By Chiemezie Ugochukwu
Haile Selassie once said; we must stop confusing religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of rules, regulations and rituals created by humans which were supposed to help people spiritually. Due to human imperfection, religion has become corrupt, political, [and] divisive and a tool for power struggle. Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply way of life, pure and original as given by the Most High. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe and each other.
Religion gives nothing, it only takes. It arouses hope, suspends dreams, dispels faith and kills a purpose. It is a path many have taken, the churchgoers, in neglect to true faith. It kills faster than cancer, and when it does, you don’t know, you can only assume faithfulness. It is a crawling killer. It kills you with your consent but you never know.
Christianity and religion; many people have so long identified these terms and thought them to be synonymous and equivalent, that it takes a sharp can-opener of rational argument, or the sharper still word of God, to reveal the contrasting dichotomy between Christianity and religion. This attempt to differentiate between the two may indeed be presumptuous, but on the other hand it might be used of God to bring the revelation of spiritual understanding that would allow someone to make the important distinction and enjoy the reality of Jesus’ life.
Many years ago, I was a student of a college of education in the eastern part of the country. Hopes were high, as a fresh college student, I was optimistic and nervous at the same time but there seems to be a custom on campus at that time, virtually every student has a campus fellowship s/he attends. Not minding the different shades of life, there is one for everyone. There is a fellowship for all, for every sinner. There is Deeper Life Campus fellowship; those ones are, of course, saints. There is the Winners Campus Fellowship; those ones, general sentiment is that they welcome anything, come-as-you-are, you are welcomed and they really welcome. Different denominations have one or two offshoots fellowships for her students, from Catholic to Anglican, to Redeem Christian Church of God, and of course, if your Church is not that big enough, no problem, you are covered. There is surely one for you, the non-denominational fellowships; NIFES, FCS, and Co.
Need to say, I was caught between thoughts of where to harbour my humble self, and prayer answered, my roommate happens to be president of Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC), and phew! A soul was won. EFAC preached the word, the truth as it is but instead of becoming lightened, I was burdened, afraid. My life became a shadow of my fears. I was weakened and made to believe a lot of things. I became afraid of God. Hell was not a thought to keep because I believed I’m saintly enough not to be candidate. The idea of purity was basically to hate sinners and runaway from sin; with no direction. I was indoctrinated to believe a lot of things about God and his works, but with more emphasis on His punishment for sinners. I was taught to stop wearing jeans trousers (I have always wanted to) and through all the three years I was campus, I never wore one. It became a part of me. I started speaking against it with no clear understanding of what I was doing. The concept of do not be equally yoked with unbelievers became an understandable metaphor because I was seen as not-too-serious broda anytime I was seen around campus with course mates or friends who are sinners (who is a sinner?). Of course, I will have bunch of advisers come to my room or request for my presence after fellowship to offer unsolicited admonitions, advises, to my person and none will fail to remind me of hell and why I should not be there. Who wants to? I became a stereotype of a system that disregards socialization, I was lonely. I became paranoid to the slightest swing of a thought to the negative. I was afraid and my thoughts became fixed to the things of the heavenly while my personality burns on the inside. I was not alone, there were many brodas and sistas, who are open-minded like myself but were fearful of what the brethren would think of them. I looked more good than bad. I was amoral, though.
However, today, our churches are no different from our campus fellowships. The Nigerian Fellowship of Catholic Students (NFCS) is no different from the regular Catholic Church who demands you marry only from the church. The campus ring, which leant it ways from the parent church, has become more political than her parent church. You can see them in action during the student union elections. They are called the NFCS-Candidates. What about the Anglican Communion, folks divided amongst themselves. You will see the EFACs, and the ASFs, the Youths and the etc, with different ideology. You will wonder why the church is so divided amongst her. The Catholics are not left out of this squabbles, you will find different sets; the Legion of Mary, St. Anthony De Padua and different groups, including the Charismatic. The Winners Chapel, the Redeem group, the Chosen one and the others. The inconsistency of the world can be understood but that of the church is disturbing, confusing and distracting considering the fact she claims to share same passion for God. Same Bible, same God, same vision but a different mission, different heaven!
Last Sunday, I was in a new generation church, which happens to be my second time of attending the church. The pastor, sorry, the prophet, Prophet Dr. Obi .O. Obi, called for offering, seven times. Until he called for testimony offering, I had to count the number of times people have been cajoled to come offer their best to God. I was perplexed and confused. What is testimony offering? What is prophet offering? What is prosperity offering? You can add it up! And he hadn’t preached the Word yet. Until the word, I was disturbed and confused. I had to relate to similar events in the past. One of which was in 2013, a prophet had seen my future and saw how great I will become. He told my mother that I will be a great person but I should stay off cult activities, that they are looking for me and they needed me. He didn’t mention the confraternity but he gave a clue that once I get back to campus, I will receive a call from one Michael in a bid to lure me into a cult group. To put it together, Michael did not call, nobody called. In fact, I literally stopped going to school since 2013 (I work). This is 2016, Michael have not called. The tale is not complete without pointing out that the prophesy came with a five thousand naira offering called prophesy offering. A sweet soul I met in 2013, told me categorically that we can only get along if I am a Catholic or convert to one. Me, I am not interested in Church. I became more of a churchgoer just to understand the concept of churching than living Christ. The routine and lip-service of the church is sick.
Many are the atrocities of many in the name of God, religion!
The God-given desires of Christianity have been lost to the frivolities of religion. The God-given desire to be loved is offered a cheap imitation of a thing called love, wherein one might develop a degree of intimacy with others. The desire to be accepted is appeased as religion offers to accept a person just as they are, until further instructed. Our human desire to belong is offered false-fulfillment in the encouragement to get-involved in the fellowship of our community, often called Cell Fellowship. The desire for sociability is stroked when religion invites a person to relate to their group and let them be their family, often seen amongst the Deeper Lifers, Assemblies of God, Catholics, the EFACs in Anglican Communion, Grace of God, the Chosen Ones, and the etc. Man’s desire for security is offered the secure provision of once saved, always saved. Religion offers uniformity and conformity to satisfy mans need for order. The basic desire to believe and to be correct in that belief is placated with dogmatism, intellectualism, and the absolutism of orthodoxy. Religion offers a raison d’etre and a cause celebre to satisfy our need for meaning. Stimulating emotional highs and experiential subjectivism provide for the desire for excitement. The need for uniqueness is provided for in the exclusivism and elitism that posits that we are the only ones. If it is identity that you need, join us and you will be somebody, a socialistic identity by association. Religion offers approval and affirmation, often by affirming I’m OK; you’re OK. The desire to work can be accommodated by religious activism which encourages adherents to get involved and work for Jesus. The desire to possess is titillated by the health and wealth gospel that falsely asserts that God wants you rich. The need to give is a favorite target of religion as they urge you to contribute by tithing ten-percent of your income, every possible offering tagged in many names and accustom blessings, to the degree of your generosity. Religion promises to fulfill the need for destiny by providing the correct techniques, procedures and formulas whereby a person will be guaranteed a place in heaven. These religious counterfeits are nothing less than an abuse of humanity. Instead of leading mankind out of the addictive false-fulfillment of their God-given desires, religion offers nothing but another form of addictive dysfunction. Religion is co-dependent to the sins of the people.
In confronting the religionism of Roman Catholicism, Martin Luther explained, ” I have often said that to speak and judge rightly in this matter we must carefully distinguish between a pious (religious) man and a Christian.”
Etymologically, the word religion, in Latin religo, meant to tie or fasten. Religio was recognition that men are often tied or bound to God in reverence or devotion. It can also convey the meaning of being bound or tied to a set of rules and regulations, to rituals of devotion, to a creedal belief-system, or to a cause, ideology, or routine. It is suggested that religion may have been derived from the Latin word relegere, which refers to re-reading. There is no doubt that religion is associated with repetitious rites of liturgy and litany, and the reproduction of creedal formulas and expressions. I want you to set aside the notion of the Christian religion, because it’s a contradiction in terms. You won’t learn anything positive about religion from Christianity, and if you look for Christianity in religion, you’ll never find it. To be sure, Christianity uses the forms of religion, and, to be dismally honest, too many of its adherents act as if it were a religion; but it isn’t one, and that’s that. Christianity is not in the religion business; it is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. And the gospel is the good news that all man’s fuss and feathers over his relationship with God is unnecessary because God, in the mystery of the Word who is Jesus, has gone and fixed it up Himself. So let that pass. It is a feeble but defiant, an arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do. In religion man bolts and bars himself against revelation by providing a substitute, by taking away in advance the very thing which has to be given by God. It is never the truth. It is a complete fiction, which has not only little but no relation to God. No religion can stand before the grace of God as true religion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming was not to bind us or tie us to anything or anyone, though it might be argued that in the reception of Jesus Christ by faith there is a spiritual attachment of our identity with Him. Jesus clearly indicates that He came to set us free, free to be functional humanity in the fullest sense, by allowing God to function through us to His glory.
Religion and Christianity are as different as night and day, death and life, fiction and truth. To attempt to include Christianity in a course on comparative world religions is to compare that which cannot be compared, like comparing apples with oranges. Christianity is unique. It is one of a kind. It is the singular reality of God’s activity to restore mankind from the fallen condition through His Son, Jesus Christ. Christianity is not the propagation of a philosophy. It is not the performance of religious procedures. It is not the perpetuation of an organizational program. Christianity is the reception of a Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Himself, into one’s being and behavior. You can take Christ out of that misnomer of Christian religion, and still have the doctrines and the programs and the organizational machinery that masquerade as the church. The hypothetical question might be asked, if God could and would die tonight, what would happen to the ‘Christian religion’ tomorrow? The answer is nothing! The Christian religion would keep right on functioning, because Jesus Christ, as God, is not the essence and the dynamic of what they are doing anyway! If God were to die tonight, it would be business as usual for religion tomorrow. It does not require God in Christ for the Christian religion to function; just man and money!
Genuine Christianity, on the other hand, requires the presence and function of the life and person of the living Lord Jesus. Christianity is Christ! Jesus Christ is not just the historical founder of a Christian religion; rather He is the vital spiritual essence of Christianity which is His dynamic ontological function within receptive humanity. Paul explained, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Gal. 2:20). This is Christianity; it is Christ, not your Church!
‘Chiemezie Ugochukwu is a freelance Writer and an Entrepreneur.’