What do you think of when you read those words?
To some people all religion is dead religion. “Religion is a crutch for the weak; wishful thinking; fairy tales and superstitions for the weak-minded, unintelligent, unenlightened, and uneducated.”
To others it’s anything that is not their religion.
Then again, some people would interpret “dead religion” to be anything that isn’t charismatic (in its *doxology, if not in its doctrine).
When I was a child we thought that “dead religion” was anything that wasn’t southern gospel singin’, ‘Merkan flag wavin’, “Amen” hollerin’, spit-slingin’, sweat-drippin’, aisle runnin’, suit & dress wearin’, door knockin’, in-your-pew-every-time-the-church-doors-are-open, Genuine leather Old Scofield KJV Bible totin’, Old fashioned altar fillin’, seminary mockin’, leather-lung-hackin’-preachin’, in-your-face Independent Fundamental Baptist Church-ianity. (No offense intended. I still practice a few of those things myself).
While any and all of those examples may or may not actually have some merit in certain contexts, what we need to do is look to the Bible for our definitions.
Paul defined “dead religion” rather poignantly in 2nd Timothy 3:5 as “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…” He even went on to tell us what to do with this kind of religiosity: “…from such turn away.”
In short: dead religion has no power.
Samson had dead religion after his haircut. Well, really it was dead or dying when he lay in Delilah’s lap, sacrificing his intimacy with God for a moment of intimacy with a Philistine whore.
The recent widower Lot had dead religion as he lay down in a cave, succumbing to drunken incest with his own daughters.
Simon the Sorcerer had dead religion when (in Acts 8) he pulled out his checkbook and offered to pay for the power to give people the Holy Spirit.
And who wouldn’t agree with me concerning those examples?
But, the disciples had dead religion too. When they tried to cast out demons, but could not (see Mark 9)—their religion was dead. They had dead religion as they slept in the garden (when they should have been praying). They had dead religion when they fled from Jesus at the moment of His arrest. Every time they moved apart from the work of Spirit, their religion was dead and powerless. And so it is with you and me.
Yesterday I was trying to read the book of Philippians. I recognized certain verses and several truths along the way, but overall it was having no impact on me at all. I couldn’t focus. I wasn’t understanding it. And I certainly wasn’t being changed by it. I was essentially checking an item off of my to-do list. I even read it twice in a row. “Perhaps repetition of this ritual will get the job done?”
But, no. It didn’t.
When we are hearers of the Word but not doers of it, our religion is dead. Like the character in James 1:26, I seemed to be religious. To myself, I seemed to be religious. If you had walked into my office and stood behind me, then I would have probably seemed to you to be religious. But in those minutes, my religion was dead and powerless.
When we pray prayers that don’t move God and that affect no change, then our religion is dead.
When we give money and gifts to placate our conscience, or worse, to impress someone—our religion is dead.
When we compare our standards of activity, separation, frequency, service, and/or knowledge to that of others in order to to congratulate ourselves for our superiority, our religion is dead. In those moments our religion is vain, powerless, and offensive to the God we claim to worship.
When we say one thing and do another, our religion dies the death of a chronic anemic.
When we gratify the desires of our fallen nature; satiating our eyes, our minds, and our stomachs with whatever our current passion is (while simultaneously stifling the spiritual sustenance that our soul craves), in this our religion is just that and only that: religion. Just religion. We become no different than the idol worshiping barbarians and heathen anywhere in the world at any time in history.
Pure religion; real religion; the one God desires and designed is one of relationship and power.
The word religion means…
• the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods
• a particular system of faith and worship
• a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance
Notice the words that demand devotion: POWER, PERSONAL, FAITH, WORSHIP, PURSUIT, & SUPREME IMPORTANCE.
But when we accentuate other words in the definitions: GODS, SYSTEMS, INTEREST, & ASCRIBES instead—it’s then that we end up with a religion fit only for a casket.
We are saved by a Living Stone; Christ. We are saved TO BE lively stones (1st Peter 2:4-5).
God did not and does not NEED our rituals, our donations, or our assent to His system of doctrine. He does WANT our sincere worship though. He want’s our love and loyalty. He demands it. He will accept no less. He has promised to destroy those who fail to give it.
Casual Christianity is not “church in jeans.” It’s “church without power.” And power is not excitement, entertainment, or organization. Oh sure, we can have excitement, entertainment, organization, AND power! Fine! But the first 3 without the power and presence and pleasure of God is actually nothing at all. It’s dead religion. We might as well go kill a goat and do a rain dance. We’re mocking God in either case.
What if we (like the Quakers supposedly used to do) refused to move unless God moved in our midst?
I’ve heard it said that most of what we do in the name of Jesus can be done with or without Him. That should not be the case. That’s having a FORM of godliness without the power.
How desperate are you and I for real Holy Ghost power in our lives? I mean life changing, soul saving, sin evaporating spiritual power. Or, are we satisfied with playing church? Are we going to settle for pretend Christianity? Are we going to just accept the placebo of our familiar traditions?
May God grant to you and to me the demeanor of Jacob. He wrestled with God and refused to let go until God had blessed Him. As a prince, he had power with God and man (Genesis 32:28). He had POWER. God’s power was on him and in him and around him and flowing through him. Because he was desperate for it. He was sincere, intense, focused, devoted, determined, and actually in touch with the Divine. Does that description fit you and me in any way as a description of our passion for Christ?
If not, no wonder our religion is dead or dying. And if our personal faith is dead, our church will soon be dead too. And our witness will be dead. Our impact for the kingdom will be null and void. Our lives will lose their purpose. We will go through the motions like church zombies, but our name will be Ichabod. Our candlestick will be gone. Our light will go out.
Our religion will be a dead one; vain, empty, useless, powerless, futile.
Oh Lord, revive Your people. Revive me!
DOXOLOGY: a liturgical formula of praise to God. We would call this our church culture; especially HOW we worship.