September 28th, 2009
Have you ever heard the phrase "true religion" before? I have. In the introduction to this website I make it very clear that I am not a proponent of this statement because it is one of both arrogance and pride rooted in false theology and not in the Mashiyach we serve. But as it exists nonetheless, it might be important to explore the issue.
Proponents of the phrase claim that their doctrine or theology is the true and correct one. They have the attitude of "we've got it all figured out and you don't! Come and let us show you the truth." There are two things which are very wrong with that style of thinking. Number one, by exclaiming that you have everything figured out, you make yourself equal with HaShem. No matter what, HaShem is the only one who has it figured all out, and try as we might, we continue to uncover things that SHOULD be changing our perspective on particular issues. I say should, because despite the fact that we should all be continuing to learn as new resources become available (take the Dead Sea Scrolls as one example) people continue to let themselves be held back by man made interpretations that form a particular doctrine. And this doctrine, for some, is more important than the truth. In fact, they'll even call their doctrine "the truth"! Now, I'm all for viewing things as 100% true based on our understanding of the Scripture since this is what faith is. But it should only be true until there is strong evidence uncovered suggesting the opposite! At that point we can, and should, open ourselves up and continue to learn and grow spiritually. But this can only be accomplished if we recognize that NO, we do not have everything figured out. We have faith in what we know, but we should always continue to learn and grow with humble hearts, realizing that His ways are above our ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts.
Now the second thing wrong with the attitude of "we've got it all figured out and you don't" is that we don't actually know the truth (theologically speaking) with the exact clarity that proponents of this claim desire!! HaShem has revealed Himself through Scripture, and we have that as our basis for understanding our creation and purpose in life. But the Scripture only reveals so much. While the Hebraic mindset is content in living in submission to HaShem and realizing that if He hasn't revealed it, we don't need to know it, but the Grecian mindset isn't so content. The Grecian mindset loves to go beyond the Scripture and come up with theology and interpretations that are divorced from it's historical context and Hebraic meaning. This is very dangerous and has caused mass amounts of confusion. The Hebrew thinker realizes that it's okay if we don't know it all! Instead, a Hebrew Believer will do as commanded until the All-Knowing-One, blessed be He, wills for us to know more. But the Grecian mind is not content nor submissive in this regard, and the focus turns away from the simplicity of the commandments (summarized in wonderful statements like Micah 6:8) and theological debate begins. Truly, anyone who knows anything about theological study in our day will tell you that there is great debate on what the Scripture says, what language it was originally written in, what's happened since that time, how things have changed, why they changed, should they have even changed, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on. Indeed, there is much to learn and study, but the dangererous thing that can happen is when we close ourselves off from learning by adhering to only a single doctrinal interpretation of Scripture. It's true that there may be merely one correct interpretation (although that interpretation can have many applications) with the confusion brought on by the Grecian mindset, it's difficult to determine just who has the right interpretation. So the key is not to blindly follow one organizations ideas/rules/traditions, but rather free yourself of denominational borders and see that we are One Body that should come together and study our Sacred Scriptures in love. But the enemy does not want this, and one of his greatest weapons in stopping us from doing something so wonderful is this "true religion" attitude. Wars have been fought and countless lives have been lost because two opposing sides are utterly convinced that they have the truth and everyone else is WRONG, that they alone are the "true religion". No, it is only G-d alone who is true (Romans 3:4) and we who fall short must live in humble submission to Him for the sake of His Name (reputation). Because all of our hypocritical warring has tarnished His Name among the nations. Think for a moment how our Master Yeshua prayed in Yochanan 17 that we would all be one as He and the Father are one (meaning of one mind/will/purpose). Yet, there is reportedly something like 380,000 Christian denominations alone!! (Yes, that's three hundred and eighty THOUSAND). True religion? Give me a break.
Now based on everything HaShem has graciously allowed me to study in regards to theology, creation, evolution, etc. I've been blessed to realize that the Judeo-Christian/Messianic religion/denominations are the closest line that we have to the truth when we compare it to the other major religions (Islam, Buddhism, etc.). I am also utterly convinced that the correct way is rooted within the Tanach (Old Testament) and Ketuvim Netzarim/B'rit Hadashah (New Testament). In other words, the "Christian Bible". Of course not everyone agrees with this, and I understand that. I'm not here to argue about this, I more want to talk about what is wrong with the 380,000 denominations that claim to believe in the same set of Scriptures. Each one is obviously convinced that their particular doctrine is the correct interpretation, and some call theirs the "true religion". But what IS "true religion"? The ones who call their denomination this will have their own set of guidelines based on their doctrine, but I want to strip away these doctrinal rules and ideas and just look a little bit deeper.
The English word "Religion" comes from two ancient Latin words - "Re" - meaning "again", and "Ligare" - meaning "to bind together" or "connect". Like how a tendon connects muscle to bone. Religion then actually means "to be bound together again." Such a simple idea but with such a deep meaning. If we take a look at the world today we are definitely not bound together. People have separated themselves from... well, pretty much anything you can think of. People often lose touch with their friends, sometimes their family; we've certainly lost touch with nature; and as per the issue of religion, people have definitely lost touch with G-d. People even lose touch with themselves (ever heard the phrase "I don't even know who I am anymore?") and the theme of this article is about how people also separate themselves by holding on to certain doctrinal issues that really don't matter!!!! I will explain this in more detail in a moment, but let's first elaborate more in regards to what "true religion" actually is. If religion means to be bound together again, then religion would have to be the tools, methods, and philosophies that reconnect us to ourselves, to each other, to the world around us, and to G-d Himself!
Now, how do we accomplish such a feat? It's terribly simple. It's what is called the two greatest commandments by our Master Yeshua- "You shall love HaShem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself". If we just upheld these two simple commandments, we would be upholding the true meaning of religion. But people would rather separate themselves because they like to argue about what day the Sabbath should be, if Sabbath is still even valid, how one should baptize, who the 144,000 in Revelations are, whether Yeshua was hung on a pole (stake) or a cross (stake with a beam that He would have carried to be put on the stake), etc. Then you come into the Messianic movement and people are fighting about how to pronounce G-d's name, the Pagan or not origins of common terms (Lord, God, Holy, Christ, etc.), what calendar to follow, etc. I mean, the list, as before, goes on and on. But in the end, many of these things DON'T ACTUALLY MATTER! At least not in the beginning since they don't change the very essence of the Good News and it's very important message and meaning. Plus, as per the discussion, they should never matter so much as to cause the amount of tension and separation that has thus far occured. Whle there is a time, place and reason to discuss and make rulings on the way to walk out our faith and worship HaShem in spirit and in truth, the means in which we accomplish this is so very paramount. And the one way which does not bear good fruit and does not honor the Name of our Heavenly Father, is this idea of "true religion". Confirmation of this is only needed by looking at the 380,000 denominations out there in the world today, and comparing that number to the statements within the Torah and Renewed Covenant (NT) that proclaims that we should all come to agreement on the same set of principles. But since we are clearly falling short, let's at the very least make sure that we are still doing what we can to be vessels for His will to be accomplished "as in heaven, so on earth". Let me illustrate what I mean to everyone by using a wonderful analogy from "G-d's website" (http://www.yhwh.com) which provided inspiration for the original draft of this article...
"Life can be compared to a dirty, industrial-waste-polluted, weed-filled field. Now in that field stand several people, of all races, ages, sexes, and religions. And every single one of these people has at their disposal one or more tools that can be used to help clean-up the field. Some have bull-dozers, some shovels, some have weed-whackers....heck, some only have spoons. Some could do more than others, some less, but everyone in this field could be doing something to help clean it up, and in so doing give themselves a much healthier environment to live in.
So why is the field still such a mess? Because instead of actually doing any work, the people in the field are standing around arguing with one another about how the field got there, why it is such a mess, who's problem it really is, and the best tools that should be used! Meanwhile, the bulldozers and shovels are rusting into uselessness."
You see, we engage in endless debates about doctrine and theology at the expense of true worship (which Ya'akov/James identifies as taking care of widows and orphans, something Torah has taught from the very beginning). Indeed, these things to many seems to matter so much, but when compared to the real heart of HaShem, we can see that they are pretty pointless in the end. We can argue about when to keep Pesach, but the more important question is, are we keeping Pesach is the true spirit? It is sad that most of us, at the expense of our heart felt connection and relationship with HaShem, just want to be recognized as "right". Our selfishness strikes again. And despite these debates, nothing in the world gets any better. Shouldn't our time be better spent making a real difference? The question then is, how do we make such a difference? Well, we use the tools that HaShem has instructed us to use. That is His Torah which, when properly observed, has an outpouring of the fruits of the Spirit! Galatians 5:22-23 lists these fruits as love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is our litmus test to see if we are truly serving HaShem correctly, and if we are, then these tools will transform our character. And it is His Spirit, the Ruach haKodesh, by the work HaShem has done through Messiah that creates in us a clean heart, a heart of flesh, born from the beginning and able to turn from darkness to light and hatred to love (Ezekiel 36:22-27, John 3). A heart that shall have the Torah written upon it by the finger of the Almighty (Jeremiah 31:33) where we can look towards following His ways so that we may fulfill those two simple commandments of "loving HaShem our G-d with all of our might and all of our soul, and loving our neighbor as ourselves."
Pretty straight forward if you ask me. The "trick" is merely to humble your heart long enough to allow HaShem to do these wonderful works within you. But I have to say that although I do enjoy exploring doctrinal issues and studying various theologies to try and determine certain things more specifically, my point here is that I think we often forget about what's most important, and what true religion really is. Separating ourselves because of certain doctrinal issues is certainly not what true religion is. It is true that everyone has the right to believe what they want, and I think it's perfectly healthy for each person to have a place they can go where like minded people will worship the same way as them (i.e. different denominations). BUT, that does not mean that we should not love and respect each other. When we use our doctrine as a way to cut people off instead of loving them, we have a problem. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I try and be a happy, positive, and cheerful guy! But it is only by the garce of G-d that I can do such a thing. And may we all be empowered by His grace to do the good works that He has laid out for us to walk in. Amen.
PS - please note that I'm not saying that adhering to a particular doctrine is bad or wrong. We all need a structured frame work in the beginning to initially grow and learn what this stuff is all about, and some of the different denominations can sort of work as "stepping stones" in this regard. And I also believe that there are certainly some very foundational theological concepts that are so important that they should be both learned and debated thoroughly. But when we debate and teach these things, we must approach such study with love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 says "Let all your affairs be conducted with love" (AENT) a most powerful statement. So what I'm really trying to say is that these areas of study should not become a stumbling block to us all by invoking separation, unhealthy debate, and things contrary to the fruits of the Spirit (i.e. the fruits of the flesh). Rather we should love one another, as Yeshua loved us. G-d resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. We would all do well to take on a little more humility at times and be reminded that between faith, hope, and love... the greatest of these things is love.