Among the faces at the crucifixion of Jesus were some dedicated, religious people. Folks like us—church-going people.
The Gospels tell us the Sadducees were there, the priestly party whose main interest was the temple in Jerusalem. They loved a formal worship service. The Pharisees were present. Their interest centered in the law; they took pride in keeping every detail. The Elders, Jewish rulers with significant community influence, were there. There at the cross were the chief priests who officiated at worship and represented God as they spoke the words of atonement. It wasn’t the down and out crowd who crucified Jesus. It was the up and in group--religious people--the very ones to whom God had made the promise of His coming.
Oh the evil that can be done in the name of religion. History has plenty of evidence: Crusades, Inquisition, the silence of the state church in Germany during WWII, the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland. Religion feeds the killing in Iraq. Recent years have revealed the shame of sexual abuse by religious leaders.
These tragic abuses only add support to an attitude and a decision made by many people: “I’ll just be Christian and have nothing to do with organized religion. God knows my heart; I don’t need to join the church.” Elton Trueblood wrote, “There cannot, in the long run, be any Christianity at all without the church. Bad as the church may be, the world without it is even worse! It is the continuing fellowship of inadequate men and women which perpetuates the Gospel in the world.” Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Jesus knew the risks but He still launched the church! If you claim to be a Christian but uncommitted to His Bride, you’re not helping the Lord do His will. How can we work to avoid the evil excesses of religion?
We must focus more concern on the needs of people than on rules and regulations. Following Jesus raising Lazarus the religious leaders met in a council and declared, “What will we do? If we let him along all men will believe on him, and the Romans shall come and take away our holy place and our nation (John 11). They had narrowed the call to “our place … our nation.” Some folks sing, “Give me that old time religion,” but what they refer to probably isn’t any older than 125 years. We must always work to focus more concern on people than rules and regulations.
We must center our attention on Christ. In Him something greater than religion has come. Revelation 21:22 declares, “I saw no temple therein: For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Have you substituted religion for Christ? His call is to follow Him, not first a creed or a denomination, certainly not a religion, but a way of life that finds expression and fulfillment in the Body of Christ
Look again at the faces about the cross. You’ll find religious people. Righteousness lost out to rules. Ritual took the place of relationship. Don’t let it happen to you.
Yet these religious people would come to see how the Lord God still accomplished His will through the resurrection and triumphant reign of Christ. I am thankful to serve the Lord, and His leadership led me to serve many years as pastor of Baptist churches and 19 years as president of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in eastern Kentucky. Some would say, “That’s a lot of religion.” It was much more a time of trusting the Lord, doing His will, sharing the Gospel of salvation through his sacrifice and resurrection, working for the church to honor the Lord, and declaring His truth. I pray He shall say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things. … Enter into the joy of your Lord.”