The Old Time Religion
* (The Song – Old Time Religion) Singing this song evokes emotional memories of days past. Candidly, most of us affectionately remember ‘The Old Time Religion’ but we have difficulty authentically remembering ‘The Old Time Religion.’ The things we remember are ‘our favorite preacher’, ‘our favorite songs’, ‘our favorite church,’ and other such things. The obvious thing we forget is what made those memories and that “Old Time Religion” so great.
* What made “TOTR” so great was the enormous faith and commitment of the generation that is now past. They depended on God, spent time in His word, treated others like they wanted to be treated, & had faith that through Jesus a relationship God was indeed the answer for every situation. Furthermore, they lived out what they said they believed. The result was that we had a strong family unit, strong moral fabric which made our culture strong, and a strong country which was seen as the envy of the world. “Under God” was not simply two words in the Pledge of Allegiance, it was their way of life!
* In short TOTR was so great because people of that generation didn’t see it as much of a ‘religion’ as they did a ‘lifestyle.’ It was integrated in every part of their life. They would sing gospel songs as they went about their daily chores. They would refuse to let people get away with talking about others. (How many times did my Mammaw chastise me for speaking ill of someone else?) While not perfect, they seem to possess a deep understanding of what it meant to live daily for Christ. This is the OTR that we remember.
* I’ll submit that somewhere along the way, the ‘religion part’ became the priority while the ‘relationship part’ the problem. Somewhere along the way going ‘to’ church instead of being the church took center stage. It was at this point that the message of the gospel began to erode in this country. Without trying to be offensive, the ‘local Church’ became an idol to be protected as opposed to the Bride of Christ which is expected to be active. Anything which becomes more important than God himself is, by definition, an idol.
* Turn to James 1 and let’s read the last two verses of the chapter which deals with a topic that I tend to not ever mention, “Religion”. The placement of these verses is no accident. He has just finished saying, “If you only listen to the word of God, never acting on it, than you are self deceived.” Now, he raises the anti just a bit. Let’s read.
* This is one of those passages which, every time I read it, cause me to reflect on my life and evaluate my deeper motivation. hi
1. The Deception of Plain Religion – Plain religion is of man-made origins. God designed us with the desire to be in a relationship with Him. We have that innate desire. This is why in the darkest regions of the world, tribes have fashioned their gods made of wood. A religion which is manmade is, at best, distracting and at worst devastating. Deception is always devastating.
* Consider 3 attributes of plain, manmade religion.
a. It’s Unreliable- Plain religion is unreliable because it is untrue. And the person who believes in the validity of it sings a very familiar song—‘self deception.’ James begins with “If anyone ‘thinks’ he is religious.” The word ‘thinks’ speaks a picture of ‘seems’ or ‘gives the impression’ or ‘looks as if.’ Then the word religious speaks of an ‘outward expression’ or worship (in several places). Peterson wells states the case in the “Message” by saying, “Anyone who sets himself up by talking a good game is self deceived.” Plain, manmade religion is one which causes much talk with NO action. It’s unreliable because words are backed up with nothing. Remember if you are a hearer of God’s word who never applies nor acts on it, you deceive your own self. And in deceiving your own self, you mislead others. One deception leads to another to another until, there is nothing to stand on. Manmade beliefs are just that, manmade. The have no power, authority, and ability to transform. Just when you need help—nothing is available so you feel powerless, impotent, and beaten down. It’s not Jehovah’s fault, He didn’t deceive you. The word is in front of us, written in many languages & translations.
b. It’s Uncontrolled- Not only is it uncontrolled, it possesses no power to change a life. The text says that exhibit A of plain, man-made religion is the lack of restraint, lack of control or better said unbridled tongue. The uncontrolled part is this; plain religion offers no unchangeable directive because it operates on situational theology. Things like, “If it feels good, do it” or ‘I know what the Bible says, BUT” are common phrases for the one who is a convert to manmade religion. Now back to the scripture, because the lifestyle found in this type of religion is so fluid, the wildest member of the body is totally uncontrolled. The word ‘uncontrolled’ in the KJV is ‘not bridled.’ Anyone who has ever spent any time on a horse understands that a horse’s mouth is very sensitive and with the use of a bridle, you can totally control that huge powerful animal. Without the bridle, there is difficulty in controlling the animal. James repeatedly says speaks about the fierceness of the tongue. Most of the time we think of cursing, cussing, mean spirited sarcasm, anger, bitterness, boasting, and more. But the one which keeps the church body in turmoil is gossip.
* I heard a funny story about a company which leased big equipment. They had a huge scrapper which was called a “Model G.” One day a customer asked a salesman what the “G” meant. The salesman responded, “It must be GOSSIP, because like gossip it moves a lot of dirt very quickly.” While we smile about this, the truth is, this is sad and has no place within the family of God.
* I read this and thought it to be a great tool; THINK before you speak. Is it True? Is it HELPFUL? Is it INSPIRING? Is it NEEDED? It is KIND?
* The take away is this; a person who has a runaway tongue is classified Biblically as one who is not saved. Manmade religion has no control over anything, the tongue is simply one of the most visible & verbal indicators of a life that is in bondage to sin.
c. It’s Useless – This is a strong statement against manmade, hypocritical, self-deceiving, and dangerous religion. HCSB uses the word, ‘useless’ while other versions use words like ‘worthless’, ‘vain’, ‘no value’, ‘empty’, and ‘futile.’ Once again, Peterson’s Message gives us a contemporary understanding as it says, “HOT AIR.” Most of us know that analogy. There is no amount of thinking, thoughts, words, or forceful personalities which can change this truth of scripture. We need to hear this truth and allow it burn deep within our souls. To sit and listen to God’s word, thinking that because we listen we are worshipping Jehovah God and are authentic people---and our hearing is accompanied only by a loose mouth and a lazy ministry—our religion is useless & we are self deceived.
* Could this be the sin of the 21st century American church? Is there a possibility that we think ourselves to be religious (like Pharisees in Jesus days), we hear a great deal of the word while doing little, & we think little of controlling our tongue which gives birth to self-deception? If this possibility exist, is it any wonder that the lost world consider us useless?
2. The Description of Pure Religion – Admittedly, I am NOT CRAZY about the use of the word “Religion” when talking about our Lord Christ and believing on Him for eternal life. To me, religion and the religious are the very ones who crucified Jesus because they refused to see the truth when He stood in their presence. For me, that is religion as I conceive it. Yet, James tries to paint a picture of a ‘religion’ that pleases God. Pure & Undefiled, pure & faultless, holy & free, pure and genuine, clean & unstained, are all words used to tell us that the outward expression religion (called worship & service) is only made pure & faultless when it is birthed out of the overflow of the heart. You know what God desires more than anything else? YOU! He wants your heart soul, mind, & strength. He wants your schedule, your pocketbook, your interests, your hobbies, your families, and more. He wants, no He demands, it all. Anything less that “it all” is ‘not at all.’
a. It’s Transforming not Conforming – Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The pure religion before Jehovah God is one which changes your outlook & perspective on life. This first step is not a change in behavior; it is a change in belief. You don’t change to get better, you get better to change. How does this happen? It happens through the word of God.
* In the Bible, it is called being ‘born again’, ‘salvation’, and ‘being saved.’ In the authentic working of the Holy Spirit within a life, there is a mind change, a new perspective, and a new outlook. When this new outlook is realized, then the new believer begins the journey of putting down, putting off, putting away, and even putting to death those things which displease God and do not honor His word. After this initial transformation nothing ever is the same. A year later you can review and say, “I haven’t arrived, but thank the Lord; I’m not what I was.” And you can always remember that specific event when the Spirit of God changed your way of thinking into HIS way of thinking. This is why the scripture says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” When we get Christ’s mind, we see this world the way Christ sees the world. IT is the first clear mark of a pure, authentic, undiluted, and unstained relationship with God.
b. It’s Selfless not Selfish – Think about the words of verse 27 when it says, ‘to look after the widows and orphans in their distress’ and consider this truth; we live in a culture which tells us to look after ourselves. What’s more is that everyone needs to take care of their own. The selflessness of Christianity is clearly seen in the culture of the First Century. Widows & Orphans had not direct means of supports and, many times, became beggars & prostitutes. From Acts 6 we know that the church was taking care of these needs in a total unselfish manner. They were receiving money as people were giving to the Lord and would take care of physical needs of those within the fellowship. To be selfless is to be sensitive to the needs of those who are less fortunate and are experiencing distress, affliction, burdens, and pressure. Scripture says to think more of others than you do yourself. IT is a badge of honor which separates truth believers from everyone else.
c. It’s Sinless not Sinful – The text says to keep oneself unspotted, unstained, or polluted by the world. The standard of holiness which we have dismissed has never been dismissed by our heavenly Father. He expects HIS TRANSFORMED Children to have they mind fixed on Christ and the things of Heaven. Yes, they’ll slip and fall into sin, but when they do – the Holy Spirit immediately shows them their sin and they, as people who desire to please God, repent and turn from their sin. Repentance, turning from, and turning to are what the Old Time Religion is really about. It’s not about traditions, it’s not about music, it’s not about affections or connections. The Old time religion is about the Old Rugged Cross changing an Old Rugged life into a new, meaningful, contemporary, and spiritual life that God can bless.