Teachers of Easy Religion
What is easy religion? Who are its teachers? What has easy religion done for Christendom? What decision affects your eternal destiny?
THE American missionary E. Stanley Jones once asked Mahatma Gandhi a question that evoked a most enlightening response. “I am very anxious to see Christianity nationalized in India,” said the missionary to the Hindu nationalist leader, “so that it shall no longer be a foreign thing identified with a foreign people and a foreign government, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift and redemption. What would you suggest that we do to make that possible?”
“I would suggest, first,” replied the Hindu leader, “that all of you Christians must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, I would suggest that you must practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down. Third, I would suggest that you put your emphasis upon love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity.”
A non-Christian had struck at the core of Christendom’s trouble. No, it was not that Christian principles as found in the Bible are at fault; indeed, for the sermon on the mount the Hindu leader professed admiration again and again! It was simply this: Professed Christians, he observed, were not taking their religion seriously, they were not copying Christ Jesus, and they had watered down the requirements of Christianity. In short, Gandhi realized, Christendom had made its religion easy.
MORALS DECLINE, CHURCHES INCREASE
Can we really blame Mahatma Gandhi for not wanting Christendom’s easy religion nationalized in India? When we look about Christendom and see its mounting crime and immorality, would we ourselves, if non-Christian, wish to adopt such a religion? J. Edgar Hoover recently said that America is in the midst of an “ever mounting wave of crime.” A Chicago lie detector expert, who screened the employees of 1,454 companies for their embezzlement tendencies, said sharply: “Today everybody’s working like mad and everybody’s stealing like mad.” Meanwhile church leaders tell us that church membership soars to new heights.
What is the answer to the riddle of a graph that would show a soaring line of crime and a soaring line of church membership side by side? Could it be that easy religion is the explanation? No small number of religious teachers themselves feel that it is. “There’s an awful lot of people joining the church, but what it means, I don’t know,” said Episcopal preacher-writer Bernard Iddings Bell. “I’m not sure it means anything. . . . It’s too easy to be in the church.”
It was evangelist Billy Graham who also pointed to teachers of easy religion: “There is no doubt that we are experiencing the greatest religious renaissance in American history. However, there seems to be little evidence of increased personal morality. . . . To become a church member in America is easy, too easy!”
Not only religious teachers but the Bible itself point to the easy religion in vogue today. “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching,” forewarned the apostle Paul, “but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.”—2 Tim. 4:3.
Here the Bible foretold that the masses of professed Christians would accumulate teachers, teachers of easy religion. These teachers would tickle the people’s fancies and say soothing things in their ears. They would adulterate God’s Word so that their religion would require little exertion on the part of the people and allow them to remain in good standing even though they were not morally in line with Christian principles.
“There was a time when to step out of line morally meant expulsion from any Christian denomination,” wrote chaplain George Birney in The Christian Century of January 11, 1956. “Today we are blind to the fact that our people do step out of line.” Then, pointing to the blame for the gross immorality among men in the armed forces, the chaplain said: “I often say to my fellow chaplains that our churches have failed. . . . I am convinced that this immorality is our fault and that it is high time we admitted our guilt. . . . We have raised a generation which is biblically, theologically and morally illiterate. And that is the fault of the churches. . . . Where have our churches failed? For one thing we have made church membership too easy.”
This easy membership makes churches more like social clubs than anything else. Making such a comparison is one Warren Ashby, associate professor of philosophy at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina. This professor, who has also served as minister of several Methodist churches, wrote in the January, 1957, issue of Theology Today:
“It may take money but it does not take virtue to be a member of the country club. . . . It may take religious affiliation but it doesn’t take much faith to be a Knight of Columbus or a Mason. . . . These same characteristics are present within the local church. . . . The entrance requirements of the church, like those of a social club, are primarily external and they provide status. . . . The requirements are external in that one must profess a faith before men; but this does not necessarily mean that the profession has substance in fact as well as in words. And, again like the social club, once the entrance requirements for admission are passed, the requirements for remaining within the church are not difficult to meet. It is not hard to be a Rotarian. Nor is it difficult to be a member of a local church.”
CAUSE OF CHRISTENDOM’S PLIGHT
When a family tries to run on this principle of personal ease instead of discipline, self-control, sacrificial co-operation and love, is it headed for a life of comfort? Or is it headed for the rocks? What, then, of Christendom’s great family of professed Christians? It not only runs on the principle of personal ease but is like a family in which the children dictate to the parents as to how they should be trained and educated. Instead of taking the lead and teaching the pure, unadulterated Word of God, religious teachers cater to the masses. Is it any wonder that Christendom’s ship of easy religion has been wrecked twice on the rocks of two world wars?
Even before World War II, missionary-physician Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote in his Christianity and the Religions of the World: “Bitter humiliation awaits all of us who preach the Gospel in distant lands. ‘Where, indeed, is your ethical religion?’—that is the question we are asked, no matter whether we are among more primitive peoples in out-of-the-way places or among the educated classes in the large centers of Eastern and African civilization. What Christianity has accomplished as the religion of love is believed to have been blotted out by the fact that it failed to educate the Christian nations to peaceableness, and that in the War it associated itself with so much worldliness and hatred, from which to this day it has not yet broken away. It has been so terribly unfaithful to the spirit of Jesus. . . . And why have we fallen so low? Because we fancied it an easy thing to have the spirit of Jesus.”
Since Christendom has admittedly fallen so low, why do religious teachers continue to teach an easy religion? The answer comes from the teachers themselves. “There are things we know we ought to do, but we fear to lose our jobs if we do them,” said Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia. “After all, a minister has to live. Perhaps it is the desire to have economic security, social approval and acceptability that weakens the church in its message.” Undoubtedly for similar reasons Dr. Paul Calvin Payne, a Philadelphia Presbyterian minister, said: “We have not dared face our congregation with a hard gospel.” And British prelate H. R. L. Sheppard once explained: “Our pride, our privileges, our dignity stand in the way.”
EASY RELIGION VERSUS TRUE CHRISTIANITY
So the religious teachers know what would happen if they taught the unadulterated Word of God, if they insisted on obedience to Christ’s commands. They know that the masses would find such a conception of worship, though one hundred percent Christlike, too narrow, too restrictive, too hard. The teachers know what would happen when the masses found that their religion cut right into their personal habits, demanded a morality completely in harmony with God’s Word and even affected their ways of doing business, thus altering the whole aspect of their lives. No, they would not be enthusiastic about it; they would leave it for an easier one, just as Christ Jesus foretold, as recorded in Christendom’s own popular translation of the Bible, the Revised Standard Version:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”—Matt. 7:13, 14.
Not many, in comparison with Christendom’s millions of professed Christians, would stay with a religion that required entering “by the narrow gate.” Knowing this, the religious leaders of Christendom lead the masses down the easy way. “If the churches tomorrow were to become out-and-out Christian,” wrote Anglican prelate H. R. L. Sheppard in The Impatience of a Parson, “and if all their ministers were to prophesy—that is, to speak the flaming Word of God in the hearing of the people—it is more than likely that places of worship would be emptier than they are today, and it is certain that a goodly number of the prophets would be stoned. We do not like prophets until they are dead, and even then while we commemorate them in stone and stereotype their message for all time in a form which they themselves would especially deprecate, we should be gravely disturbed if . . . they contemplated returning to continue their tiresome habit of saying uncomfortable things. I do not know . . . what response would ensue if Christianity were set out before men in all its original freshness.”
But that response is known. It is known by hundreds of thousands of persons who, having come out of all nations, races and tongues, have themselves responded. They have responded to the “healthful teaching” from which the masses turn away. Yes, they have responded to the good news of God’s kingdom being preached world-wide by the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses.
And why have they responded? Because they see in the New World society the Christlike fruits of love, true Christian morality and teaching that is not watered down to please those who want their ears tickled. They see where Christendom’s easy religion is leading the masses, and they know the Bible principle: “If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” So they have made the decision that affects their eternal destiny.—Matt. 15:14.
Easy religion or original Christianity—which will it be for you?