Jesus hated religion. It was the “religious” folks that He tried to free us from. 'But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.'Read Mathew 23 to understand better what He had to say to “religious” leaders. He stated it better than I can.Look. Christianity is not a religion, it is not “going to church”, it is not a set of rules and regulations after which you pattern your life...
Christianity is not really a religion; it is a relationship with God. It is trusting in Jesus and what He did on the cross for you (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), not on what you can do for yourself (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christianity is not about ornate buildings, flamboyant preachers, or traditional rituals. Christianity is about truly accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
- As Scripture testifies, many regulations were followed in the religion of Judaism.
- Jesus chastised hypocrites within the Jewish leadership.
- Scripture also says man cannot save himself, but needs God.
- Therefore Jesus hates religion.
James 1:26-27 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.In short, this is describing the principle of loving one's neighbor and living a moral life. And the apostle James labels such a life as "pure religion." Therefore, it is not Biblically proper to exclude any sense of the term religion when describing Christianity. And as we will see, ritual and regulations facilitate our walk with Christ.
Matthew 23:1-3 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice."Even though Jesus proceeds to expose hypocrisy among the Pharisees, He still told the audience to follow what they prescribe, for they were the true leaders, sitting on Moses' seat. This can hardly be classified as the command of someone who hated the regulations of all religion, much less the Jewish faith.
Matthew 6:16-18 And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.We see a number of pertinent truths in this passage. Jesus criticizes the fasting of hypocrites, but does not condemn proper fasting. This is just like James above, who contrasts true religion with false religion. The existence of a false practice does not overtake the legitimacy of a true practice. Further, the very subject at hand was what the above critics would call a "religious" ritual or regulation: fasting. Jesus even prescribes proper rules for fasting, which include maintaining an appearance to disguise one's fast.
- The gesture of imposing hands confers the Spirit in appointing Church leaders (cf. Acts 6:6, Acts 8:18, Acts 19:6, 1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6, etc...).
- Elders are to anoint the sick with oil, and sins are to be confessed (Jam. 5:14-15).
- In Paul's time, one of the regulations was the length of a woman's hair and her head covering, and men were not to cover their heads (1 Cor. 11:1-16).
- The very reading of Scripture in Church (Col. 4:16, 1 Thes. 5:27) is a continuation of Jewish practice (Acts 15:21)!
- The book of Revelation is fraught with ritualistic and liturgical imagery such as the use of incense and harps (Rev. 5:8), religious chants (Rev. 4:8), and lamps and robing (Rev. 1:13). These all parallel practices in ancient Judaism, which the modern critics in question claim are the example of "religion" Jesus despised. On this last bullet, a critic may say, "But this is the book of Revelation. These are all just symbols. Using those things for real is empty religion." Yet, where do Jesus or His apostles use condemned activities as symbols for proper form?
1For a deeper treatment of the language in Hebrews 9:23, see Not By Bread Alone by Robert Sungenis, page 81.