Jesus hates religion.
That’s the basic premise of a new You Tube video that has gone viral recently. In just three days, it’s been viewed almost 7 million times. Apparently a lot of people resonate with the idea that Jesus has something against this thing that we call “religion.”
While I appreciate how this artist exalts Jesus Christ, his “Jesus vs. religion” presentation offers a false and dangerous dichotomy.
Jesus was a very religious Jew. He went to temple and he offered sacrifices. He participated in the feasts and holy days. He was baptized and he taught his followers to baptize. He knew the Torah and how the people of his day understood it. In fact, he modeled many of his actions around motifs found in the Torah, and his later followers interpreted his actions through this lens.
Like the Hebrew prophets before him, he challenged the abuse of religion. But he didn’t never rejected it.
Similarly, the early Christian authors understood Jesus through the very languages and practices of the Jewish religion. Jesus was remembered as a sacrificial lamb, a high priest, a prophet, a king, a new David, a new Moses, a new Adam, the Son of Man, and many other “religious” images.
Why am I concerned? Simple. Over the generations it has been easy to frame as Jesus the post-religious lover of God vs. the traditional, archaic religious Jews of his day. This is not the message the Evangelists, Paul, or the other early Christian writers intended to convey. Rather, they saw Jesus as the one who followed Israel’s God as he should be followed. It wasn’t “religion vs. relationship.” It was Jesus reshaping the people of God around himself. This is very different than an outright rejection of religion.
My concern is when Jesus gets used as a poster-boy for people who want some mystical connection with him, but dislike the practices of others. It is “I don’t feel comfortable in a church, so Jesus must not feel comfortable there either.”
If Jesus stands against anyone it is not because they are “religious.” Yes, religions and religious practices can become a problem when they distract us from Jesus. But becoming irreligious isn’t the solution!
If you participate in the Eucharist, if you were baptized, if you gather together to worship, if you pray, if you meditate, if you sing and play music, if you observe holy days, if you do any of these things rightly, then you are using religious practices to connect with the risen Christ.
Jesus is against our sinful, anti-God behaviors. Jesus is against our worship of false gods and no-gods (and yes, sometimes religion can be a tool for this). Jesus is against our abuse of neighbor, our selfishness, our greed, our gluttony, and those practices that dehumanize us. In short, Jesus is against false religion. But he is not against religion in itself.
- Bad Catholic, Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus – The Smackdown
- Kevin DeYoung, Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really
- Jared Wilson, Jesus Was Religious
Brian is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary who received his MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from the same institution. He is a student member of the Society of Biblical Literature and formerly of the Evangelical Theological Society. He teaches at Grace Bible Church in Portland, OR. Brian also blogs regularly on biblical and theological issues over at NearEmmaus.