Buffet

Religion as you like it

“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers'” (Matthew 23:1-4 NKJV).

While on a trip to report to supporting churches, I was invited to attend a gathering hosted by the local Jewish Synagogue. The Rabbi explained that those present were mostly members of a society dedicated to promoting Judaism and self-awareness within their community. As a means of explaining their activities he stated, “We encourage people to engage Judaism a la carte, at whatever level of commitment and activity they choose.”

What a perfect description of the modern attitude towards religion, with particular relevance to Christianity. All of my life I have been encouraged to “join the church of my choice.” Today one may choose not only between denominations, but also between conservative, radical, moderate, or progressive (i.e. liberal) branches of any particular denomination.

One may decide to float between specific congregations, attend drive-through services, worship vicariously through televangelism, or simply to pray and read spiritual materials (certainly not limited to Scripture) privately when convenient. Someone will not only accept but encourage such participation. Christianity a la carte with a vengeance.

Such an approach to religion was characteristic of the leaders of Judaism in Jesus’ time. They encouraged obedience to the Law, but were quite selective in their own allegiance. Later in the chapter cited above, Jesus observed, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Nowhere in Scripture is the a la carte approach to religion endorsed. Rather, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of the Father” (Matthew 4:4). Again, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

When Jesus prepared to ascend to Heaven, he commanded the eleven to make disciples of every nation, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). In each of these statements the Lord made it plain that the true believer must follow all of the teachings which God has revealed.

One may select appealing items from a buffet line, or when shopping in a supermarket or department store. It is neither expected nor feasible to take everything. But when it comes to serving God, it is everything or nothing. Paul spoke confidently of his work in the Roman province of Asia, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He commanded Timothy, “Preach the Word . . . with all . . . doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

We have been deceived for far too long that one may serve God however one chooses, with consideration only for selfish preferences and no demands for deep commitment or conviction. Such religion is popular, but it is neither Biblical nor Christian. Let us submit to God’s will and demonstrate true love for him. “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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