Jesus loves religion and you should too

August 8, 2014

“In the future, it seems, there will be only one ‘ism’—Individualism—and its rule will never end,” said Ross Douthat as he summarized the Pew Research study on the millennial generation—those born between the early 1980’s and 2000. The study revealed that millennials are generally distrusting and increasingly alienated from all major American societal institutions, including the church.

No evangelical Christian should be surprised at this data. We taught the millennials who grew up in our churches to be anti-institutional with slogans like, “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship,” “Jesus hates religion,” and “Religion says, ‘do’ but Christianity says, ‘done.’” No one can deny such assertions are good marketing strategy to skeptical millennials. Proponents of slogans like, “it’s a relationship not a religion” are attempting to rescue us from religious formalism and dead orthodoxy—a noble cause.

But what if the approach is simply delivering people over to an empty and superficial religious individualism?

Jesus doesn’t hate religion

The major problem with saying Jesus hates religion is that it is not true. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines religion as, “The belief in a god or in a group of gods: An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods: An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.” That is pretty consistent with the way the word is used in the Scripture. It is a neutral word that can be used either positively or negatively.

In Acts 17, Luke writes, “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22)—using the term in a neutral way. Later Paul asserts, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23b) pointing them to genuine religion that is only found through faith and repentance in the risen Christ (Acts 17:31). Elsewhere Paul condemns “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23) and James says a man who has an unbridled tongue may be religious, but his “religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Nevertheless, in the next verse James avers that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

People who have an anti-institutional worldview want a Jesus who hates religion, but they need the real Jesus who established the church, “which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The existence of organized local churches with corporate worship, singing, praying, preaching, pastors, deacons, ordinances and discipline is the work of Jesus Christ. Local churches, “the household of God,” are gospel lighthouses in a dark world and serve as “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Isolated individuals are not described as a pillars and buttresses of the truth. The church as the corporate body of Christ supports the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the exalted head of the church. Trading dead religious orthodoxy for superficial individualistic spirituality is no gain.

I could hardly control my desire to laugh one time at the irony of a preacher’s total lack of self-awareness. He began his sermon with a predictable tirade that “Jesus hates religion and came to abolish religion and call us to a relationship with him,” and moments later he affirmatively read a quote from what he referred to as John Calvin’s classic, Institutes of the Christian Religion. I am fairly certain that Calvin never considered naming his magnum opus the Institutes of the Christian Relationship. Religion can certainly be empty, formal, and dead but so can a relationship.

“Me and Jesus”

I thank God for the fact that Christianity is a religion because it demands that I stop thinking in unhealthy individualistic terms about my personal faith. A “me and Jesus” approach to Christianity leaves us with a privatized and unaccountable faith that views the church as secondary and simply an outlet for me to express my personal faith. So much of the spiritual impotence we see in evangelicalism is the result of catering to the notion that each individual is the center of his own personal faith. The reality that Christianity is a religion that did not begin with us and has historic confessions held by local churches with pastoral leaders is a gift of accountability to the Christian.

The “it’s a relationship, not a religion” approach to Christianity bears a striking resemblance to a couple that says, “We do not need a legal piece of paper to say we love each other. In fact, that would cheapen our relationship and love.” When love is defined emotively and in terms of personal self-fulfillment, then the self-giving formal commitment of a marriage license and the attendant public accountability may very well get in the way of your momentary passions. But genuine love does not focus on receiving, but giving, and it longs to formally commit, because marriage vows and a marriage license represent a pledge of self-sacrificial future love. Likewise, our love for Christ is lived out in a covenant relationship to a local church where we are discipled in the Christian religion.

The doctrine, commands, rituals, structural authority and discipline (religion) Jesus has given us in the institutional church calls us beyond momentary passions to faithful permanence and provides us a binding framework to express and nurture our love for Christ. Marriage is a covenantal and communal act, and so is our faith in Christ. Christianity is not “me and Jesus.” It is better than that. We owe millennials an apology. We allowed marketing and sloganeering to trump truth in trying to get them in our churches. It is time we tell them the gospel truth. Jesus loves religion and they should, too.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24