Only a cursory examination of the facts will show us that modern religion is very different from that of New Testament days. This is evident from reading the description of the church and its activities given by inspired writers in the Bible. Contrary to the opinion of some, these differences between religion now and then are not few and insignificant but rather are many and important. These basic dissimilarities pose no problem to some of our religious neighbors, however. It is their judgment that this state of affairs is just as it ought to be. They tell us that as times change, religion must keep up the pace and change correspondingly. One of the manuals of a prominent religious denomination even informs us with sage wisdom that there once was a time when baptism constituted the door into the church but that it is no longer so. We wonder, of course, who gave man the right to change anything that was practiced by the early church. But that such is being done constantly none can deny. Such changes constitute religious progress and progress always marks a thing as modern. Webster tells us that something is modern when it is “of or characteristic of the present or recent time; hence new-fashioned.” It is probably an understatement to suggest that present day religion is almost “new-fashioned” and dedicated to pleasing the whims and fancies of modern man.
In spite of the fact that modern man’s religion has been made to be just as up-to-date as he is, there is much that is wrong with this “modern religion.” Now, modern things are usually desirable. We like modern automobiles better than the ancient “horseless carriages” of grandfather’s day. The womenfolk unanimously prefer a modern electric range instead of the old-time cook stoves. What makes the difference in religion? Very simple: the religion of the New Testament was perfect when first given. That which is perfect allows no alterations, else it loses its perfection. Add or subtract just a bit to a perfect circle, and it no longer is perfect. Also, it is foolish to try to modernize the only religion that ever has been completely modern in every age and in every sense of the term. Modern religion is supposedly adapted to present-day man as he is—but can anything suit us today any better than that religion as taught by the maker of us all? Why the sudden need for something different? Man has not changed through the centuries. His need remains the same. If New Testament Christianity was ever suited to man, then it still is. Differences from the pattern revealed in the gospel are necessarily wrong. If the New Testament is truth, then all else is error. We must admit there have been many changes from the divine way of doing things. Let us notice some of the things about today’s modern religions that are different from the beliefs and practices of Paul and Peter:
Lack of Respect for the Authority of the Bible
This is a basic error today. In too many religious circles only lip-service is given to the word of God. We can know that a faulty attitude toward the Bible exists when we recognize its manifestations. Men are subscribing to human creeds of various sorts. Leaders insist that all God requires of us is that we follow the teaching of the scriptures “in spirit.” Strict adherence to the “letter of the law” is legalism, and is taboo for the sincere saint. Others go further and openly or otherwise deny certain portions of the truth. Those passages which contradict their pet theories are discredited and their true meaning perverted. There is little or no attempt to harmonize all the scriptural teaching on controversial subjects.
The ultimate authority of the Bible is clearly taught upon its pages. Jesus, its author, was given all authority by the Father. His messengers, the apostles, were delegated the necessary authority to proclaim it from the housetops (Matt. 28:18-19). As these men preached by revelation they bound only essentials upon their hearers (Matt. 16:19). When they wrote this message they did so by means of divine guidance (1 Cor. 2:13). The New Testament therefore contains only that which is accurate and necessary for the salvation of men. It will judge each one of us someday (John 12:48). It must not be changed in the least by preacher or conference (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9).
Based on Feelings Rather Than Fact
This error is the result of the first one. When men fail to properly respect the authority of the Bible they naturally substitute other authority in its place. Many have come to place equal confidence in their consciences as in the inspired word. Feelings are made the standard of right and wrong. Modern religion recognizes nothing as right or wrong within itself—so far as worship and service to God are concerned. Everything must be judged in the light of a man’s sincerity and honesty.
Such a religion is necessarily wrong. While it is true that the feeling right about our course of action is important, it must be the result, and not the cause of our religious actions (Rom. 8:18). There are many instances in the Bible of those who felt that they were right but who in reality were just as wrong as could be. Remember Saul of Tarsus as he persecuted the church? And what about Simon who thought it was permitted him to purchase the gift of the Spirit with money? Jacob in the Old Testament was honest in believing that Joseph was dead. But he was wrong. In religious matters, we must always do as we are told by the Lord and not as we feel we ought to do.
Unwillingness to Investigate and Debate Issues
Most religious leaders today are reluctant to investigate the truth openly. Open discussion about controversial issues is shunned, whatever the cost. Naturally their attitude has found its way into the thinking of their followers in the various churches. Some otherwise honest people seem almost afraid to be confronted by an open Bible. The consequence of this attitude toward investigating the truth is that men have come to dwell almost entirely on suppositions and personal ideas rather than sound scriptural teaching. There may be many reasons for such an unworthy attitude: Most folks believe that one religion is just as good as another; that all religions contain many things that are good, and some things that are not. Thus in this way of thinking it is narrow and dogmatic to uphold one system of teaching at the expense of others. Too, preachers have taken every opportunity to discourage open discussion of the scriptures on the part of “their” members. They feel that debating is beneath their pastoral dignity and have influenced the masses to disparage its usefulness. We even have some brethren in the church with these views.
A brief investigation of the New Testament should convince the honest student that the church was most powerful when it was debating in defense of the truth (Acts 2:13; 6:9, 10). Jesus was a debater of the keenest mettle (Matt. 15:23). John says that the only way to know the truth is by investigating the teacher (1 John 4:1).
Religious Leaders Are Blind
There is a tendency on the part of some today to place leaders on the plane of inspiration. Many are convinced that whatever their preacher may teach must be the truth, regardless of the outcome. Shamefully, these leaders not only allow such an attitude toward themselves but even encourage it in various ways. Teachers of religion are to know the truth and teach it only. Else they become blind guides (Matt. 15:14). Many, however, do not know the Bible at all. At least it would seem so, for they preach about everything under heaven but the truth. Paul warned against the danger of some teachers becoming men-pleasers (2 Tim. 4:3). Yet, this seems to be the dominating motive behind most preaching today. God teaches that it is quite impossible to both please men and serve Christ (Gal. 1:10). In many circles, religion has become a system of entertainment, and all with the approval of its leaders among both clergy and laity. Some preachers devote far more time to the success of the churches as recreation centers than to those things which would uplift the people spiritually. Entertainments, banquets, and even gambling dominate the religious scene. When worship to God is crowded into a full church agenda, spiritual impulses are lost in the concern over choirs, organs, magnificent buildings and other matters appealing to man’s baser nature.
De-Emphasis on Basic Teaching of the New Testament
Many basic doctrines as taught in the New Covenant are now relegated to a position of secondary importance. Such things as how a man is to be saved from sin, whether he should be baptized and the urgency of a godly life are all subject to individual discretion. The church and membership in it are non-essential. Worship is suited to a man’s desires and pleasure, It is evident that a religion cannot be right and its parts wrong! God placed in the New Testament just such things as he knew we need. We must emphasize every teaching found in his revelation. This is the only way to honor the Christ who said, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Complacency and Self-Satisfaction
This attitude of complacency and self-satisfaction is caused by all the other things that are wrong with “modern” religion. When men are guided by their own feelings and are little concerned with the authority of the Bible, when their leaders are blind and discourage individual investigation of the truth, and when they are repeatedly told that men have the right to choose which “method of salvation” to follow, what else but spiritual inertia can result? When men fall into such a self-satisfied state it becomes almost impossible for them to be taught the truth. Many in the ranks of “modern” religion are like the Jews of Jesus’ day who had closed their eyes and stopped their ears lest they should be turned away from error to the light (Matt. 13:15). If “modern” religion would but “turn again” to the simple principles of New Testament teaching, it could achieve a power heretofore untapped. All who confess Jesus as Savior could work together with renewed vigor—and the Gospel would reign in the hearts of men as never before!