A MAN MADE RELIGION
T. PIERCE BROWN
Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, could have been a man of greatness, but perverted God’s way and became a ringleader in sin. We may think of the religion he began as a type of all man made religions and get lessons that will help us to be on guard against such in every generation.
First, we may note that it had its origin in the human heart. “Jeroboam said in his heart” (verse 26). There are only two types of religions in the world. One has its origin in the will of God, the other is in the will of man. Isaiah 55:8 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways” and this has always been so. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Out of the heart of man can never come a system of religion that meets the demands of God or the needs of the human soul. We constantly need to be aware that not only anything opposite, but any deviation from or substitute for what God wants is presumptuous and rebellious. The advice of Proverbs 3:5 is still so valuable for us, “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not on thy own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths.”
A strange question that faces us is this: Why would a person want to worship God at all if he was not sure his worship would please God? Even a pagan with a false god would try to please that god. Yet both Jews and Christians fall into the category mentioned by Jesus, “The people worship me with their lips but their heart is far from me, for in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Second, we note that the establishment of this false religion had this in common with many false religions of today: He set up the golden calves inBetheland Dan for his own selfish ends. How many of us do things related primarily to our own selfish ends? Jesus did not die for church buildings, gymnasiums and the many things for which we spend most of our resources. He died for souls, and yet when a program is designed primarily for salvation of souls, most of the congregations in the nation contribute very little for its implementation.
Jeroboam presented it as for the good of others, of course. “It is too much for you to go up toJerusalem” (v. 28). It was hypocritical from the beginning, but that does not mean that every person doing it was hypocritical. We make a serious error when we speak and act as if all those who are members of false religions are hypocritical and dishonest. We are reasonably sure many of their leaders are. When we hear a man pretend to quote Acts2:38as “Repent, for the remission of your sins” we know he had to know what he left out to misquote it. There are many things done in the name of expediency that are contrary to the will of God. Remember that in order for a thing to be expedient, it must be a part of that which is authorized. If God says, “Drive this nail into this board” it may be expedient to use a hammer instead of an axe, but it is improper to classify sawing the board in two as expedient. If God said, “Sing” it may be expedient to sing one or two songs, but it is not expedient to introduce a different kind of music.
In any case, it was contrary to the word of God. He said, “Behold thy gods which brought thee up” (v. 28). The command of God was plain. “Have no other gods.” There might be any number of rationalizations he could have used. He might have said, “These are not `other’ gods. When I said, “These be thy gods” I merely meant that they represented God that brought us up.” This is the sort of thing that could be said by anyone who had a false god.
Whatever rationalization may be given, the command of God was plain in Exodus 20:4, “Thou shalt not make any graven images.” The carnal mind wants to walk by sight and find excuses to do what it wants. Naaman said, “I thought.” Even Saul of Tarsus said, “I verily thought” (Acts 26:9). But the ladder to heaven must come from heaven. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me.” All the false religions that claim to be Christian claim to come by Jesus. But a person cannot come to God by Jesus by disregarding the commands of Jesus and substituting, “I think.” There is a place for “I think” or “It seems to me.” That place is where God did not speak specifically about the thing. When God said “sing” He did not tell me to sing bass or tenor. I think I can sing bass better than I can sing tenor. Baptism is commanded. I think I may baptize in a creek, river, or baptistery because God did not specify one of those. However, I have no right to substitute, “I think sprinkling is as good as baptism (immersion)” for He specified.
As always, this false religion became a snare to others (v. 30). It is always easier to swim with the tide and go with the flow than to stand for what is authorized in the face of popular efforts to do otherwise. It usually is the beginning of a downhill path, having no regard for purity of doctrine or life. “He made priests of the lowest of the people” (v. 31). It is important for us to realize that the kind of God we visualize and worship will determine the kind of life we live.
Like all false religions, they had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof. It has the appearance of being right. There were altars, priests and the ordained feast “Like unto the feast that is inJudah” (vs. 32-33). There are thousands who would say, “There is practically no difference in my church and thechurchofChrist. We all have approximately the same kind of service, prayer, Bible study, communion, and both practice baptism.” The difference is that one was ordained of God. The other was not. It would not matter if all outward practices of a group were the same as that which God ordained, if they did it by the authority of some man rather than the authority of God, it would not be right. For example, if a person is baptized to satisfy his mother rather than “obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine delivered” (Romans6:17), he would not thus be made free from sin even if he said, “I am being baptized for the remission of my sins.”
In summarizing his mistakes as he formed this false religion, we may say there were at least four. First, he put politics before righteousness. Millions do that today. Some would vote for a man because he happened to be a Democrat or Republican, or black or white regardless of whether he was a confessed drug addict, a convicted criminal or anything else. Second, he put convenience ahead of duty. Millions also do this, even those connected with the Lord’s church. Third, he put what he thought was expedient ahead of obedience. Many today make success their standard. Often those connected with the Crossroads orBostonmovements have said, “Our growth and success prove that God is with us.” You could prove Hinduism, Catholicism or paganism was right by that standard. Fourth, he failed to realize that we reap what we sow. Since Adam’s time men have been deluded into thinking, “The end justifies the means.” “My opposition to the war is a good cause. So I have the right to burn down a bank and shoot its president to show that I think it is wrong to be violent.” “I oppose abortion as murder, therefore I will shoot the doctor who is performing it.” Many in the church today are acting just as irrationally, for they are sowing tares and looking for a harvest of wheat.
The story of Jeroboam shows both the basis and result of all false religions. We cannot emphasize too strongly the necessity of doing what God says, the way God says do it, for the purpose God says do it, at the time and place God says do it, with the motive approved of Him.