Relationship with God trumps religious observance
In my thinking, everything that Jesus did, thought, taught, and modeled screamed “don't be religious!” He could have easily said, “ok people, listen, you have been trying to do this religious thing for over 4,000 years and it has not been working out for you. My Father knew that, and He wants you to know that He has always had a much better plan. It's called a relationship.”
I believe that in many ways people prefer religious practice over a relationship. Why? Because they think it's easier. The prophet Samuel told the people of Israel very plainly that God wanted to be their King. They refused. Everybody else had a king and they wanted one, too.
In my opinion, the Roman Catholic Church came into being simply because it gave people what they wanted deep down all along. They wanted someone else to hear from God for them. Throughout history and right up to today, billions of people worldwide cling to its practices. There are those within its ranks who experience the deep and rich personal relationship with the true God, seeking His will for themselves and praying to Him directly through the shed blood of their Savior Jesus Christ. Delightfully, we all personally know some who do, but far too many prefer a third-person connection to God.
Other movements or denominations, although earnestly desiring to hold closely to the biblical model of the New Testament Church, can still fall into similar patterns. They realize that given the choice, their constituents would rather get together for a potluck than for a prayer meeting. Also, because the average person does not actively seek God’s direction for their lives, the role of a priest or a pastor becomes the primary one in discerning God’s general will for his or her congregation. All in all, in my opinion, we create our Protestant version of a spiritually empty religious society.
Jesus made it very clear, “It is necessary that I go away because if I do not go away the Holy Spirit cannot come!” (John 16:7b). I believe what Jesus was trying to communicate was that all the Old Testament saints whom God used to do wonders in the past, had a one-on-one relationship with the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. The sacrificial system was set up to remind them of their sins and the eternal gravity they have in the sight of a transcendent God. But in due time, the Messiah was to come to die and make the final sacrifice to save the world and have the Holy Spirit lead His people into an eternal perfect relationship with the Triune God. The sacrificial lamb, by His blood, opened the doors of Heaven for sinners doomed for destruction.
Honestly, could the mere prospect of empty religious trappings hold a candle to this?
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.