Posted by George Morrison

While the great and the good of the G20 nations were gathering in London to save the world from bankruptcy here in Dublin we were holding a conference to extol the virtues of religion. The underlying contention was that religion (the variety we have in Ireland) is good for you. An impressive amount of research was marshaled to emphasise the fact. The keynote speaker was Professor Casey who claimed: “What the scientific studies summarised in my report have done is to observe large numbers of people who practice religion and compare them with those who don’t practice religion.” She added that these repeatedly found that, with some exceptions “that religious believers live longer, have lower rates of mental illness, recover faster from physical illness, have lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse, lower rates of crime and lower levels of marriage breakdown”. With such benefits on offer one would be tempted to look into the merits of religion. What does the Bible have to say on the matter? Surprisingly there are only 4 references to religion in the New Testament and 3 of these are referred to by St Paul as the forms and ceremonies of his former life before he was converted to Christ. When St James uses the word he contrasts the vain with true religion – the latter having to do with changed conduct not forms and ceremonies. As Dick Lucas the Anglican Preacher put it; the Romans were open to religions provided their participants acknowledged allegiance to Caesar. They said, “Let a 1,000 religions flourish”, but they persecuted Christians. You could imagine a Roman speaking to his Christian neighbour; “I hear you have a new religion”. “Who is your god?” “Jesus is our God.” Roman, “Who is your Priest?” “Jesus is our Priest”. Roman “Where is your Temple?” “Jesus is our Temple.” Roman, “Where do you do your sacrifices?” “Jesus is our sacrifice.” Roman, what kind of religion is that? The answer is that it is not a religion. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus whereby a person is born again into the family of the living God. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. It had been there from the beginning to prevent access to the holy place where God had presenced himself. By his death Jesus has provided a new way whereby the repentant sinner can come into the presence of God. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain”. Religion stitches the curtain up again permitting access only through forms and ceremonies which Jesus came to abolish. This is what we have been saved from! Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”