Religion: Dissecting Religious Structure Through A Personal Journey Towards Spiritual Liberty

Being blessed with three wonderful daughters, I have had the opportunity to watch them grow. One of the millions of observations I have made about girls is they love to talk about the future; so much so that they employ a game that is dedicated to getting answers.

Childhood Games and Future Dreams

From what I can recall, the game’s host prepares a piece of paper that has certain descriptions that appear on the surface, they then ask the contestant to pick an answer, then they manipulate the paper with their little painted fingernails, opening and shutting it with some kind of cadence, and this produces other questions the contestant must pick, then the manipulation of the paper-by-fingers happens again, revealing new queries, until finally, they arrive at the description of the contestant’s future life. Typically, the host will say something like, “You will marry a millionaire, live in a house by the sea, raise turtles with 10 children and drive a truck.” Something like that. And they love it. It provides them with a vision, with some sort of certainty and hope. I was always amused when my girls and their friends would play this game, wishing at times that life could work out that way instead of the standard reality most women face in life. But while they are young, it’s fun to watch them dream and believe that they have a great future awaiting them.

The Parallel of Religion

Where my daughters slowly outgrew the game, I have come to see that organized religion in many ways offers people who play it a similar hope. In the game of playing church, the thinking goes like this – “If you do this, and pick that, and walk this way through your life, and embrace this belief, your heavenly home can be described like this – “You will live with God in a glorified body in its perfect state. You will escape from eternal punishment God will otherwise inflict upon you if you fail and will float on into the eternities in peace, joy, and bliss.” And human beings seem to love that game. Most do, anyway. Having scoured the scripture daily for over forty years if I have come to understand anything about the living God named YAHAVAH, there is one thing He is not so keen on and that is this game called religion. Why?

Religion Dissected: An Acrostic Analysis

In an effort to help answer this I have scratched out my own game and turned the word, religion, into an acrostic, which is an ancient but simple mnemonic device where each letter of the term, religion, is used to describe the word itself. In my game, I have described religion in the following ways:

  • Reliance on “things” (other than God) to try to know and/or please Him.
  • Expectations of conformity to set beliefs and practices.
  • Laws to govern the lives of those involved.
  • Interference with the liberty all souls have in Christ by the Spirit.
  • God is interpreted, spoken for, and determined. He is the tool.
  • Interaction with like-minded believers, creating community and certainty.
  • Opportunism through the lives, time, money, and service of others.
  • Nobility supplied to all who commit and stay true.

The Consequences of Religious Practices

Let’s talk briefly about each of these letters and how they are far-afield from what the living God seems to desire of individuals seeking to have a direct relationship with Him.

Reliance on “Things” Other Than God

From the beginning of humankind, there appears to be an intrinsic need to create “things” to represent God and His purposes. Aaron made his golden calf. Solomon developed high places for his many wives to serve their pagan gods, and Constantine created a standardized church for his empire to unite under. The list goes on and on. It is in our nature to the point that we can’t seem to really help ourselves. But the living God consistently calls people to come to Him directly, to seek Him without interpreters or mediators, and to set aside all interlopers, material and spiritual, who seek to place themselves as the middleman or broker. In our day, and contrary to the opinions of all who allow themselves to play the game of religion, we can see an unlimited supply gunning for our attention. In our short examination of organized religion, these things include joining a church, accepting its “authority,” obeying its rules, and complying with its doctrines. If the religion interprets scripture in a way that is contrary to the Spirit the living God gives all people to love unconditionally and all the time, the religion’s views take precedence, and the Spirit will often take a back seat. We can see this in the edicts of Roman Catholicism relative to birth control, in Mormonism in their doctrine of becoming gods, and in Orthodox Presbyterianism in infant water baptism – all “things” that stand outside the scriptural edicts and outside how the Spirit may lead an individual to believe.

Expectations of conformity to set beliefs and practices.

Once people embrace the things of a religion (and almost all of them present something or another that must be received), there is a tacit expectation for the respective member or congregant to conform to all (or as many) beliefs and practices the religion demands. For most, attending services is a minimal expectation. Some demand complete allegiance to their respective denomination and all it represents. We cannot have a Quaker who is willing to go to war, a Jehovah’s Witness who will accept a blood transfusion, or an Orthodox Jew who will sit down to a nice pork loin with his family. No, to be a “this or that” comes with a price. To refuse to pay that price is to cease to be a faithful “whatever,” which is then translated by the respective community of that particular faith as “back-slid,” “apostate,” and therefore, displeasing to God.

Most religious organizations, as a means to show longsuffering and patience, will turn a blind eye to some rebellion, but the fact of the matter is, if someone refuses to conform to some, most, or all expectations, they will, as Geddy Lee sings, “be cast out.” Central to the efficacious and finished work of Yeshua the Messiah, any and all with a heart for God who seek Him by faith will never be cast out, irrespective of their outward conformity to religious demands or failures in the flesh.

Religions ignore this fact.

Laws to govern the lives of those involved.

In my estimation, of all the things that religions demand, the most antithetical and even reprehensible to all that God has done through the vicarious work of His Son is the imposition of Laws – and I mean any kind of law – with two exceptions. When an empire as large as Roman Catholicism or as small as a single country church imposes any kind of law upon their congregants, the liberty to love is lost and all that God has created for each individual to enjoy is lost. Perhaps an example will help drive the point home. (And I apologize in advance to all my brothers and sisters in the faith who have heard me teach because they have, in all probability, heard this example.)

Suppose there is a little white chapel church resting in the hills of some idyllic town. It is a church that really seeks to teach the scripture and to set its members free to live as they respectively see fit. One day, the Pastor, seeing the need, imposes just one rule among the people who gather which is, “everyone who enters our little white chapel must wear socks.” That’s the only Law this little church imposes on the flock. No other. Each individual can think and believe as they wish, they can live whatever way they are inclined, they can attend or not attend, give money or not, serve or not. No problem. But everyone must wear socks. Got that?

In the face of this one Law, the congregants will react in one of several ways. The first reaction is they will all comply and wear socks. In this way, they will see themselves as submitting, compliant and therefore good – at least to the religious authority and at most, to God by extension. Praise be, right? However, if history says anything about human beings there will probably come a day when someone will decide that this Law is unimportant to true worship and guess what they will do? They will have the audacity to show up on Sunday service sockless. And what will this produce? Judgment from those who are obedient! The very thing that Yeshua sought to eradicate from the hearts and minds of those who are His. The overall result of this one sock law will cause the following, to some extent or another,

  • Those who wear socks will begin to see themselves as more devout before God.
  • Those who refuse will see themselves as more enlightened or as rebellious.
  • There will be a division among the flock which will lead to merciless responses from the sock-wearers and from the non-sock wearer.
  • This division could lead to a split of the once united body into factions of sock wearers or non-sock wearers.
  • In time, the sock wearers will in all probability start to embellish and expand the single Law with some choosing to show their piety by wearing finer designer socks while others for whatever reason might continue to wear lesser expensive brands.
  • Some sock-wearers will show their humility by wearing only home-made socks, while others, seeking to “really honor God” might choose to decorate the socks they wear with gemstones, or even precious and rare diamonds and rubies.
  • In the meanwhile, the sockless will see themselves as more pure, more salt-of-the-earth, and less dedicated to the “things of this world.”

We can see, from this simple, single imposition of one Law, how Laws serve to make human beings rebellious, proud, pious, judgmental, fleshly, worldly, austere, humble – and in the end, not anything close to what the Living God wants from His children. Now allow yourselves to think about the dozens, even hundreds of Laws organized religion places on their members. If you are seeking truth and abide by intellectual honesty, you can readily see why God nailed all the external demands of religiosity to His cross, tore down the veil, and removed every single material or observable Law from the lives of His children.

The only Law remaining for His family is stated clearly in 1st John 3:23 where we read,

“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.”

Faith and love. These are the only laws God has for those who are His. Everything else becomes a hindrance. And only YAHAVAH is in the place to know who is really compliant, removing the human need to judge or condemn.

Interference with the liberty all souls have in Christ by the Spirit.

With religious Laws in place, often given with the best of intentions, the most deleterious result is the death of individual liberty. The scripture is clear on the value and importance of Christian liberty, saying, in part,

1st Corinthians 10:29 “… for why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?”

2nd Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Paul warned the believers at Galatia,

Galatians 2:4 “…that because of false brethren unaware brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.”

And added three chapters later,

Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The brother of the Lord wrote,

James 1:25 “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

Then he added in the next chapter

James 2:12 “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”

Instead of organized religion imposing Laws on how to live, the Spirit moves genuine seekers of the Father to be considerate without such impositions, and the Apostles reminded such believers,

1st Peter 2:16 “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”

1st Corinthians 8:9 “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.”

Galatians 5:13 “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

Believers, led by the Spirit, are free, and should not ever be put under any sort of yoke, whether by Law or false authority. Religion literally and actually stands in direct opposition to such.

God is interpreted, spoken for, and determined. He is the tool.

When the very Son of the Living God died on the cross, God Himself tore the temple veil from the top to the bottom that served to segregate the Nation of Israel from the rest of the world. This act was representative of God now being available and open to all who seek Him – without any human intervention. Yes, the Apostolic church certainly had on-earth authority of men, but that was specific to their calling to go out into all of the world to gather His holy, pure, and unblemished Bride first from His own brethren (the true seekers from the Nation of Israel) and from the world of willing Gentiles.

Proper and right eschatology proves His promised return to take and save this Bride from promised destruction, and once that was accomplished, all souls related to the Living God according to how He described His New Testament in Jeremiah 31:31-34, saying,

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Note that God Himself here describes His New Testament, and it is not one of organized religion. It’s one governed by His Spirit, from the hearts and minds of those who seek and hear Him. Intermediaries of every sort claiming to speak for Him, who think they have the authority to say, “know the Lord, know the Lord,” are merely feigning authority and the right to speak on His behalf.

Interaction with like-minded believers, creating community and certainty.

If we know anything about the drive to congregate with other like-minded believers, it’s the very human result of culture, community, and the feeling of belonging that lends to certainty. Every single culture on earth, founded on unity created by like-mindedness, produces such and these things, in this world, can produce both good and evil.

Unfortunately, such unity and security ultimately are provided by the collective and are not necessarily founded on Him. Human beings are typically fond of segregating themselves into groups that share commonalities. It’s the way we were made, and these inclinations serve to bring happiness and fulfillment in life. I am frankly stunned by the power of culture and community and the ubiquitous existence of such in probably every walk of life. Because of this innate drive and desire, many religiously inclined folks gather together somehow thinking that the strength and number of their respective culture is equal to them being of God and pleasing Him.

One of the standard claims of really unified religions (like members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is that they collectively act and believe the same things and that their unity is proof of them representing the will of the Living God. But the reality is such unity is based on fleshly, legalistic, and even sometimes totalitarian principles and not in the Liberty which God wants all of His children to have in and through His Spirit, and not the flesh. Any human, fleshly-led culture can create unity, security, and community. Like I mentioned, the expressions of such, good and evil, are everywhere. What differentiates the unity religion provides and the unity that God extends is unity in Him is based on the allowance of differences of doctrine, praxis, and lifestyle, whereas the unity of the flesh is based on agreement on such.

Opportunism through the lives, time, money, and service of others.

Once a religious institution or group establishes itself through Laws and a resultant culture, it has the power to do what almost all religious empires, large and small, will do – in fact, must do, to survive: they prey upon the members in an assortment of various ways and means. Generally speaking, there are either overt or subtle demands upon the “faithful” to somehow serve the establishment created. Instead of the gathering existing to serve the individual, the tables are turned and the individual allows themselves, as a means to belong, and to do their part, and to be right with God, to be placed in some sort of bondage. The best religious institutions are adept at making the devotees feel good about their bondage; the worst make them miserable.

The scriptural fact of the matter remains – whatever puts a person into bondage will become the Master of that soul. If it is a drug or sex addiction, they will master and govern the life of the imprisoned. Money and the love of it is a tireless master, and so is organized religion. One can never “do” enough, especially when devotions and service are done in the name of pleasing the living God. Institutionally, there is an endless call on all involved to give more money, time, service so that the empire can thrive and grow. There is always a need for more in organized religion:

  • More devotion.
  • More donations.
  • More dedication.
  • More demonstration of a believer’s loyalty.

But the loyalty is always but delicately deferred away from direct God and redirected to the brick-and-mortar expression and its needs, wants, and desires. The biblical reality is the Living God wants everyone to seek Him and frankly, Him alone. Not intermediaries that represent Him. No human authorities. No human empires. Just Him. In the end, religious opportunism is an idol – really no different than Aaron’s golden calf which, in his mind, would serve as the object of the Nation’s worship OF YAHAVAH. (Exodus 32:5)

Because of His Son, all intermediaries are over. They have been shaken so hard by God that the only thing that remains is unshakeable. (Hebrews 12:27) And the only unshakeable item in this material world is the things of the Spirit and not the things of the flesh.

Nobility supplied to all who commit and stay true.

And herein lies the unfortunate, even the dark result of all religious devotions—they cannot, ever, bring anyone to a legitimate relationship with the living God no matter how well-intended, how promising, or how much “good” they appear to do or create in the lives of people. No, friends, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to free, liberate, and govern those who seek Him in spirit and truth. Everyone else, leaning on and serving religion in His place, will fall short of His desires for every human being with whom He wants a direct relationship.

Shawn McCraney
Shawn McCraney
Articles: 108

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