Do You Hate Religion But Love Jesus?

Last Tuesday, a video was uploaded on YouTube that has gone crazy. In barely three days, “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” has registered almost 5 million hits. If you haven’t watched the video yet, you’ll likely see it in the next few days. But if you’d like to see it now, click on the video (or video link) above.

The video is so popular that in a two minute period, I observed 250 comments added to the YouTube page. At that speed, only a few people would be able to read anyone’s comments. The few comments that I did read were overwhelmingly positive.

What’s causing the buzz?

In the video, Jefferson Bethke goes on a four minute rant about religion. He criticizes religious practices that are based on “good” appearances and hypocrisy, and calls for authentic Christianity that is based on grace.

For the most part, I agreed with his overarching message. He defines the Christian faith as mutually exclusive of any political party or persuasion. He invites people of the Christian faith to show compassion for the poor. He confesses his own faults, admitting that he was once addicted to porn. He exposes dualistic faith—going to church on Sunday but living like hell the rest of the week. And, I agreed with his explanation of salvation based on Christ, not our good efforts.

Does The End Justify The Means?

But at the same time, his video stirred some pretty strong feelings inside—the kind of feelings that would arise within me if someone attacked my wife. Granted, I fully realize that my wife isn’t perfect. I know her dark secrets (and she knows mine). But even her most egregious deeds would never deserve a beating.

The first half of the video, I felt like I was watching a man beating his wife. Mr. Bethke says he loves the church, but strikes her with merciless blows over and over again. I’m not convinced that will change her.

If Bethke defines the church as a place for the broken, then why is he condemning the church for her brokenness? He allows for certain sins (sex addictions) but not others (legalism). While criticizing self-righteous people, he inadvertently becomes self-righteous. At one point he says “I’m not judging…”—but he is!

In his opening words, he says “Jesus came to abolish religion.” Back in the day, I would have agreed with him. Interestingly enough, the word “religion” doesn’t even appear in the four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that tell the story of Jesus’ life.

Jesus did say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 NIV). Did you read that? Jesus wasn’t trying to abolish Judaism, a religion!

Is Religion Bad?

Religion isn’t bad. Bad religion is bad. Here’s an example of bad religion: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

On the other hand, here’s an example of good religion: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). To be sure, Jefferson Bethke would approve of this kind of religion.

Last of all, he says that the church fails to feed the poor. While some churches are so inwardly focused that they fail to help people less fortunate than themselves, this isn’t true of all churches. Christians by and large are the most generous people in the world!

In his rant, Bethke takes the seamy side of Christianity (hypocrisy, judgmentalism, religious violence, ignoring of the poor) and makes it normative—then uses it as an excuse to beat her up. As he admits, we all have seamy sides. Because Bethke has struggled with an addiction to porn doesn’t mean that it defines him. Nor does the church’s many failings.

How Does Jesus Deal With Bad Religion?

In Ephesians 5:25–27, Paul offers this encouragement:
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

How did Christ love the church, his bride? He laid down his life for her. He didn’t beat her into submission.

If you love Jesus, then love his bride.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

That’s my take of Bethke’s video. Please jump into the conversation and let me know what you think!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s thankful that God doesn’t beat him into submission.

 

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Do You Hate Religion But Love Jesus?

  1. Faith

    Thanks, Mike. Your insight offered a counter to what was missing for me when I viewed the video a few days ago. I really like what Jefferson says because it expressed a form of Christianity/relegion which unfortunately is growing in numbers. If his video can be heard as an alarm of warning there could be many benefits; transformation, renewed minds, being conformed to Christ’s image.
    However, your points are well taken and show that what was is needed is. . .balance.
    I find that whenever anyone, this includes me, takes a stand on an issue the line of judgement is very close. Without the wisdom of Christ Jesus we so easily fall into judgment rather than loving as Christ loved. Our passionate convictions can so easily carry us away.
    Learning to speak the truth in love is a life long journey. Jesus did this so well even when he got steaming upset over what people did to others. I’m wondering if Jefferson may be responding from seeing so many sons and daughters of God wounded by relegion. This has been a hot button for me over the years and I’m still learning the balance. I don’t know what inspired Jefferson’s poem but I find comfort in knowing that Jesus does. Thank you for your blanced words of wisdom.

  2. Faith, thanks for adding your thoughts (we’re both up way too early!). When I first watched the video, I was pretty worked up and almost nailed the young woman who posted it on FaceBook. If Ali (my middle daughter) hadn’t pleaded with me to NOT post it, I would have failed to speak the truth in love. Old habits die hard.

    In our last church, I learned that Jesus deeply loves his bride. Since then, I haven’t been able to shake it. Jesus loves his bride, even when she acts like Gomer from the book of Hosea. Jesus loves me, even when I play the harlot.

    The last week or so, I’ve been singing an old American folk hymn “What wondrous love is this?” The first verse goes:
    “What wondrous love is this,
    O my soul! O my soul!
    What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
    What wondrous love is this
    That caused the Lord of bliss
    To bear the dreadful curse,
    For my soul, for my soul,
    To bear the dreadful curse, for my soul.”

    What wondrous love!

    Mike

    • Georgie-ann

      and I dearly love that song too,…learned it from a guitar/recorder American folk song book that my (“non-religious”) mother found for me for Christmas in my early teens,…the melody is hauntingly wonderful all by itself, but with the words it penetrates throughout the universe!

  3. Georgie-ann

    It sounds to me like he is really fundamentally having a conversation with himself about where he’s been/come from — (certainly a real enough experience for himself) — and I think he’s seeing through some of his own early false and incomplete understandings: (“Christianity as behavioral training”). However, rather than “owning” this as being at least partially a result of his own spiritual growth and eyes being (thankfully) opened, he now is completely satisfied to blame the “religion of others,” rather than any of his own past shortcomings and limits and inabilities in understanding. Very likely he truly has encountered/observed some seriously bad examples along the way. (Haven’t we all??)

    Paul explains that there are normal stages of spiritual growth. Spiritual babes need “milk,” but appropriate development will eventually bring the need to dig deeper and be ready to receive “meat.”

    1 Corinthians 3:2 “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”

    Hebrews 5:12 “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”

    Jesus plainly tells the disciples that He can only reveal just so much:

    John 16:12-15
    12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

    “Sophomoric” is a word used to describe someone growing in knowledge and very likely somewhat “puffed up”/ (excited?) by it. My dictionary uses the words “opinionated” and “immature.” Supposedly, (or maybe hopefully!), by the time one becomes a “Senior,” a humbling and mellowing and wiser trend is beginning to take over, and will characterize further appropriate development.

    John also addresses this in the Body of Christ:

    1 John 2:12-14 [Their Spiritual State]
    12 “I write to you, little children,
    Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
    13 I write to you, fathers,
    Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
    I write to you, young men,
    Because you have overcome the wicked one.
    I write to you, little children,
    Because you have known the Father.
    14 I have written to you, fathers,
    Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
    I have written to you, young men,
    Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
    And you have overcome the wicked one.”

    It appears to me that this “young man” has entered the “young men” phase quite seriously and wholeheartedly. Like a “green apple” he may be developing appropriately, but is still not fully ripe (explaining the sour taste). He has thrown off one personal yoke of bondage from the devil that he tells us about — but undoubtedly there are others that remain, and he will have plenty of opportunities to see and learn more as time goes on. (Hint: “Pride” is always a good candidate.)

    But I’m also not sure that “Fathers” (1 John 2), “as riper apples,” should require/expect their own level of wisdom and perspective to apply as a limit and requirement to “young men” in this phase of development. It takes a lot of strength, determination and courage to “overcome the wicked one,” which is their appropriate job description. This is a serious and tough job, and it will contain all the necessary experiences to smooth off the rough edges, producing the seasoned, mellowed Father, eventually.

    I think “young men” probably feel the need to encourage one another and to take on big endeavors for God. We should always pray for their success and growth.

    In the Catholic Church, there is always a backdrop of history, form, teaching and example to keep in the back of one’s mind as a point of reference and respect. But an individual is certainly free to take many different paths personally, of course not violating the Word of God. An attempt to throw off the whole “Church” as being impossibly flawed, will inevitably backfire at some point in time. We’re not really meant to carry on simply as individuals!

    I’m always a little suspicious of the rapid word flow styles of delivery. One can become so enamored with the sound of one’s own voice and sound bites and suggestive/suggested “logic” that true objectivity may be lost.

    Good advice:

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
    16 “Rejoice always;

    17 pray without ceasing;

    18 in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward.

    19 Quench not the Spirit;

    20 despise not prophesyings;

    21 prove all things; hold fast that which is good;

    22 abstain from every form of evil.”

    Amen.

    • Great insights, Georgie-ann. Likening him as developmentally a “young man”, “sour taste” and all makes sense. At the same time, at 47 years of age, I don’t want to pat myself on the back for attaining “Father” status.

      I also agree with you that some of the man’s appeal is his delivery. He speaks the language of his generation. And, I think he expresses some of the angst of that generation.

      Thanks for offering your insights!

      • Georgie-ann

        Youth is so ambitious to attain, to “arrive,” to succeed, to know the Truth. And thank God for this! But we will inevitably find that there is always more to learn or deal with. Once our cup is “filled,” (and this takes awhile!), it will begin to overflow, taking us beyond the limits of our personal vision into new horizons and possibilities. Finally we are able to come to grips with and accept our own personal limitations, our real finiteness compared to God’s real infinite-ness, and be grateful for everything that He is for us. Humility, Love, Grace, Mercy,…these are birthed gradually and grow slowly! (Good Fruits!)

        I thought it was very chivalrous of you to be so protective of the Bride of Christ,…certainly a Fatherly quality and example! Bravo!

        One thing we also learn is the power and potential of “time” in the learning and growth process. Not only does “time heal all wounds,” but it “wounds all heels” as well. Be sure that God loves us, but whom He loves, He will also chasten.

        Proverbs 3:12 “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.”

        John 15:2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

        Speaking a word in season, the Truth in Love, and prayer, are the sincere efforts we need to make to help lead and guide all into better understanding,…our own selves included! But the results ultimately are between each soul and God Himself, as we yield (or not) to His leading. Because of this, we must always be wise in testing the on-going “fruits” of those who would presume to teach and lead us — not to become pessimistic, but being careful “in the Spirit.”

      • Georgie-ann

        Actually, I’ve never hated religion,…I usually sense God in there somewhere,…but I don’t “cotton to” bad religion,…because I don’t sense God in there enough,…

      • Georgie-ann

        Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”

        Ecclesiastes 1:9 “That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.”

        1 Corinthians 3 (whole chapter)

        1 “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

        2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

        3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

        4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

        5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

        6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

        7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

        8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

        9For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

        10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

        11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

        12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

        13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

        14If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

        15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

        16Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

        17If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

        18Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

        19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

        20And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

        21Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s;

        22Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s;

        23And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

        God is good. Humans are all over the place. We hope and pray that they all will find their way. All of us “begin from scratch” as it were, to personally absorb and process spiritual wisdom and reality, so it does appear that many have to keep re-inventing the wheel and “discovering America” all over again, in order the make these realities “their own.”

        James 1:4 “But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.”

  4. Evan Roth

    Right on, Mike! The church is the bride of Christ and we sinners make up the earthly church. We will always have blemishes, biases and judgments. Thanks be to God that his Holy Spirit sanctifies us, his church, to help His Kingdom come on earth. We are lost without Jesus and we, His church, are found in Jesus.

  5. Georgie-ann

    23And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”

    I was just saying to someone the other day that, as a musician, I had noticed that some beautiful old “Negro spirituals” that I was playing from my mother’s ancient piano lesson copies, were not being well received at all, even as background music, in this “modern hour.” I found that to be very sad at the time (probably around 12 years ago), and was actually quite astonished.

    But as I was “thinking about things” recently, it occurred to me — (in light of the pendulum’s mighty swing toward arrogance and the overcomer’s “kingship in Christ” mentality) — that it might be a good time to also rediscover the spiritual beauty that was inspired in these precious “humble roots” of our faith.

    As humans, we tend to go from one extreme to another, in our desperate attempts to “have it all.” In God — “in Christ” — (Who not only has, but IS, it ALL) — the viable opposites are not only reconciled, but available to us who believe and allow Christ’s “perfect work” to be accomplished within us.

    James 1:4 “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

    Perhaps this is a facet, (part of the blessing), of the meaning of having God’s Peace within us.

  6. Georgie-ann

    Thinking about “whole on-going situations” helps us to develop perspective. In our times now, it seems that young children are vulnerable to “losing their innocence” too early, or at least acquire an “imitation of adolescent savvy and sassy” way before its natural time. (Of course due to poorly-scripted TV exposure, secular and unwise schooling, etc.)

    But before all this, the innocence of childhood was a special time to be lived, enjoyed and protected. Accordingly, “milk” is a very appropriate food, both spiritually and nutritionally — providing love, positive support, growth, ideals, security, training, hope, etc.

    Any parent should be realizing ahead of time that adolescence and maturing of the child will bring with it new conditions, mind-sets, and challenges, that did not need to be faced as such in childhood. It seems to me that at this time, satan has obtained some kind of permission and/or access to test and try us to see if he can pull us away from the safety net of parents’ wisdom, childhood images, and God. In adolescence, we are introduced to mental darkness, insecurities, doubts, bodily changes and challenges, invasive suggestions and seductions from those around us, now mixed in with what were once the more pure visions and fond/pleasant memories of childhood.

    Is it any wonder that many a Christian-raised child — (who was once happily-enough accepting of his/her “Sunday school” introduction to God, encouraged to be good and obedient to parents, have faith, etc.), — experiences a major challenge, when suddenly almost drowning in the potentially overwhelming internal and external influences that are aroused socially and biologically to assault their former innocence, security, and comparative peace?

    As a child it was perhaps easy enough to think that “being good” (behavior) was all that would be needed to “do God’s will,” and child-like thinking naturally receives and develops along these lines. Paul says:

    1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

    So, perhaps our video person (along with many others) suddenly finds himself a teen-ager, and now challenged by one of the ubiquitous socially externally-offered onslaughts to our senses and new physical energy potentials, and is “overcome.” The normal childlike behavioral ethic will not be of sufficient strength to handle this “enemy,” and the need for spiritual “meat” and coming to grips with stronger challenges is confronted in a very “real” and eye-opening way.

    Happily, he is able to grow in his Spirit, rising to victory in this occasion/attraction/addiction, and now knows/realizes that it IS Christ who is his Savior and strength! This is a great testimony of a great victory and realization! He has matured, and has become a veritable “young (Christian) lion!”

    Perhaps it is understandable that he would attribute his own child-like former concepts to those at whose feet he began to learn of God, rather than realize/accept/acknowledge that a child exists as a child by God’s plan, but then must grow to know/understand and act on more revelation.

    I’m sure there are many possible scenarios. The important thing is to grow to a mature understanding and relationship both to God and ourselves, (and the devil) — our strength IS Christ and in Him, we win (& the devil loses).

    To come to full Christian spiritual maturity we cannot skip/bypass the important “young men” stage. And it may very well have dramatic overtones! But the Bible goes on to tell us that there is yet more (1 John 2). There is a Fatherly stage to respect and be gained as well,…and this perpetual reminder at any age:

    Matthew 18:3 “ … ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ ”

    Spiritual life does not appear to be a straight line from here to there.

    John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    The Word of God gives us lots of clues and instruction, and the Spirit of God will guide those who are listening/praying/paying attention. We should certainly wish each other well who are on this great adventure together “in Christ!”

    God Bless!

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