Is Your Religion Useless?


I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living. 
What makes you think I want all your sacrifices? I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows (Amos 5:21-24; Isaiah 1:11-17).
The two texts above came to mind during a church discussion on social action. These writings highlight a major flaw in the religious expression of many. We often reason that so long as we are obeying God's law we are being obedient. But such is not the case. Like the Rich Young Ruler many of us are obedient only externally, but our hearts are far from God.

For example. Every Sabbath I pause and celebrate the rest that I have in God. By honoring the Sabbath I am being obedient to the fourth commandment. How cool is that? But the flaw is this: In all my Sabbath keeping have I ever stopped to think of those who do not know what rest is? There are 27 to 30 million slaves in the world today who never get to rest.* Do I care for them? Do I pray for them? Do I give of myself for them? Do I do whatever I can to help them experience the freedom and rest I celebrate each 7th day? If not, I wonder, does God even accept my Sabbath-keeping? Or does he likewise say, "Marcos, I hate all your show and pretense. Away with your Sabbath-keeping! I want to see a mighty flood of justice..."

Keeping God's commandments is not about observing a list of restrictions in order to become holy. God's law is a law of love, and commandment keeping is really just a tool to spur us toward that end. God wants us to be lovers not just "obey-ers". He is seeking passion, not "robot-ism". Many of us pride ourselves with our commandment keeping, but if our commandment keeping is void of seeking justice, helping the oppressed, defending the cause of orphans, and fighting for the rights of widows - what good is it? Allow me to answer that rhetorical question with a single word: useless.

James said it best when he wrote, "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). Unfortunately, I have spent most of my life focused on the second (keeping myself from being polluted) but have paid little to no attention to the first (caring for orphans and widows). James is, of course, appealing to common social problems of his day - problems which remain to this day. But the list is much greater. Whether it be Syrian refugees, local homeless, victims of abuse, human trafficking, or racism/ bigotry we are called to "help", "defend", "fight for" and "look after" them all. To ignore this while continuing our "commandment keeping" and "religious meetings" is, indeed, an insult to God.

But God calls us to act, and thankfully we don't have to wait for someone with a title to do it. We can take the challenge and run with it right away trusting that the God who called us to it will strengthen us through it. As Ellen White so eloquently put it, "All His biddings are enablings."** So today I challenge both myself and anyone reading this, lets stand up for the oppressed and the suffering. Let's reject useless religion and embrace the call to make a difference in this world. And thankfully, we don't have to start from scratch. Many are already engaged in this mission. All we have to do is join the ranks. Here are some steps on how to get started:

  1. Find what you are passionate about. There are thousands of causes to support. You are only one person. You can't support all of them. Find one or two that you are passionate about and give your time and energy to them.
  2. Seek out reputable organizations. As I said above, you don't have to start from scratch, sell your house, pack your bags, and move to a refugee camp to serve food. There are tons of reputable organizations out there that do amazing things already (Red Cross, ADRA, Compassion International, etc.) so why not start by joining and supporting them? If God leads you to something bigger, then go for it! But at least begin by taking a small step of support.
  3. Invest yourself in the cause. It's one thing to donate money from the comfort of your direct debit account. You can give to some cause and never have to think about it. But if you do, you will miss out on a huge blessing. Instead, invest yourself in the cause you support and show people that you care.
  4. Be creative. While you don't have to reinvent the wheel, you certainly can. Be creative. Start a campaign. Get others involved. And make a difference where you are. The following link has a step by step process on how to do this: How to plan a Social Justice Event

A religion that leads men to place a low estimate upon human beings, whom Christ has esteemed of such value as to give Himself for them; a religion that would lead us to be careless of human needs, sufferings, or rights, is a spurious religion. In slighting the claims of the poor, the suffering, and the sinful, we are proving ourselves traitors to Christ. It is because men take upon themselves the name of Christ, while in life they deny His character, that Christianity has so little power in the world. The name of the Lord is blasphemed because of these things… Search heaven and earth, and there is no truth revealed more powerful than that which is made manifest in works of mercy to those who need our sympathy and aid. This is the truth as it is in Jesus. When those who profess the name of Christ shall practice the principles of the golden rule, the same power will attend the gospel as in apostolic times (Ellen White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 137).

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* United Nations Estimate.
**Christ’s Object Lessons, 331-333.

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