I mentioned here that Jesus without religion is a false, if not dangerous, concept within Christian circles. I also mentioned that by looking at what Jesus taught in the Gospels, we can see that he indeed did come with religion, that is a set of beliefs, morals, and rituals for us to follow.
Things we hold to be true about the universe. For instance in Matthew 16:13-17, we see a conversation between Jesus and his disciples that goes like so:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
This statement from Jesus supports our belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is religion. From John 6, we believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
-John 6: 53-56
Jesus brought with him defined belief, things such as his unity with the Father, his promise of the Holy Spirit, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and many more things.
Of the different aspects of religion, this is where things get sketchy for those who would like to separate Jesus from religion. Why? Because morals are highly aligned with the Law, the Law that St. Paul describes as a curse. Many like to take St. Paul’s writings and use them as proof that we are no longer bound to follow the Ten Commandments. Yet to do so, is to ignore St. Paul’s many exhortations that this is NOT the case, not to mention Christ’s time and energy spent teaching his followers to practice the morality expressed in the Mosaic Law. In fact, in some cases, he makes the Law even tougher, like adultery for instance:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus brought morality. He continually taught morality, and even said during the Sermon on the Mount that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill, that no part of the law will be erased until heaven and earth have passed (Matthew 5:17-18). Last time I checked, heaven and earth have not passed away. So then, what are we to do with Paul’s comments about us being free from the Law? Well, I’m no Scripture scholar, but it seems to me that Christ came to write the Law on our hearts. That is that Christ transforms us to give us the ability to live the Law, to be the law in a way. That is that we are no longer under the curse of the Law because we are able to fulfill the Law. I think it is also important to interpret the words of St. Paul in light of the words of Christ, and not vice-versa. While all Scripture is inspired, I think that Jesus words are pre-eminent over St. Paul’s. I think we can agree with that.
I think that this is the heart of the issue. This is where Evangelicals truly are different from Catholics. This is really where the “Jesus without religion” believer has a problem with religion. The idea is that Jesus freed us from the rituals of the old Jewish Law. The sacrifices, the obedience to the Law, the ceremonious cleansings, etc., etc. However, Jesus himself, instituted rituals for us.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the chalice after supper, saying, “This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Do this. Jesus says to do this very thing. In Acts 2: 43-47, we see that the believers gathered and broke the bread together, every day. Seems like a ritual to me. Want to see another ritual that Christ gave us?
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. “
Follow me. Jesus’ life was very ritualistic, including obedience to the Law. But most of all, our lives must mimic Christs. Mimicry is ritual. Christ says that we must take up our cross, that is to deny ourselves. Denying ourselves will require much prayer, ritualistic prayer even. It will require the continual procurement of grace from the Sacraments. Ritual. Rituals are not bad, and I do not know why many Christians feel like rituals need to be separated from Christ. Little do they realize, but they participate in rituals too. Are all your weeks, seven day weeks? Do the days always go in the same order? Ritual. Do you brush your teeth every night before bed? Ritual. Do you say grace before meals? Ritual. Do you start every religious service with a song of praise? Ritual. Rituals are not bad things. Jesus instituted many, including the Eucharist and Baptism.
Jesus very much so brought religion with him. He does not need to be separated from it, and in fact cannot be separated from it. To do so is to make Christianity relative, to make morality, truth, and practice dependent on our own interpretations, which often reflect our own self-serving desires, and that my friend is the stain and root of sin.
Jesus without religion. Don’t let it infect you.