“Religion” Attacked

Your teenage sons and daughters may have seen it. It is a poem/rap by Jefferson Bethke entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” It has been viewed over 13 million times on YouTube. Its lyrics are recorded on this website: http://rapgenius.com/Jefferson-bethke-why-i-hate-religion-but-love-jesus-spoken-word-lyrics. “Jesus came to abolish religion,” the first line of the poem says. Religion is bad, and the people who are religious are bad, perhaps the most wicked people on earth, the poem proclaims. What is religion, and who are these terrible religious people? The poem is ambiguous. Nevertheless, it is certainly an attack on traditional churches and their members—in other words, on orthodox Reformed churches and their members.

The message of the poem is similar to the message of Mark Driscoll, a mega-church pastor based in Seattle, Washington. Driscoll can also be seen on YouTube.com expressing his hatred for “religion.” The first line of one of his videos is, “I hate religion.” He has recently published a book with the pejorative title “Religion Saves: and Nine Other Misconceptions.”

Bethke and Driscoll seem to want to leave the impression they are attacking Phariseeism, the notion that one is saved by keeping rules. “Religion,” then, is a works-righteousness program, and “religious people” are people who think they have earned salvation. But their attack on “religion” is not simply an attack on Phariseeism. It is an attack on “traditional” churches, with their rules, especially those regulating church government and worship. Bethke and Driscoll promote “freedom” from what they view as the Phariseeistic rules of traditional churches. In other words, this attack on “religion” is a promotion of the “anything goes” mentality in the church.

Their message is dangerous. It is also attractive, perhaps especially to young people. Bethke’s poem is well produced and catchy. Driscoll is clever. He claims to be a sound Calvinist, perhaps putting people at ease about his orthodoxy. At the same time he promotes an unbiblical, unCalvinistic view of the church and of worship that is attractive to the flesh. He preaches in blue jeans with an un-tucked button-down shirt. His sermons are peppered with jokes. He leads his congregation in the singing of Christian rock songs. You can be a sound Calvinist, he says, without following the old rules about church and worship. In fact, people who insist on the old rules are wicked “religious people” promoting an empty “religion.”

The danger of this attack on traditional churches is real. A while ago a Protestant Reformed mother handed me a sermon CD of Mark Driscoll and said, “My son thinks he is great.” The sermon text was Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19, if my memory is correct. The sermon was filled with attacks on “religion,” that is, on orthodox churches.

Young people who have heard Bethke’s poem or listened to Driscoll’s sermons or watched him preach need to have it explained to them that these attacks on the church, veiled as attacks on “religion,” are wrong.

A helpful refutation of these attacks on “religion” is given by Rev. Kevin De Young in this excerpt of his response to Bethke’s poem:

More important is Bethke’s opening line: “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That’s the whole point of the poem. The argument—and most poems are arguing for something—rests on the sharp distinction between religion on one side and Jesus on the other. Whether this argument is fair depends on your definition of religion. Bethke sees religion as a man-made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it. 

But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what it has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want. “Jesus hates religion” communicates something that “Jesus hates self-righteousness” doesn’t. To say that Jesus hates pride and hypocrisy is old news. To say he hates religion—now, that has a kick to it. People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion. 

The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them,

Matt. 5:17.

He founded the church,

Matt. 16:18.

He established church discipline,

Matt. 18:15-20.

He instituted a ritual meal,

Matt. 26:26-28.

He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded,

Matt. 28:19-20.

He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him,

John 3:16-18, 8:24.

If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion (Quoted fromTheGospelCoalition.org. “Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really”).

Mormonism Under the Spotlight

In the November Presidential election Reformed Christians will likely have an unsatisfactory choice to make in deciding which candidate they will vote for. The frontrunners, if they are Christian, belong to churches known for apostasy rather than biblical orthodoxy. The candidates chosen to stand for election by the Democratic and Republican parties may in all likelihood be men who approve of and live by the world’s moral standards rather than the Bible’s. The 2012 Presidential election might add a unique wrinkle. We might be faced with the decision of whether or not to vote for a Mormon. Two professing Mormons have sought the Republican Party’s nomination to be elected president, John Huntsman, who recently dropped out of the presidential race, and Mitt Romney, who is the current favorite to receive the nomination. The Mormon religion is receiving a great deal of attention.

Along with the discussion about whether or not Christians should vote for a Mormon, a discussion is taking place about whether Mormonism should be viewed as a Christian religion or as an unchristian cult. Judged in light of Scripture and the confessions of the church there is no question Mormonism is a wicked religion that has nothing to do with Christianity. Its teachings are clearly unbiblical, and it does not seem likely many Christians would accept the notion that Mormonism is a form of Christianity. However, the Mormon Church, well known for its aggressive outreach programs, is attempting to gain legitimacy by promoting the notion that it is a branch of Christianity.

Mormonism.org, which calls itself the “Official Website of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” provides this answer to the question “Are Mormons Christians?”—

We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians. They have come to recognize that we are, and that we have a very vital and dynamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. We, of course, accept Jesus Christ as our Leader, our King, our Savior…the dominant figure in the history of the world, the only perfect Man who ever walked the earth, the living Son of the living God. He is our Savior and our Redeemer through whose atoning sacrifice has come the opportunity of eternal life. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pray and worship in the name of Jesus Christ. He is the center of our faith and the head of our Church. The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ and witnesses of His divinity, His life, and His atonement.

Mormons think of themselves as Christians, want others to think of them as Christians, and rejoice that they are more “widely recognized” as Christians.

Are an increasing number of Christians accepting Mormonism as a branch of Christianity? This may be true, according to a poll cited by the New York Timeswebsite in an article entitled “The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney.” The poll found that “about two-thirds of mainline Protestants and Catholics said Mormonism is Christian, compared with only about a third of white evangelicals.” The poll reveals the appalling doctrinal ignorance of many professing Christians, but also, that it may not be as superfluous as we might think to remind ourselves of the gross heresies of Mormonism.

What follows is a description and condemnation of Mormonism from an article entitled “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking,” posted by Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. on his website AlbertMohler.com:

Is Mormonism just a distinctive denomination of Christianity? 

The answer to that question is definitive. Mormonism does not claim to be just another denomination of Christianity. To the contrary, the central claim of Mormonism is that Christianity was corrupt and incomplete until the restoration of the faith with the advent of the Latter-Day Saints and their scripture, The Book of Mormon. Thus, it is just a matter of intellectual honesty to take Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, at his word when he claimed that true Christianity did not exist from the time of the Apostles until the reestablishment of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods on May 15, 1829. 

From a Christian perspective, Mormonism is a new religion, complete with its own scripture, its own priesthood, its own rituals, and its own teachings. Most importantly, those teachings are a repudiation of historic Christian orthodoxy—and were claimed to be so from the moment of Mormonism’s founding forward. Mormonism rejects orthodox Christianity as the very argument for its own existence, and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith. 

Mormonism starts with an understanding of God that rejects both monotheism and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Mormon concept of God includes many gods, not one. Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that we are now what God once was and are becoming what He now is. This is in direct conflict with historic Christianity. 

Mormonism rejects the Bible as the sole and sufficient authority for the faith, and insists that The Book of Mormon and other authoritative Latter-Day Saints writings constitute God’s final revelation. Furthermore, the authority in Mormonism is mediated through a human priesthood, through whom God is claimed to speak directly and authoritatively to the church. Nothing makes the distinction between Mormonism and historic Christianity more clear than the experience of reading The Book of Mormon. The very subtitle of The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ—makes one of Mormonism’s central claims directly and candidly: That we need another authority to provide what is lacking in the New Testament. 

The Mormon doctrine of sin is not that of biblical Christianity, nor is its teaching concerning salvation. Rather than teaching that the death of Christ is alone sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, Mormonism presents a scheme of salvation that amounts to the progressive deification of the believer. According to Mormonism, sinners are not justified by faith alone, but also by works of righteousness and obedience. Mormonism’s teachings concerning Jesus Christ start with a radically different understanding of the Virgin Birth and proceed to a fundamentally different understanding of Christ’s work of salvation. 

By its very nature, Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity. There are, no doubt, many Mormons who are not fully aware of the teachings of their church. Nevertheless, the doctrines and teachings of the LDS church are there for all to see. 

It is neither slander nor condescension to state clearly that Mormonism is not Christianity. Taking Mormonism on its own terms, one finds a comprehensive set of teachings and doctrines that are self-consciously set against historic Christianity. The larger world may be confused about this, but biblical Christians cannot make this error, for we are certain that the consequences are eternal.