About two weeks back, our president announced that churches (including mosques, synagogues, temples, etc.) are essential services and may resume services and prayer meetings under strict gazette guidelines with special reference to numbers, social distancing and sanitization. Most churches were only expecting to resume services from level 1, so this announcement that churches may resume services from the first Sunday in June (tomorrow) came as quite a surprise. Like most Protestant and Reformed churches, our bishops have decided not to resume worship meetings at present. They feel (and I agree with them), that it is far too soon and too dangerous to take a chance.
At present, the virus is spreading its wings. The infection rate is increasing as are the deaths. Our presiding bishop writes:
I’m sure, like me, you are aching to gather with God’s people. In a way, I’m relieved that this trial has proved the inadequacy of online services and digital fellowship (as much as we are glad to have it). The longer this crisis continues the more I struggle with my own heart on this. What price will I be prepared to pay to resume meetings again? I will gladly give my life for the sake of reaching the lost with the gospel, but I would deeply regret my reaching out becoming the cause of their death.
I am certain you will agree with and support his wise words.
I found an alternative radio station to listen to when not listening to music on LM Radio. During this week, I listened to Stephen Grootes as he interviewed Professor Maluleke. They discussed the opening of church services at some length. On a number of occasions the professor said, “The most religious thing to do is to keep the churches closed”. He was spot on … I totally agree with him.
As they continued their discussion, Stephen Grootes said: “I’m not really religious.”
I see the word “religious” used here in two different ways. The professor used the word in the context of not performing a religious or spiritual gathering of a community. Stephen Grootes used the word in the context of not being a staunch or regular attendee of spiritual or religious gatherings. In other words, the usage of the word as they used it means two different things. Naturally, the word “religious” comes from the word “religion”. There are many religions in the world today. Some estimates say there are 4,200 religions. I think I understand what people mean when they say they are religious. Here are two examples:
- ‘Both men were deeply religious and moralistic.’
- ‘She has strong religious convictions.’
In both cases, the people are religious in keeping strictly to laws and rituals. There is nothing Christian about being ‘religious’. I am not religious. Being religious will be living according to the norms that uphold, say, kneeling, sitting and standing when reciting certain prayers or statements. The faith of many such people is not in their deity but in the adherence to the ‘rituals’ and ‘performances’ they participate in at their gatherings.
Take the Pharisees for an example. They were extremely religious. They obeyed the teachings and rituals handing down to them by the elders of many years gone by. Those teachings and rituals were more important to them than the Word of God! Think through this passage:
Mt 15:1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Years ago, a lady came into our church and became a Christian. She said she came out of a church where she sat in a pew at a window and as the clergyman was going through the prayer book service she looked out of the window at the birds. She said she knew the prayer service so well she could recite it, turn the page and watch the birds. There was nothing spiritual in this for her. It was a ritual … a religious activity without any spiritual meaning!
Paul under inspiration wrote a letter to the church in Galatia. In certain circles, we talk about the main issue in his letter as the Galatian Heresy. The men of the church were being influenced to be circumcised by “Jewish Infiltrators” who taught faith in Jesus plus the works of circumcision. That is, they combined the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, where the true Gospel message is salvation by grace alone through faith. Similar teaching do the rounds in various communities, such as baptism plus faith, tongues plus faith, giving plus faith, miracles plus faith … these are religious activities added to faith in Jesus for salvation. The Bible knows nothing of such religiosity … Its message is plain and simple … repent and believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved!
Ac 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”
The Areopagus referred to the aristocratic council of ancient Athens. Paul says to these men, “I see that in every way you are very religious.” He observed on his walk about many “objects of worship”. There is one object labelled “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” and Paul uses this as an object lesson to preach the gospel of Jesus. Many are religious. Few are Christian. Hell is full of religious people. Heaven is exclusive for people who are not religious. Heaven is for followers of Jesus Christ!
Dear God, thanks You for revealing Yourself to me through the Glory of the Cross. Thank You for saving my soul. Thank You for freeing me from being religious through grace, giving me faith to believe. In Jesus’ Name, amen.