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A Reformed Fellowship

Religion: an emotional crutch?

With his sights focused upon Christianity, noted 19th-century revolutionary Karl Marx famously railed that “religion is the opiate for the masses.” Psychologist Sigmund Freud contemptuously opined, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.” To Marx and Freud, Christianity is only wishful thinking. It merely serves to get people through life, helping them cope with their inability to overcome perplexities and problems too large for them to grasp.

Are Marx, Freud, and like-minded critics of Christianity right? I think they are, at least in the case of many professing Christians. Before you have an apoplectic reaction, please carefully consider the following. For too many, Christianity is simply wishful thinking, with its adherents living life as they choose while having their religion to support them in times of crisis or distress. In other words, their “Christianity” really has little to do with their daily living.

Consequently, they pay little attention to biblical commands which they find unpalatable. If they cannot get along with their spouse, they see divorce as the solution. After all, God wants them to be happy, doesn’t he? If the political candidate of their party favors abortion on demand, that’s not a problem. After all, he promises to take care of the poor and the middle class, and God wants them to be financially secure, doesn’t he? If a fellow church member is living in open sin, we must simply love that person and pray for him, mustn’t we? After all, if we confront him about his sin, he will leave the church and we will never reach him. Surely God doesn’t want that, does he? The Bible commands believers to worship together on the Lord’s Day, but it won’t hurt to miss on days when our son has a soccer game scheduled, will it? After all, we need to teach our son the importance of being committed to his team, don’t we?

Twentieth-century literary scholar C. S. Lewis observed,

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Unfortunately, for too many professing Christians, their religion is only moderately important in their lives. While they may go to church on Sundays and proclaim their love for God, their faith plays little role in their work, their recreation, their home, and their politics. While claiming with their lips the infinite importance of Christianity, they proclaim with their lives that it is of no real importance.

What H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about Protestant liberalism could be applied to too much of twenty-first-century evangelicalism:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

Theological liberalism reshapes the God of the Bible into an idol of its own imagination. If we justify our failure to obey biblical commands and principles, we do the same.

How important is the faith to you? Jesus cares nothing for our tepid discipleship:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . .  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

No one and no thing must come between the follower of Christ and his Lord. Christ is not merely added to one’s life; he becomes one’s life. While we will never be all we should be for God, let’s not join those whose Christianity is little more than a crutch to get them through the distresses of life.