen on it’s face. His greatest mode of revolutionizing this world is through the work of the holy spirit and through the institution of the church.

    Yes, the purest and truest form of religion is to take care of the widows and the orphans and we should all strive to do this in what ever ways that we can.

    Yes, humans are falble and weak and sinful and yes they have brought their sin into the churches. But we are not to hold churches up to God. Our trust need to be in the Lord, not in the church.

    However, God created the church in all of it’s spender and all of it’s diversity. He has never intended for people to have an “NIV and me” mentality. God is a covenant God who seeks relationship with his covenant people. His church is the bride of his son. We as a church are meant to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We should be reformed (from the ways of the past) and ever reforming into the future, taking hold of the word of God and building a covenant community in which the word of God dictates how we live. We should not be reading the bible in our closest so to speak. God wants and desires for us to be in unity with him as a people, as a church.

    You made a lot of good points, “they had religion but were in need of salvation” and the “His house was to be a house of prayer.” Yes, we are to gather at his house, his church as a people with other people of God and seek his salvation. But the “religious” stuff comes along with that. The worship and the giving, the praying and singing and fellowship with your brother. It is all part of the worship of God. With the people of God.

    In the instances that you spoke about in Mark… Jesus is being brought in as the redeemer, he is cursing Isreal saying the you will never again bear fruit. He is throwing down their harlotry in the temple, showing his displeasure with the people who once had the honor of calling themselves Gods covenant people. He is saying out with the old, God is going to make a new covenant with a new people- to include both Jews and gentiles.

    Religion is not to become a “market place for people to make a buck” and if and where it does, the people of God need to have the guts to stand up like Christ and start flipping over tables. The church world wide is in desperate need of reform. The people of God are letting secularism creep into the church like a lion seeking it’s prey. People need meat, the need doctrine, they need consistency. The word of God should not be watered down in our churches.

    Being “religious” is what sets us apart as Gods people.

  3. Welcome Sarah, I can see you are as passionate for the church as I am. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know I love God’s church. This post is not about the church (those who are followers of Jesus) but against the religion of church. Followers of Jesus are called to meet together for fellowship, for worship, for discipline, for teaching, for encouragement, etc. This is the living, breathing church which exists and it is less about religion and more about relationship but there is also the religion of church which has very little to do with following Jesus. That’s the religion that is useless.

  4. Sarah says:

    I have to say I was really and am really thrown off by this post. I do not understand what you mean by the religion of the church. Are you talking about the sacraments? the liturgy? I guess I really don’t understand what you are referring to.

    I’m sorry for my “passionate” response regarding your post. I thought that we were on the same page regarding our high esteem for the church but as I said, this post has really thrown me for a loop.

    Would love to converse more on this topic.
    -Sarah

  5. Sarah, I apologize for upsetting you with this post and hope you will forgive my clumsy communication. I’m sure that is what’s the problem because we both love Jesus and we love the church. Please forgive me.
    Have you ever met anyone who loved attending church, the committees, the rituals, the social life, etc and yet remained unaffected by Jesus? That’s what I’m talking about when I say “religion of the church.” If you read Mark 11, that may help you understand the post. The leaders of that day were highly religious but had lost touch with God. That can happen to us today, too. There’s a praise song about “I’m coming back to the heart of worship” about getting so involved in the experience of worship (maybe just the emotion and performance of the music, etc) that we forget about Jesus. That’s what I’m talking about. Jesus didn’t come to found “Christianity”. He came to reconcile us to Himself and call us to follow Him. I once sat next to a man at a missions conference who had been a pastor for twenty years and I watched him accept Jesus. He had spent 20 years being religious but he almost missed Jesus. Does that clarify it for you at all? I pray so. Again, please forgive me for the lack of clarity in my post. This confusion is entirely my fault. I’ll be more careful in future postings. I love Jesus. I love the church of Jesus Christ.

  6. Sarah says:

    I should be the one saying that I am sorry. I should have asked questions in the first place. Yes, I know what your talking about when you say that. However, I think it could be said in another way.

    I know we both agree that God calls people unto himself in different ways and at different points in time. I think that sometimes it can take years of people “going through the motions” of the religion before they are taken hold of by the spirit of the Lord.

    I think that people can be involved in church and not be seeking the will of the Lord or living according to his statues. But the important thing is that they are communing with the people of God and hearing his word. It may be years before the “light” goes on and they are given the understanding and wisdom that come from the Lord but I think that the process of going through the motions shows their faithfulness to a degree. It is a hard thing to be faithful to a hope that you do not have but sometimes people are faithful for the hope of finding the hope (if you know what I mean.)

    As with all of us, the word of God says to be doers of the word. That is going to look different for all of us at different times in our life. For me right now it means raising my children in faithful obedience. When I look at my dad i see that he is trying just to believe. When I look to my sister I see her being convicted in small ways over a long period of time. It may not look like God is working externally sometimes but often the work can go unseen for a while. The tree has to turn green before it can bear fruit. Sometimes that process takes longer than others. But I think that our faithfulness as fellow christians can help others along and if if we are not faithful can turn others away from the Lord.

    I guess I do see what you are saying but I think that saying religion is useless is going a bit to far. We are all called to be faithful and obedient.

    I have to run but would love to continue the conversation.
    Sarah