I keep running into people who are professing Christians, but rarely, if ever actually attend church. There may be various reasons for this: perhaps they’ve been hurt, perhaps they’ve been disappointed as a result of an offense or a difficult trial, perhaps leadership has failed them, or perhaps they really aren’t believers at all. For some this is a temporary situation, but for others it goes on year after year. The reasons are certainly not all trivial, yet the result is the same: they are absent from the assembly of God’s people. And a few of them will claim a “closeness” to God that they’ve never had before, a subjective “intimacy” that they are sure they couldn’t be mistaken about.
I just finished a conversation with two young men in my living room who were giving me their arguments for why I should believe that Mormonism is the restoration of God’s True Church on Earth. Among these arguments was one that seemed for them to be a show-stopper: they had prayed that God would show them whether or not the Book of Mormon was really true, and behold! This He had done! They had a subjective experience of some kind that they interpreted as God showing them this for certain. And so, of course there could be no argument.
We Americans are very distrustful of Authority: our popular entertainment culture has taught us to distrust the institutions of government, business, education, the military, and on and on. And the realm of religion is at the top of the list. The Individual is the authority, and Autonomy is King. I have a “right” to believe what I want to about God, and that has led to the prevalence of the bumper-sticker sentiment, “I’m not religious, just spiritual.” This is shorthand for, “I want to believe that I’m OK with God, and of course no one can say otherwise, because I have that right.” The resistance to “organized religion” has led to the embrace of disorganized religion, with the Self as Pope. And Evangelicals have their own version of this: “I’m not religious, just a Christian!”
The Bible makes no distinction between “religion” and “spirituality;” its categories are “true religion” and “false religion,” the worship of the true and living God, or idolatry and humanism. There is no middle ground. The subjective feelings of “peace” and “intimacy” are not the measure of one’s standing before God. Many of us know those who claim that “God” has “led” them into all sorts of error; many of us have been those people. The prophet Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20). No light! None! When it comes to spiritual things, religious things: without the light of God’s Word we are in utter darkness.
Time and again the Scriptures have proven to be completely faithful. May we purpose to trust the Word in all things this year: in our families, in our finances, in our homes, and especially in our churches. May we not be afraid to say, “This is the true religion.” And may our pastors determine to do that which no one else can do: open the Bible and preach what it says, regardless of cost or consequence.