Regarding the UK, it is said the pews are empty because going to church is no longer in fashion. But examining church attendance figures for many years, it can be readily seen that the decline of organised religion is not just a recent matter but actually a long-lasting social trend that has gathered pace over many decades.
The World Values Survey, which is claimed to be the most reliable survey of beliefs across the globe, suggests that there has been a substantial cultural change. William Bloom writing in The Complete Encyclopedia of Mind Body Spirit reports that in modernised and free societies, where people have access to diverse views, up to seventy per cent of the population has moved away from a single faith tradition. Many seem to be acknowledging a spiritual dimension to life without affiliating with organised religion.
Why has organised religion become unpopular?
Everyone knows about the sexual abuses by some priests overlooked by the Roman Catholic church, the religious divide and bigotry in Northern Ireland, and the racial prejudice found among many religious fundamentalists. But more generally, religious believers have often been seen as not being particularly spiritual people. Some have been seen to show narrow-minded intolerance, to have a self-righteous awareness of their own virtues, to try to appear ‘better than others’, to find fault in a judgmental way, or to hypocritically live below professed standards of conduct.
‘If you don’t believe in Jesus as your Saviour then you will not be saved,’ has been the orthodox Christian message. The spiritual dimension seems to be absent from a tradition that is so openly discriminatory and which relies only on the intellect rather than also the behaviour of a person to determine one’s destiny.
The notion of three gods in one still lurks within Christian liturgy. To put it crudely, the traditional idea that has been put about is that one god sacrificed his life to appease the wrath of one of the others. People these days are just no longer willing to believe something that makes no sense to them. How can they be expected to believe in a punitive god of love? Or of a god where one creative source is divided into three divine persons?
Need for dogmas and hypocrisy to die within organised religion
Just as an established perspective in science needs to be criticised and its limitations fully recognised before a paradigm shift can take hold, so perhaps only when mistaken dogmatic religious views die out, can a more enlightened understanding flourish. Maybe only when hypocrisy has died and belief is authentic to the character of the believer, will what believers say be heard. Only when believers stop being so ready to see fault in others can they start looking for the good in them. Only when a believer stops blaming others can he or she have a chance to learn tolerance of their frailty.
Spirituality despite decline of organised religion
Yet despite the decline of organized religion there’s no getting away from it, the notion of a deeper spiritual reality is a highly personal perception. It cannot be proved by science yet for many is a divine spiritual healing force deep within the human soul.
According to Wikipedia, “Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being; or the deepest values and meanings by which people live.” “Spiritual practices …develop an individual’s inner life; such practices often lead to an experience of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm…”
The right kind of organised religion might appeal
Daniel Bateson, who completed doctoral studies in both theology and psychology, described the ‘quest orientation’ as characterised by complexity, doubt, and tentativeness. Here we find a spiritual kind of person with an open-ended, responsive dialogue with existential questions raised by the contradictions and tragedies of life.
In his book The Spirituality Revolution, David Tacey compared a conventional to a deeper approach to religion. He wrote that the latter is a spiritual approach which is “based on personal experience, tolerant towards difference, compassionate towards those who make different life choices, and relatively free of ideological fanaticism.”
According to psychologist Gordon Allport, the beliefs of many people who have an intrinsic religious orientation are what really lie behind their whole approach to life. Their private prayers carry much meaning and personal emotion. These surely are spiritual people.
Emanual Swedenborg’s idea of a new spiritual age for organised religion
Swedenborg’s view is that under divine providence when organised religion becomes hypocritical and full of irrational notions then that religion is allowed to die away. Hypocrisy will otherwise block what is holy and sacred. What is false will distort what is true. Only after the old organised religion dies can a new religiosity take hold. He says we now are at the dawn of such a new age. For him there is a new illumination in the world which he thinks of as new wine. This is in line with the parable given in Matthew chapter 9 about new wine that cannot be poured into old bottles without the wine being spoiled. We need new bottles to contain the new wine.
Nor must we put the new wine of spiritual truth into the old maxims of moral expediency and worldly prudence; but we must put our new principles into their only suitable receptacles – honesty, integrity, and sincerity.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on16th May 2011
There is never an hypocrite in the world that makes God, or Christ, or holiness, or his doing or receiving good in his station, relation, or generation his grand end, his highest end, his ultimate end of living in the world. Pleasures, profits, and honors are the hypocrite’s all, [which] he aims at in this world. They are his trinity, which he adores and serves and sacrificeth himself unto (1 John 2:16). An hypocrite’s ends are corrupt and selfish. God may possibly be at the higher end of his work, but self is at the further end; for he that was never truly cast out of himself, can have no higher end than himself. An hypocrite is all for his own glory: he acts for himself and from himself. “So I may have the profit, the credit, the glory, the applause, come of God’s glory what will!” This is the language of an unsound heart.
An hypocrite will seem to be very godly when he can make a gain of godliness. He will seem to be very holy when holiness is the way to outward greatness and happiness. But his religious wickedness will double-damn the hypocrite at last. Self-ends are the operative ingredients in all an hypocrite does….When hypocrites take up religion, it is only to serve their own turns, to bring about their own carnal ends. They serve not the Lord, but their own bellies (Romans 16:18; Philippians 3:19)….An hypocrite always makes himself the end of all his service; but let such hypocrites know, that though their profession be never so glorious and their duties never so abundant, yet their ends being selfish and carnal, all their pretensions and performances are but beautiful abominations in the sight of God.
An hypocrite has always a squint-eye, and squint-eyed aims and squint-eyed ends in all he does. Balaam spake very religiously, and he multiplied altars and sacrifices; but the thing he had in his eye was the wages of unrighteousness (Numbers 22:23; 2 Peter 2:15). Jehu destroyed bloody Ahab’s house, he executed the vengeance of God upon that wicked family; he readily, resolutely, and effectually destroyed all the worshippers of Baal, but his ends were to secure the kingdom to him and his (2 Kings 10). Ahab and the Ninevites fasted in sackcloth, but it was merely that they might not feel the heavy judgments that they feared would overtake them (1 Kings 21; Jonah 3). The Jews in Babylon fasted and mourned, and mourned and fasted seventy years, but it was more to get off their chains than their sins; it was more to be rid of their captivity than it was to be rid of their iniquity (Zechariah 7:5, 6)….It is the end that dignifies or debaseth the action, that rectifies it or adulterates it, that sets a crown of honor or a crown of shame upon the head of it. He that commonly, habitually, in all his duties and services, proposes to himself no higher ends than the praises of men or rewards of men, or the stopping the mouth of natural conscience, or only to avoid a smarting rod, or merely to secure himself from wrath to come, he is an hypocrite.
But now mark: a sincere Christian, if he prays or hears, or gives or fasts, or repents or obeys, God’s glory is the main end of all. The glory of God is his highest end, his ultimate end (Psalm 115:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:6). A sincere Christian can be content to be trampled upon and vilified, so God’s name be glorified. The bent of such a heart is for God and His glory; nothing but sincerity can carry a soul so high as in all acts natural, civil, and religious to intend God’s glory (Revelations 9:9-11). A sincere Christian ascribes the praise of all to God. He sets the crown on Christ’s head alone; he will set God upon the throne and make all things else His servants or His footstool (Romans 14:7, 8). All must bow the knee to God or be trodden in the dirt. He will love nothing, he will embrace nothing but what sets God higher or brings God nearer to his heart….He lives not to his own will, or lusts, or greatness, or glory in this world, but he lives to His glory, Whose glory is dearer to him than his own life (1 Corinthians 10:28; Revelation 12:11)….The daily language of sincere souls is this: “Not unto us, Lord, not unto us, Lord, but to thy name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).
Glory is God’s right, and He stands upon His right; and this the sincere Christian knows, and therefore he gives Him His right, he gives Him the honor and the glory that is due unto His name. But pray do not mistake me: I do not say that such as are really sincere do actually eye the glory of Christ in all their actions. Oh no! This is a happiness desirable on earth, but shall never be attained till we come to heaven. Bye and base ends and aims will be still ready to creep into the best hearts; but all sincere hearts sigh and groan under them. They complain to God of them…and it is the earnest desires and daily endeavors of their souls to be rid of them….But now take a sincere Christian in his ordinary, usual, and habitual course, and you shall find that his aims and ends in all his actions and undertakings are to glorify God, to exalt God, and to lift up God in the world….He that sets up the glory of God as his chief end will find that his chief end will by degrees eat out all low and base ends.
No hypocrite can live wholly and only upon the righteousness of Christ, the satisfaction of Christ, the merits of Christ for justification and salvation. The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, and kept the Sabbath and gave alms; and in this legal righteousness they rested and trusted (Matthew 6; Luke 18:11, 12). Ponder upon that in Revelation 3:16-18. Upon the performance of these and such like duties, they laid the weight of their souls and the stress of their salvation and so perished forever.
An hypocrite rests upon what he doth and never looks so high as the righteousness of Christ. He looks upon his duties as so much good moneys laid out for heaven. He weaves a web of righteousness to clothe himself withal. He never looks out for a more glorious righteousness to be justified by than his own, and so puts a slight upon the righteousness of Christ. “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). The first step to salvation is to renounce our own righteousness. The next step is to embrace the righteousness of Christ, which is freely offered to sinners in the Gospel. But these things the hypocrite minds not, regards not. The righteousness of an hypocrite is not only imperfect, but impure—a rag, a filthy rag; and therefore he that rests upon such a righteousness must needs miscarry to all eternity (Isaiah 64:6). O sirs! Who will say that that man needs a savior, [who] can fly to heaven upon the wings of his own duties and services? If a man’s duties can pacify an infinite wrath and satisfy an infinite justice, then farewell Christ, and welcome duties.
He that rests upon anything in him or done by him, as a means to procure the favor of God or the salvation of his soul will put such a cheat upon himself as will undo him for ever. Non-submission to the righteousness of Christ keeps Christ and the hypocrite asunder. Christ will never love nor like to put the fine, clean, white linen of His own righteousness upon the old garment, the old rags of an hypocrite’s duties (Revelation 19:7, 8)….An hypocrite’s confidence in his own righteousness turns his righteousness into filthiness (Pro 21:27).
But now a sincere Christian, he renounces his own righteousness. He renounces all confidence in the flesh (Phi 3:3); he looks upon his own righteousness as dung, yea, as dogs’ meat, as some interpret the word in Philippians 3:8. He will say no more to his duties, to the works of his hands, “Ye are our gods” (Hosea 14:3). When they look upon the holiness of God’s nature, the righteousness of His government, the severity of His Law, the terror of His wrath, they see an absolute and indispensable necessity of a more glorious righteousness than their own to appear before God in. A sincere Christian sets the highest price and value upon the righteousness of Christ: “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only” (Psalm 71:16).
A sincere Christian rejoices in the righteousness of Christ above all: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10)….Oh then, what matter of joy must it be to a sincere Christian to have the rich and royal garment of Christ’s righteousness cast upon him! (Isaiah 28:16). A sincere Christian rests on the righteousness of Christ as on a sure foundation: “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:24).
A sincere Christian looks upon the righteousness of Christ as that which renders him most splendid and glorious in the eyes of God: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9)….A sincere Christian looks upon the righteousness of Christ as his only security against wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Wrath to come is the greatest wrath, wrath to come is the purest wrath, wrath to come is infinite wrath, wrath to come is everlasting wrath. Now the sincere Christian, he knows no way under heaven to secure himself from wrath to come, but by putting on the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Romans 13:14)….Well, for a close, remember this: there is never an hypocrite in the world that is more pleased, satisfied, delighted and contented with the righteousness of Christ, than with his own. Though an hypocrite may be much in duties, yet he never lives above his duties; he works for life, and he rests in his work, and this proves his mortal wound. But,
An hypocrite never embraces a whole Christ. He can never take up his full and everlasting rest, satisfaction, and content in the person of Christ, in the merits of Christ, in the enjoyment of Christ alone. No hypocrite did ever long and mourn after the enjoyment of Christ as the best thing in all the world. No hypocrite did ever prize Christ for a Sanctifier as well as a Savior. No hypocrite did ever look upon Christ or long for Christ to deliver him from the power of his sins, as much or as well as to deliver him from wrath to come. No hypocrite can really love the person of Christ or take satisfaction in the person of Christ. The rays and beams of Christ’s glory have never warmed his heart. He never knew what bosom communion with Christ meant (1 Thessalonians 1:10). An hypocrite may love to be healed by Christ, and to be pardoned by Christ, and to be saved by Christ; but he can never take any complacency in the Person of Christ. His heart never seriously works after union with Christ. The love of a sincere Christian runs much out to the Person of Christ. Heaven itself without Christ would be to such a soul but a poor thing, a low thing, a little thing, an uncomfortable thing, an empty thing. It is the Person of Christ that is the sparkling diamond in the ring of glory (Philippians 1:21; 3:7-10).
No hypocrite in the world is sincerely willing to receive Christ in all His office and to close with Him upon Gospel terms. The terms upon which God offers Christ in the Gospel are these, viz., that we shall accept of a whole Christ with a whole heart (Matthew 16:24).
Now, mark, a whole Christ includes all His offices; and a whole heart includes all our faculties. Christ as Mediator is King, Priest, and Prophet; and so God the Father in the Gospel offers Him. Salvation was too great and too glorious a work to be perfected and completed by any one office of Christ. Christ as a prophet instructs us, as a priest He redeems us and intercedes for us, and as a king, He sanctifies and saves us. The apostle hit it when he said, “Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Consider Christ as our Prophet, and so He is made wisdom to us. Consider Him as our Priest, and so He is made righteousness and redemption to us. Consider Him as our King, and so He is made sanctification and holiness to us.
An hypocrite may be willing to embrace Christ as a priest to save him from wrath, from the curse, from hell, from everlasting burning, but he is never sincerely willing to embrace Christ as a prophet to teach and instruct him, and as a king to rule and reign over him. Many hypocrites may be willing to receive a Christ Jesus, [who] are not willing to receive a Lord Jesus. They may be willing to embrace a saving Christ, but they are not willing to embrace a ruling Christ, a commanding Christ: “This man shall not rule over us” (Luke 19:27)….”He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). An hypocrite is willing to receive Christ in one office, but not in every office; and this is that stumbling-stone at which hypocrites stumble and fall and are broken in pieces. Certainly Christ is as lovely and as comely, as desirable and delightful, as eminent and excellent in one office as He is in another; and therefore it is a just and righteous thing with God that hypocrites that won’t receive Him in every office should have no benefit by any one of His offices. Christ and His offices may be distinguished, but Christ and His offices can never be divided (1 Corinthians 1:13). Whilst many have been a-laboring to divide one office of Christ from another, they have wholly stripped themselves of any advantage or benefit by Christ.
Hypocrites love to share with Christ in His happiness, but they don’t love to share with Christ in His holiness. They are willing to be redeemed by Christ, but they are not cordially willing to submit to the laws and government of Christ. They are willing to be saved by His blood, but they are not willing to submit to His scepter. Hypocrites love the privileges of the Gospel, but they don’t love the services of the Gospel, especially those that are most inward and spiritual. But now a sincere Christian, he owns Christ in all His offices, he receives Christ in all His offices, and he closes with Christ in all His offices. He accepts of Him, not only as a Christ Jesus, but also as a Lord Jesus; he embraces Him, not only as a saving Christ, but also as a ruling Christ. The Colossians received Him as Christ Jesus the Lord (Colossians 2:6); they received a Lord Christ as well as a saving Christ; they received Christ as a king upon His throne, as well as a sacrifice upon His cross (2 Corinthians 4:5). God the Father in the Gospel tenders a whole Christ. We preach Christ Jesus the Lord; and accordingly, a sincere Christian receives a whole Christ, he receives Christ Jesus the Lord (Acts 5:31)….An hypocrite is all for a saving Christ, for a sin-pardoning Christ, for a soul-glorifying Christ, but regards not a ruling Christ, a reigning Christ, a commanding Christ, a sanctifying Christ; and this at last will prove his damning sin (John 3:19, 20).
A Warning to Religious Hypocrites
The Greater Damnation is Yours
by Pastor John Hamel
“Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people …And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him.” (Matthew 26:3-4)
It is absolutely astounding to me that the ones who gave Jesus the biggest headaches, so to speak, were the religious leaders of His day. Unfortunately, this is still true today. Religious leaders are supposed to set the example for right living amongst all people. Yet, all too often, they are as sinful as the people they are to be converting! All too often, religious leaders are religious hypocrites. It was the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who actually incited the people to have Jesus murdered.
Jesus sternly warned against religious hypocrites. (Luke 20:46,47) He said to beware of holy “acting” people who set themselves above others, taking advantage of their goodness! When Jesus referred to religious “hypocrites” He used the Greek word “Hupokrites.” This was a word used in the Greek Theatre to describe “actors.” (Matthew 23:15) Jesus said there is a particular curse that comes upon religious “actors.” That curse is “greater damnation” than that which will come upon their followers! (Matthew 23:14)
Religion is worse today than ever. When people discover that I am a Minister of the Gospel, they tell me, “Oh, I’m not religious, but it’s nice to meet you anyway.” I tell them, “I’m not religious either. Neither is God. Religion is man doing things his way. I like to do things God’s way. I’m into ‘relationship’ with Jesus, not religion.”
Not all religious leaders are hypocritical but far too many are. Many are sexual predators. Many drink alcohol, are addicted to tobacco, use drugs, manipulate and control their followers. Religion is still going strong and Jesus still refuses to cut false religious leaders any slack. The same religious “spirit” that paid Judas to betray Jesus is still in the Earth today. (Luke 22:1-6) It’s a conniving, devious spirit that schemes and manipulates others to do its dirty work. (John 18:19-31)
However, not all religious people are hypocrites and actors. Jesus had religious friends who loved Him. Some tried to save His life. (Luke 13:31) One sincere religious leader looked after Jesus’ body once his hypocritical peers had killed Him. (John 18:19-31) So not all religious people and religious leaders are hypocrites. Some want to please God and really do mean well. They just lack proper teaching.
How about you? Are you a religious hypocrite, who “acts” holy before others, but in reality you secretly do things of which God and conscience disapprove? You can become a brand new person, supernaturally. (2Corinthians 5:17) God Himself offers to cut that hypocritical spirit right out of you and give you a brand new spirit. He actually promises to put His own Spirit within you. (Ezekiel 36:26,27) That’ll do a whole lot to knock the hypocrisy out of anybody.
Just say from a sincere heart, “Jesus, I don’t want to be a religious player anymore. I’m not interested in ‘greater damnation’. I’m interested in ‘relationship’ not ‘religion’. I choose You as my Savior and give You access now to ‘iron out the religious wrinkles’ in my life.” (Romans 10:13)