I think that organized religion enslaves, rather than free people. In this post, allow me to challenge you to dare to embrace your freedom from organized religion today. Think for yourself, reach your own conclusions, and refuse to be enslaved by others’ opinion.
Who really founded Christianity?
This is a very hot question. The debate has raged for ages. In my own personal view, and contrary to mainstream Christian thinking, I don’t think that Jesus Christ ‘founded’ the Christian religion. Ever since I began to study the bible, from the time I was 4, I am yet to see any evidence in the story of Jesus Christ that He set up any organized system of worshiping God. I can’t find a single place in His story where He set up a hierarchical order for what He referred to as ‘My Church’.
For instance, consider the issue of hierarchy in the church – a core aspect of organized religion. Jesus Christ, as the following incident reveals, firmly rejected the notion of formal human hierarchical structure among those that will come to believe in His name:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
According to Jesus Christ, greatness in the kingdom – whatever that means – is a measure of attitude, not aptitude. Skills and talents are important; but in the Kingdom of God, spirit matters more. A good heart is more important to God than a good head. It’s interesting that as far as Jesus is concerned, what makes you great in His scheme of things is not your accomplishments and attitudes, but your heart – your attitude. Think about that.
My personal opinion regarding the founder of Christianity –as an organized religious entity – is partially derived from the following verse (emphasis mine):
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
~ Acts 11:25,26
Because the believers were first called Christians in Antioch, under the ministry of Paul, and because Paul set up the church structure of overseers and deacons that we follow today, I hold the personal view that Apostle Paul, not Jesus Christ, is the founder of the Christian religion.
For the following reasons, I have always wondered why the believers were called Christians first in Antioch, rather than in Jerusalem:
- Jesus Christ ministered severally, controversially, and powerfully to huge multitudes in Jerusalem; He had a massive following there. Yet, His followers were never referred to as Christians during His ministry; not once!
- It was at the Upper Room in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit first descended upon the Church, and this caused quite a stir in that city. Yet, the believers were never referred to as Christians in that City under the ministry of Peter and the Twelve; not once!
- The Church started first in Jerusalem with great power and display of signs and wonders, and grew to hundreds of thousands within a very short time there. Not even once do we read of these hundreds of thousands of believers being referred to as Christians.
- The Apostles performed mind-boggling signs and wonders in Jerusalem, all in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet, no one ever described them as Christians; not even once!
In 2 Reasons the Disciples Were Called Christians First in Antioch rather Than in Jerusalem, I posted some personal thoughts on this issue. In addition to what I presented there, I think that the fact that the believers were never called Christians under the ministry of Jesus Christ and the Twelve is quite significant; in that the idea of ‘an organized form of worship – religious system’ was alien to His thinking. And on their own part, I do not think that the Twelve ever thought of themselves as belonging to any new religion outside the Jewish order.
I don’t even think that the Apostle Paul himself intended to start another religion. He was a convert to the new sect of Judaism (for that was what Christianity was in Jerusalem under the Twelve before Antioch). Nevertheless, his teachings and ministry laid the foundation –on Jesus Christ, of course. This foundation laid by Paul became the basis for the new sect to organize separately as a new religion apart from Judaism, with it’s own forms, rituals, and hierarchical structure.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
~1 Corinthians 3:9-11
To ‘found’, I believe, means to ‘lay a foundation for’ something. In the above verse, Paul clearly makes that claim with respect to what came to be known as Christianity: “I laid a foundation as an expert builder.” He interpreted the person and mission of Jesus Christ in a way that formed the basis for much of the doctrines of Christianity. Even Peter acknowledged this.
15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
~2 Peter 3:15-16
Sometimes I think of it like this: At first, Paul was a convert to the ‘Way’ – which was what the new sect of Judaism was under the Twelve. Finally, however, this new sect, the way, became converts to Paul’s revelation! The doctrines of Christianity come mostly from the teachings or influence of Paul. Thus Paul, the founder, founded Christianity upon the foundation, Jesus Christ.
Let’s move on.
Jesus Christ has more confidence in the Holy Spirit than in human religious systems
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Jesus Christ did not set up any formal religious system of worship. He did not set up any formal organizational and leadership religious structures. He simply taught and demonstrated the power of truth and love. Then He handed His followers over to the Holy Spirit and truth, and went back to His Father.
He never set up any hierarchy among the Twelve and more that were his disciples. In fact, Jesus specifically discouraged religious hierarchies:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.”
What He did was give them a very simple instruction, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” – John 15:12. Then, He told them to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
The way I see it, Jesus Christ had more confidence in the person and leadership of the Holy Spirit, than in any formal organizational religious structure He could have set up prior to His ascension; and this is the key to freedom from organized religion. When you reflect on it, you will come to see that much of what we call religion – rules and regulations, systems, hierarchies, rituals, routines, and so on – are based on fear, ignorance, and lack of trust in God.
In spirit and truth
At the well of Sychar, the Samaritan woman wanted Jesus to settle an age-long religious contention.
She said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem”. (John 4:20)
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” (John 4:21).
Continuing, Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”.” (John 4:23-24).
Freedom from organized religion comes from the Holy Spirit
From Jesus’ reply to the woman, I understand that true worship of God should be dictated by the Holy Spirit, not by man-made religious systems. Furthermore, it should be based on the truth, rather than on human traditions and teachings. And, the way I see it, truth refers to the revelation of God’s eternal word communicated to your heart by the Holy Spirit.
For this reason, it is imperative for every believer to cultivate an intimate personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. And no wonder Jesus taught so much about Him; no wonder He practically handed His followers to the Holy Spirit before going back to heaven.
In a sense, I can’t tell you how to worship your God, and you can’t tell me how to worship mine; only the Holy Spirit can do that.
Organized religious systems enslave rather than free people; disempower rather than empower; blind rather than enlighten. The reason, I think, this happens is that — the intentions of the designers not withstanding — religious systems rapidly degenerate into business and political enterprises. These then become tools for the manipulation and exploitation of the gullible and weak minded.
I challenge you through the Holy Spirit to embrace your own freedom from organized religion.
Jesus Christ trusts His Holy Spirit more than any fear-motivated religious rules and regulations — aka, doctrines — we may rig up; and we should do the same.
As believers, we should daily seek to know the Lord more intimately, and seek the truth from Him.