August 2nd, 1998

  Rejecting Man-Made Religion.
  Galatians 8:4-31

AN ARTICLE IN TUESDAY'S SYDNEY MORNING HERALD reports that a church has been founded in England based upon Diana, Princess of Wales. Her burial site has become a shrine. There is now this religious cult based upon a dream where from the dead, Diana is supposed to give advice upon AIDS, a fat-free diet and financial advice on how Asia's troubles will affect Wall Street. The Church of Diana has its own Bible, supposedly dictated by Diana from beyond the grave. Chris McGillion, in the article, states: "For many people, established religion has become abstract and rationalised in response to modernisation and secularisation. What folk canonisation represents (people making up a church in memory of someone admired like Elvis or Diana) is a conjuring up of more traditional forms of symbolic life that place a premium on supernaturalism and emotion."

In every generation badly served by the church, where the Gospel is not preached, where there is a dead formalism in worship and where a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ is neglected, people will turn to folk religion, to New Age cults and other man-made religions to give them a sense of supernaturalism and emotion. You almost want to shake them and say: "Why are you turning from a God-given Christianity to a man-made religion? Why are you turning from truth to fiction? Why turn from certainty and liberty to what is irrational and a form of spiritual bondage?" Their only reply is "because it satisfies the need of my heart for a sense of wonder, the supernatural and a warm feeling." Young adults in particular find little satisfaction in the religion of their parents and turn to the new delights of man-made religion.

How silly are mainstream churches which decry the need for a sense of wonder by trying to explain every wonder away with human reason, which deny the supernatural and which avoid any response of emotion in people. They have a religious structure and formalism, but it is a cold religion without heart. It fails the meet the needs of ordinary people. Ordinary people then prefer to go back to some kind of folk superstition, the Church of Diana, even though it defies reason, denies the Gospel truth and encases them in a spiritual bondage.

It is essential that evangelical Christians help people from man-made religion to a living relationship with Christ. The Apostle Paul knew that. His Galatian converts, who lived in central modern Turkey, had been truly converted and had given their hearts to Jesus Christ. But after a while, some religious types known as Judaizers, came among them and got their interest. They started persuading them to leave Christian truth, to return to man-made religion of the Jewish tradition. There they could have special feast days and celebrations.

True Christianity is the enemy of religion. True Christianity is a relationship with Jesus rather than a man-made religion. But most do not know that. Many people say they have religion. The biography of leader of the Opposition in Federal Parliament Kim Beasley launched this week, quotes Kim as saying he is very religious. He is not committed to any church, although as his second wife and children are Roman Catholic, he might become a Catholic. Very religious but not a committed Christian! He is missing the very heart of faith: friendship with Jesus. Kim is like those people in Galatia.

To turn to man-made religion is to return to spiritual bondage. The people that gather at Body-Mind-Soul conventions with tarot cards, crystals, mind-reading, reincarnation, psychic experiences and so on, are on their way to being ensnared with man-made religion. Ultimately it has no power and does not satisfy.

Paul has explained clearly to the Galatians that by God's grace we can be reborn as children of God. But not only that, we can become His sons and heirs. You are reborn into God's family and adopted as his son and heir. You no longer need a guardian to keep you good and obedient, but you live as free mature adults. Paul reminds his converts of their former bondage in paganism and expresses his astonishment that they could even consider a return to such slavery. In view of this possibility, he expresses concern that his labours among them may have been to no purpose. Gal 4:8 "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods."

Paul speaks of the highly undesirable former state as one of ignorance of the true God. Gal 4:9 "But now that you know God--or rather are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" That they should return to their former bondage after having been delivered from such ignorance by God himself this is astonishing, indeed, totally incomprehensible. For they had once known the true God. Paul uses the verb ginosko ("to know intimately and on a personal level") rather than oida ("to know factually") or orao ("to know through perceiving something").

God is not just perceived, or appreciated as a fact, that is man-made religion. But in Christianity, God makes Himself known through Jesus Christ in the most personal and intimate way. He is our Father and Friend. Through Christ the individual Christian has become an object of God's personal recognition and favour. The man-made religion the Galatians were turning to was "weak and miserable", "powerless and bankrupt". Weak because it is unable to set men free, as Christ has done by redeeming them. Bankrupt because it has nothing by which they can provide an inheritance for believers.

Paul furthermore castigates them: 10 "You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!" These were Jewish observances. "Days" are sabbaths. "Months" are celebrations tied to the monthly cycle, the new moon festivals which Isaiah ridiculed Isa 1:14. "Seasons" are events such as the feasts of Tabernacles and Passover. "Years" refers to the recurring years of Jubilee. Paul regards these Jewish festivals in exactly the same light as pagan festivals. Even the Jewish Law, when distorted into a way of trying to earn salvation, can be used by Satan to increase man's bondage.

Paul is discouraged: 4:11 "I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you." His labour in bringing the gospel to the Galatians would be wasted if they return to man-made religion. Peter is later to write of other foolish Christians, that they are "near-sighted and blind" and have "forgotten" they were cleansed from their sins. 2 Pet 1:9 For true believers to turn to man-made religion is a deep hurt for the preacher who brought them the Gospel and stupidity for the believer individually.

So Paul harshly calls them to reject man-made religion and to remain in the truth of the Christian faith. How that message needs to be told today. So many foolish people running after what is new, and superficial and superstitious. The leaders of these man-made religions are eager for converts. 4:17-18 "Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you."

Paul shows his deep pastoral concern for the Galatians. He intensifies his appeal to them. He calls them "brothers" once again and even "dear children." He wants those believers to remain true to Jesus Christ as we must be true to Him. In Jesus Christ we are children of God by our re-birth. We need to be guarded and guided in our spiritual growth. But then when we become mature in Christ, we become sons and heirs. Mature and responsible, and living with liberty.

There was a time when Paul clashed with the creators of man-made religion in Ephesus, on the west coast of Galatia. They developed the religion of Diana, and made little statues of her just as tourists and others are sold statues of Princess Diana today. The silversmiths in Ephesus were making a good living from the sale of the silver statues. Acts 19 24 "A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Diana (Artemis), brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said:"Men, you know we receive a good income from this business.

26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana (Artemis) will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty." 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Diana (Artemis) of the Ephesians!"

It was a clash between true faith in Christ and man-made religion. The Christians caused people to think and to make a choice between what Jesus offers and what man-made religion gives. "He says that man-made gods are no gods at all" Demetrius complained. What makes Christianity different to man-made religion? It is the personal experience of Jesus Christ who died upon the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Today, some people want to turn from Christianity to all kinds of man-made religions. They substitute something that is fake for what is real. You see it in the census statistics, in the way many young people get caught up in Scientology, and many adult women fall for tarot card readings and psychic readings in womens magazines and telephone services. You see it today in the way many members of the mainline denominations turn a exciting and warm friendship with Jesus into a formal and cold religion, arguing away the miraculous and denying the essence of the incarnation, virgin birth, resurrection and return of Jesus.

With people like Bishop John Shelby Spong St Paul becomes a "rigidly controlled gay male" and the Virgin Mary, far from being a virgin, becomes a rape victim. So the church sells out to man-made religion in our generation. Is it any wonder that we have a Church of Elvis and now a Church of Diana?

What does true Christianity offer that man-made religions do not have? The distinguishing marks of true Christianity are straight-forward:

* The grace of God is expressed in His love for us all;
* Jesus Christ was born of a virgin to redeem His people;
* Christ died on a Cross for the forgiveness of sins;
* God raised Him from the dead in a resurrection to life;
* Christ offers us forgiveness and a new beginning;
* The believer enters a relationship with God that lasts eternally;
* The Holy Spirit is God's gift to empower and comfort us;
* Jesus offers His friendship to us no matter where we are;
* God's Word becomes meaningful and sustaining no matter what;
* We live in hope that everything is in God's control;
* We are certain that Jesus will come again to rule the world;
* Our Christian life-style is the most reasonable in the world.
We need to be rejecting man-made religion and sticking with what is true and eternal.

  SYDNEY MORNING HERALD Chris McGillion p9 28.7.98
THE EXPOSITORS BIBLE COMMENTARY F E Gaebelein Ed, Vol 10 Zondervan 1997
THE INTERPRETERS BIBLE Vol 10 R T Stamm Abingdon 1953

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