Does Jesus Hate Religion?

Jesus hates religion.

That’s the basic premise of a new You Tube video that has gone viral recently. In just three days, it’s been viewed almost 7 million times. Apparently a lot of people resonate with the idea that Jesus has something against this thing that we call “religion.”

While I appreciate how this artist exalts Jesus Christ, his “Jesus vs. religion” presentation offers a false and dangerous dichotomy.

Jesus was a very religious Jew. He went to temple and he offered sacrifices. He participated in the feasts and holy days. He was baptized and he taught his followers to baptize. He knew the Torah and how the people of his day understood it. In fact, he modeled many of his actions around motifs found in the Torah, and his later followers interpreted his actions through this lens.

Like the Hebrew prophets before him, he challenged the abuse of religion. But he didn’t never rejected it.

Similarly, the early Christian authors understood Jesus through the very languages and practices of the Jewish religion. Jesus was remembered as a sacrificial lamb, a high priest, a prophet, a king, a new David, a new Moses, a new Adam, the Son of Man, and many other “religious” images.

Why am I concerned? Simple. Over the generations it has been easy to frame as Jesus the post-religious lover of God vs. the traditional, archaic religious Jews of his day. This is not the message the Evangelists, Paul, or the other early Christian writers intended to convey. Rather, they saw Jesus as the one who followed Israel’s God as he should be followed. It wasn’t “religion vs. relationship.” It was Jesus reshaping the people of God around himself. This is very different than an outright rejection of religion.

My concern is when Jesus gets used as a poster-boy for people who want some mystical connection with him, but dislike the practices of others. It is “I don’t feel comfortable in a church, so Jesus must not feel comfortable there either.”

If Jesus stands against anyone it is not because they are “religious.” Yes, religions and religious practices can become a problem when they distract us from Jesus. But becoming irreligious isn’t the solution!

If you participate in the Eucharist, if you were baptized, if you gather together to worship, if you pray, if you meditate, if you sing and play music, if you observe holy days, if you do any of these things rightly, then you are using religious practices to connect with the risen Christ.

Jesus is against our sinful, anti-God behaviors. Jesus is against our worship of false gods and no-gods (and yes, sometimes religion can be a tool for this). Jesus is against our abuse of neighbor, our selfishness, our greed, our gluttony, and those practices that dehumanize us. In short, Jesus is against false religion. But he is not against religion in itself.

An earlier version of this article was originally posted at Near Emmaus. For some other good responses to this video, check out the following posts:

About Brian LePort

Brian is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary who received his MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from the same institution. He is a student member of the Society of Biblical Literature and formerly of the Evangelical Theological Society. He teaches at Grace Bible Church in Portland, OR. Brian also blogs regularly on biblical and theological issues over at NearEmmaus.

32 thoughts on “Does Jesus Hate Religion?

  1. In DBS506 at Western, one of the first hermeneutical principals one will learn is that genre type is critical to correct interpretation of scripture. We don’t interpret a poetic passage the same literal way we would an epistle. That’s what comes to mind for me regarding this video. I think its pretty clear the kid is talking about religion in its ‘legalistic’ sense. DeYoung agrees (mostly…). So knowing its a poem seems to change its interpretation, at least to some degree, in my mind. Maybe its just the culture we live in now where every single word someone says or writes or blogs gets analyzed and scrutinized and questioned so much, but that becomes so exhausting to me. Just seems that the letter of the poem is being analyzed and emphasized in such a way that the heart of it gets missed. Sure, some can take it out of context, but they even do that with scripture. regularly I might add…. I appreciate the thoughts here, as well as DeYoung’s, and will learn and glean from them. But there’s a massive part of my spirit that wants to shout out, “Let the kid write a poem!”

    It should also be noted, that Jefferson Bethke, the kid who wrote and performed the poem, has recently stated:

    “If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get [upset] when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.”

    1. Jeff, I was wrestling with some of the same thoughts this afternoon, wondering if people were responding too strongly to this. After all, he even says in the video, “I love the church.” So you are probably right that he’s not intending to bash the church per se, but man-centered religion in general.

      But here’s my problem. He spends the entire video bashing “religion” and only has one quick (and easy to miss) comment on loving the church. As much as I want to understand his intent, he needs to understand his audience. (He posted this on You tube, after all.) And without a lot of help, his audience is not going to distinguish between “religion” and the “church.” (Indeed, I’m left wondering what he means by “church” in this context.) So, whether he intended this as a critique of the church, that’s how people are hearing it. And I don’t think it’s surprising that they’ve heard it this way.

      1. That’s exactly what I thought. I think in the end, it will cause more damage than good. Jesus not only loved the church, but he gave His life for it.

      2. The church NEEDS critiquing! The message is that todays church is more about religion and its’ practices then it is about loving God and seeking his face. Many things we do out of habit of religion are also things that will bear out of a life sold out to Him. Christ did do many things that were also done by the “religious leaders” but did them for his own reasons. He also told the religious leaders to take a hike at times when religion was being abused. I applaud the poem and the courage of the young man to speak out and challenge people to examine their own life…

        1. I agree that religion is being abused in so many ways.. Most of them man made laws in my opinion. I’d rather be know loving my Lord Jesus n Savior of my life then what religion I am..

  2. Very good timing on this. I saw an excellent spoken word response on Michael Halcomb’s blog but I hadn’t seen the video he was referring to at the time (here is his rebuff: Then this morning at work my mom sent it to me to ask my opinion; being at work I couldn’t watch it. And now here it is again. Timely indeed.

    This sort of position reminds me of the idea of the law as a burden, as I think people with the ‘I hate religion’ mindset are often confusing religion with legalism (and often legalism with the law). Often neglecting the Psalmist who calls the law more precious than gold and sweeter than honey.

    Keep up the good work, and God bless.


  3. I resonate with much that has already been written. Sometimes a valid response is not either/or but both/and…in conservative christian camps we so often choose either/or. Do I hate religion? Sometimes. Do I stuggle with the political within the church? Sometimes. Do I sturggle with a mechianical view the church sometimes has about God’s grace…yes.

    Am I a whole hearted supporter of the church and its mission? Absolutely. The conserative church needs to get more comfortable with shades of grey…at least a bit. (Not to quote The Greatful Dead…) Not every issue is black or white, we live in a viberately colorful world.

  4. Concerning the viral video “I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” a lot of my Christian brothers and sisters have taken issue with him using the term “religion”. It’s all semantics. I think he was referring to works-righteousness when using the word “religion.” Even helping the widows and orphans that James talks about being true religion is a form of works-righteousness if it is done thinking that is is your means to salvation. Helping people and working in soup kitchens, etc. is something every Christian should want to do. However, the word “religion” comes from a Latin word that means “to bind.” Jesus came not to bind, but to set the captives free. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. If he abolished it, he would have never had to obey it. “Fulfill” means to complete. The law brings death. He said, “It is finished.” The guy in the video never said Jesus abolished the law. He said Jesus abolished religion. In the context he is using it, I would have to agree. He fulfilled it so we wouldn’t be bound by it.

    1. He does set the context! Let us not forgot that his message is set in a narrative, the story of his life. This brave man tells us right away that the religious life he was leading was hypocritical, the very time of hypocrisy that Jesus condemned, and as a result of meeting Jesus, he has come to hate the type of life he once lived, a lifestyle he names “religion.” It is very clear and appropriate for the medium, “YouTube,” a place to record your own stories to share publicly.

      This is not a seminary professor we are listening to in the video, it is the testimony of a new believer. This is not a treatise on an appropriate use of the word religion. He deserves a resounding word of encouragement from the family of God that he is a part of. In the context of his life the word is correctly used and the message a powerful testimony to God’s saving grace.

      Misunderstanding is a part of the internet, yet it does not diminish the value of the internet as a place to share your own story.

      What a wonderful video!

      1. But the context isn’t just his personal story. The context is also the culture in which he’s speaking. And in that context “spiritual but not religious” is all the rage. And when people use that phrase, they’re not just thinking about “false religion” but about organized religion of any kind. So my concern is that saying “Jesus hates religion” in this context will be heard by most as “Jesus hates any kind of organized religion.” That just feeds right into the individualistic spirituality that so many want today.

        1. I agree. Still, I think the response of the Christian community to this young man should be overwhelming supportive and positive. There is always room for growth in our communication, and it is fair to share that with him as well. However, I wonder how many Christians who are fiercely critiquing him are actively sharing their testimonies? Which is the more important question: are you sharing your testimony, or are you sharing it perfectly?

        2. I think there are actually two different issues here. You’re focusing on Bethke, his personal testimony, and helping him grow as a person. That’s outstanding. And I think the best responses to the video have tried to do just that, which is why many critics were careful to point out that they also agree with much that’s in the video.

          But there’s also the task of helping the 13.5 million people who have now seen the video. They’re the ones I’m thinking about in my comments.

          And of course I never share my testimony perfectly. And I welcome critical engagement on my imperfections. I would hope that we’d all do the same.

    2. By the way, I should also say that I actually agree with the point he’s trying to make in the video. The legalistic and man-centered religion that he has in mind absolutely needs to be critiqued. That’s exactly the point that people like Barth and Bonhoeffer were trying to make when they wrote some rather scathing critiques of “religion.” I would have just liked to see him help people understand how he can say that “Jesus hates religion” and still say at one point “I love the church.” If he’d developed the latter thought at all, the video would have been much stronger.

      1. I personally HATE religion but love my church and Jesus Christ. so I totally get the point to the video and so did my friends. 🙂

        1. And you can’t clean up the fish before you even caught them. You have to think like someone who doesn’t know Jesus might think when watching this because we are not trying to save people that are already saved. We are trying to reach the lost so making it correct and not offensive to people already going to church should not be the focus here. The video did what it was meant to do and it reached people I know and touched them. People that could not have been reached any other way but the annointed Jeff Bethke.

  5. Love this!! Thank you for the insight, I’m so glad to see a response to this video that couldn’t be more true.

  6. Well said. It is very easy to forget that Jesus was a Jew, in the regional sense, and the religious sense. He sure wasn’t happy with the state of the religious at the time, of course.

  7. I guess I am getting a reputation for caustic comments. My point was why does Christianity have to get so complicated? I thought faith was matter of the heart, and not of the intellect. Although there is nothing wrong with sound reason. I had a good friendship with a West. Sem. theology professor who was very bookish, and in fact made part of his living doing reviews. But I am not sure why such intense study, as many seem to be engaging in more, is really needed, or if it is a reflection of a personality type. Sorry if this is off-topic

    1. “I thought faith was a matter of the heart, and not of the intellect.”

      I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Faith is about both the heart and the intellect. Indeed, I’m not even sure how you would separate the two. As Augustine was so fond of saying, you can’t really love something that you don’t know. And the better you know something, the more you should come to love it.

    2. Marc’s reply is well said Ron. We all agree with you that there are dangers and errors in over-intellectualizing or complicating the Christian faith – and a common heart-felt sentiment from your side of this point is to quote Jesus when He said “unless you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2). But when Jesus tells us to ‘become like children’ in dependent humility, acknowledging our sin (Jesus said “turn and become like children”) and trusting in Christ, He’s not saying that we should become like children in all ways. When Peter beautifully says that we should “like newborn babes long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it we may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2) he’s not saying that we should be like infants in all ways (even in the text, which applies to us throughout our life, we’re hungering for the word longing to “grow”). Spiritual children are become strong, young men and strong, young men are to become wise old saints who “know God” (1 Jn. 2:12-14) deeply. “Grow in the grace AND knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Peter says (2 Pet. 3:18). A sound biblical theology interprets all these texts in their immediate context and then harmonizes all these ideas with the larger context of the teaching of all the Scriptures. Very appropriate to this discussion are Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” Part of maturity is learning to think with your head and not just with your heart, and as Marc reminded us the mind is the inseparable gateway to the heart. We should all be growing in knowledge of God’s word as well as in a practical life of godliness empowered by grace. A final text, Heb. 5:11-14, “…since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Always be like an infant desiring the pure milk of the word (even when you’re mature) but in a different use of the analogy – don’t remain infants or children in your thinking, but start eating meat; grow in your skill of handling the word of righteousness. As disciples aspire to be teachers; still remain a disciple, but grow in maturity that you might be able to help other disciples along the way.

  8. “Faith is about both the heart and the intellect. Indeed, I’m not even sure how you would separate the two”

    James 3:17: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Yes, there it is: “reasonable.” Which I’m not against. If I were against it, I couldn’t live in the modern age. Yet, some of the “theological types” I have met ( including those paid to teach it) seem to have gone way past normal behavior. Sometimes they have been so bookish and inward that one couldn’t even get a sense of what they were saying. I heard one guy, an adjunct prof. of theology from a nearby school, speak and no one seemed to be able to even connect his sentences together, although I suppose in his mind they were. I look back at evangelicalism and want to say “what happened?” since there have so many ways we have gotten off track.

    Evangelicals make claims that they are the “looking for souls” that need the “Physician”, hence the claim to evangelize when other religious groups don’t. We claim it as a distinctive. We are following one road that forked when Protestantism split into liberal and fundamental elements. Yet now I have come to understand better that other religious groups are making their contributions, too. Twice I have had to be in the hospital when I didn’t have health insurance. First, the Catholics helped me: second time, it was the Lutherans. So, we evangelicals have claimed that our role is to look for the people whose sickness is more in the soul—–the life patterns and habits they cannot change on their own power.

    If the heavy, theological types can win souls—and thus change the things that science cannot—more power to them. I just didn’t see that happening in the past. There are two nuggets for thought, though, I would throw your way if you are curious to my conclusions
    1. Abolition of Man, by CS Lewis. He says modern culture is producing two basic personalities: the cerebral and the visceral. We are producing “men without chests” and I take that to mean fewer balanced, practical people who also are spiritual. I believe it is a spiritual thing to have your hands dirty and calloused producing material wealth: (Ref. Ephesians 4:8) Even if you were not a “thief” it’s still very honorable to be a producer, because when calamity strikes somewhere (like Joplin Missouri, for example) those uncouth “producers” step up to help.
    2. The Evangelical Subculture, by Randall Balmer. Takes a sociological look at what evangelicalism is now, another subculture among others within American society.

  9. I don’t agree with the video’s Republican bashing. That may have been true previously—especially during the neo-con era. Although not a member of either party, I now have concuded that Democrats are trying to head towards a new version of LBJ’s Great Society—this time with no territorial boundaries anymore. Democrats, with their liberal, social gospel sort of vision want to let in any kind of future voter they can find, but that tends to displace the beleaguered US citizen struggling to make a living in difficult times. I’ve been there so I know how it feels to make a living in tough times. That makes me more receptive to the Republicans—who still believes we are an independent nation

    He makes an interesting point—churches are (or should be) “hospitals for the broken.” Would people leave if they were completely restored to wholeness and no longer “broken?”

    Anyway folks, I think Randall Balmers “The Evangelical Subculture” was the most authentic work on our
    religious persuasion. Please take a look at it, even if you only see the five minute synopsis from Baylor U. TV:
    I saw the 3-segment special in 1990’s.

  10. this video has helped more than hurt and reached more people I know that would not have otherwise been reached.

  11. Jesus never demonstrated that he condoned the tradition of a weekly service or any other religious activity. If I were to trust that Jesus wants me to attend church every week like a good sheep, then I must assume that his example is the one I should follow. Anytime Jesus was around the religious experts of his day, he either shut them up with his wisdom or pissed them off to the point of having to escape their violence. I also recall Jesus committed premeditated assault when driving out all the faithful attendees and animals from the temple. Not to mention that he obviously was furious to the point of having to violently overturn inanimate objects in the temple. Nowhere in scripture is it recorded that Jesus taught his followers to remain faithful in attending a particular church building every week. Further, not a single New Testament scripture condoning the fellowship of the brethren can be used to substantiate that we must religiously attend a particular church building. No scripture that speaks of ‘The Lord’s Day’ is of any use to support the idea of any religious act. Any propping up of the ten commandments as support to recognize the sabbath is quite a slap in the face of New Testament writings which clearly speak against us living under the law. You religious experts are closer to being religious hypocrites than a layman as myself. I have been incorrect much in my life and I have always strived to know and understand the One who desires to know me. Not a single religious act or tradition to which I have adhered in the past has ever proven to be an ultimate benefit in my life or in my personal relationship with the real God. Not a single period in history shows us that religion proves only helpful. To ignore the example set forth by the first century church, in that they gathered nightly in different homes throughout their community, and to try and point to home groups that are set up by churches as an argument for attending church regularly is only pathetic in my God’s eyes. To speak for religion is to fully please Satan. It is religion itself that opens the door for the AntiChrist to set himself up as God. It is the religious who called Jesus crazy and deemed him worthy of torture and death. The only true support for religion exists in the Old Testament and we are even instructed in the New Testament that we are to learn from the mistakes of those recorded in the Old Testament. One constant exists in the recordings of the Old Testament. That constant is that there is no proof that Judaism helped any society. Even those who are commended by God in the Old Testament are never commended for their faithfulness to religious traditions set forth by God himself but rather they are commended for their faith in God and not his rules. Nowhere are we instructed by scripture to have faith in our following of religious traditions in order to have a proper relationship with God. It is amazing how completely blind and ignorant the religious experts are. Thousands of churches close their doors every month and it isn’t because the people aren’t doing church right, it’s because church is never the answer. Religion will not exist on Heaven and Jesus told us to seek God’s will on Earth as it is on Heaven. Therefore, we should seek relationship with God through means other than those of a religious nature. Religion has only proved as a failure as is why Jesus came in the first place. The Jews disliked Jesus, not because they were mistaken in his claims but because Jesus was emphatically against the practices of the Jews of his day and he was not unclear about it whatsoever. You religious hypocrites are doing the Devil’s work. Commence the laundry list of all your accomplishments and religious deeds performed in the name of Jesus and look forward to being turned away by him when you claim your religious acts as being related in any way to a showing of strength in your relationship with God.
    TaTa, for now!

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