New Foundation Fellowship

Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

The marks of true religion, Part 1

How are we to know the difference between true and false religion? religions, subsets of religions, and anti-religions abound, each one claiming to be the best. Over all, the banner of tolerance and respect is held high, in a manner that amounts to an admission of defeat. Since we can’t agree on the truth, proclaim one and all, we may as well resign ourselves to a life without it. This attitude has it’s good points; it is far better than wars fought by fanatics. But it is far from what we are required to live on this earth. It lacks a key feature of the true church: action. It is not a city set upon a hill to glorify God; rather, it is a declaration that no such city can exist.

I think this is best illustrated by a documentary I recently watched about a 14 year old Bolivian silver miner. Throughout the whole work runs a basic dichotomy best expressed by a song later inspired by this film:

Underneath the ground there sleeps a god
They say that he is stronger than the god outside
If he gives you good luck he is playing you a trick
And will shut you up with him under the ground
I prefer to carry him a twig of coca
To keep him content and so he may not be offended
And that he may let me come running out from under the mountain
Therefore to this god Tío I bring offerings
Because up from under the mountain, not even God can come.

Thus, we have a di-theistic religion; The god of the silver mines is worshiped in the mine, and the god outside is worshiped in the local church. Which god is stronger becomes purely a matter of opinion. The priest in the church says one thing; Basilio Vargas the silver miner, another.

This alone was rather disturbing, but I found some of the comments left about the video equally thought-provoking. I don’t remember all of them, only two that caught my attention. One commenter was aghast at seeing idol worship. Another replied and said, in essence “Well, if your god is so great, take him to the silver mines and see if he does any better!” The thoughts this all provoked were not pleasant. I don’t condone idol worship, yet I am hardly in a position to help or to criticize. I began to wonder whether my god was any better than the rest of them, or whether I was merely deceiving myself into thinking I worshiped the true and living God. If my faith were any good, I felt I should know the answer to such a predicament – a real answer that could ever mean something to a 14-year silver miner endangering his life to help support his family and pay for his education. Not knowing what else to do, I began to pray. I prayed to know how even the true God could possibly solve such a situation, that I might have some shred of faith left to me.

Finally, I think I have an answer. Such problems as those of the silver miners are not usually something to be solved with a dramatic miracle. They are, rather, symptom of a great societal vacuum where the true and living God should be. In His absence, the silver miners fill the void with Tío, the god of the mines and the catholic priest fills it with the god of outside. Neither god does anything of much account, any more than the block of wood lamented by Isaiah:

Half of it he burns in the fire; over half he eats meat as he roasts a roast,…But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says “Deliver me, for thou art my god”

(Isaiah 44:16-17)

Such empty gods are a sign of false religion. What is really needed is a community that hears, obeys, and walks in the life of this true and living God, who said to the Israelites “But there shall be no poor among you…if only you will obey the voice of the Lord God. (Deut. 15:4)

I must emphasize: This was spoken not to a single person, but to a group. Hearing and obeying is, at its fullest, a corporate act performed by the church of Christ. And as long as the community is based on something other than the guidance of Christ, it is, at some level, broken. The community that hears and obeys, be it large or small, cannot help but show that it has something superior. As with a city upon a hill, it cannot be hid.

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Comment by Rhonda Fuller on 2ndMo. 6, 2017 at 21:54

Quite profound, Lewis. I assume you're a young man and to be so knowing about God/Jesus is impressive. I very much appreciate your dilemma and even more so, your wisdom to go to the Lord. I was not so wise at a young age (and maybe not now either).

It's interesting to me that this afternoon as I was walking and thinking, I had a rejoinder to people who claim there is no truth or that everyone has their own truth. I thought, when we learn to read, we first learn the alphabet. We listen to the instructions to learn for ourselves and start out with A, B, C, etc. with examples of a word beginning with each letter. We don't then later say, oh, I have my own alphabet. Or, I have my own language. 

What brought me to thinking about that was thinking how we must listen to Jesus, his voice, to be instructed, as we listen to an instructor in school. It's akin to what you are saying about the community. I agree with what you say and dearly want it. Can we have The Religious Society of Friends--Devout Quakers?

Thank you very much for writing your post, Lewis.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 2ndMo. 8, 2017 at 16:32

Lewis, to hear of your struggle to reach understanding on the problem of assurance and your knowing that true understanding comes from the Lord is heartening. I think the conclusions that you came to are true.

Are you familiar with Penington's The Light Within and Selected Writings? The first piece in that book is his testimony of his early life and struggle. Your essay reminded me of Penington's testimony because each describes earnest seeking while still being leavened by the seed. If you aren't already familiar with Penington's testimony in this book, you might want to look into it. I think you'll appreciate his faithful and humble witness.  

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