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By Curtis Pugh
of Bocsa, Romania
Let us consider the natural religion of humankind. We shall consider its existence, its nature, its origin, the influence of it upon modern Christendom and the Baptists, and the damnation it brings. Even the casual observer will notice that all the peoples spread over this vast globe upon which we find ourselves have one thing in common. Human beings, perhaps for several reasons, have a tendency toward religion. Their religious beliefs, rituals, and practices differ from place to place. This is to be expected as a result of isolation in the past and perhaps other factors. But all these different religions share a common basis and common ideas. Because of this we can consider them together in such an article as this. We admit there are many differences among the different religious practices of mankind, but we insist, and hope to demonstrate, that they all have, as stated, a common basis or origin and fundamental common ideas.
We are not attacking the right of people to believe what they believe. As historic Baptists we insist on what some old writers have called “soul liberty.” This is the right of every individual to practice the religion of his or her choice, free from coercion from other individuals, religious organization, or governments as long as these practices do not harm others or infringe upon the liberties of others in any way. Historic Christianity has always claimed to be a revealed religion. It has claimed to be exclusively the religion revealed by God Himself. Our great concern is this: modern Christendom has been permeated and therefore greatly affected by the basic concepts of this natural religion. This pollution of Christianity by natural religion has changed the Gospel from that originally preached and taught by the apostles into something quite opposite. Having observed the existence of natural religion – religion that exists apart from the written Word of God, the Bible, let us consider the essential nature of it. We are not concerned with the differences that exist between varying groups of peoples and their religious beliefs and practices, but with that cord that runs throughout and binds all natural religions together..
Many people the world over think to please Allah by making pilgrimages and mutilating their bodies as some faithful Moslems do. (I am careful to use their name, Allah, because the god of the Moslems is not the God of the Bible for many reasons, but that is another subject and one we cannot consider in this short piece. In spite of this, liberal media in the U.S. and around the world have used the word “God” in speaking of “Allah” and had great success in convincing the masses that these are one and the same person.) Some American Indians, like the Navajo, may kill a sheep and drain the animal’s blood into the ground as a kind of sacrifice, seeking to please their deity. Others may, in the words of a Tlingit Indian in the North of Canada, “seek to placate God” by leaving food out in the forest or by sacrificing tobacco upon a fire or upon a lake or river. Among the Iroquois of certain northern States and Canada, a white dog is sacrificed by burning once each year for the sins of the people. Others, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) insist that in certain cases God can only be placated by the shedding of the blood of the guilty party. Hence, in the Mormonfounded state of Utah one option left to condemned persons is the firing squad. In this way those condemned Mormons who think to redeem themselves by placating God with the shedding of their own blood have the opportunity to do so.
Many other religious ideas and practices could be named but the aforementioned ones are enough to show that the common thread among all of them is the notion that a man or woman, by doing something, by making some kind of sacrifice, can appease or placate an angry god. This idea is based upon the knowledge or feeling that there is a higher power or god of some kind and also that there exists in their own hearts and lives such a thing as sin and that they are guilty of incurring the displeasure of their god by their behavior. How can we account for such convictions among all the varied people of the world? I believe that God has given humankind three lights. The first light is the light of nature. As thoughtful and candid men observe the natural world around them it is evident that behind the existence of such intricate systems in plants, animals and the universe, there must have been an intelligent being. That this being was both wise and powerful in order to bring about such order cannot be doubted by the unprejudiced mind that looks at creation. The second light is the light of conscience. Conscience is that capacity in man to sense right and wrong. It is the awareness of the existence of good and evil in the world and in the personal life of ones own self. Because conscience can be seared as with a hot iron and thus desensitized it may not be relied upon as inerrant. However, there is a third and greatest light, the Word of God in written form. Revealed from God, it tells us about God, about our condition as sinners and about the way of salvation. This third light is infallible, inerrant, verbally inspired, preserved and designed by God to make known to us all that we need to know to be saved and to live a life pleasing to God.
Natural religion, then, is the religion of an incomplete revelation. It is based upon the inferior lights of nature and of conscience. And, as we have pointed out, the commonality among all forms of natural religion is this idea: man can and must do something to appease or placate God. And so we have set forth the origin of this natural religion. It is based upon nature or the observance of God’s creation. God’s creation reveals only a little about the character and person of God other than to set forth His wisdom and power. And it is based upon conscience, which while bringing about an awareness of sin and offense to the Creator, is unreliable and tells mankind nothing about the plan of God to save His people from their sins. In summary we may say that natural religion is the religion of the natural man apart from any idea of God’s provision for guilty sinners. It admits the existence of a deity or deities. It admits the fact that man has by evil doing offended and is therefore guilty and subject to vengeance and punishment, but is lacking of any clear teaching of salvation by free grace.
As historic Christians (Baptists) we are rightly concerned about the inroads made by natural religion among Christendom. We submit that all the groups and denominations of Christendom have embraced or at the very least been influenced by the basic tenets of natural religion. Even among the Baptists are many to be found whose religion is in reality a form of this natural religion, although of course the claim is made that their religion is “old time” and “biblical.” Since the writer is a Baptist “from the tip of his toes to the top of his head,” let us confine the rest of our remarks to the Baptists. What we shall say about them is readily applicable to the various denominations and sects among what we choose to call Christendom. We use this term because we are not ready to admit that such polluted religious beliefs and practices – such “Christianized natural religion” can rightly be called Christianity in any historical and biblical sense. We dare say this because natural religion, whether “Christianized” or not, is based upon a fundamental concept that is contrary to the Word of God.
What is this fundamental concept that is contrary to the Word of God? It is, simply stated, this: natural religion of all sorts (Christianized included) insists that man can appease or placate God by doing something. Essentially then, all forms of natural religion are based upon the idea that salvation or forgiveness from God is based upon works. Various forms of natural religion insist upon differing ideas as to just what must be done to please God, but all insist that the way to enter into God’s “good graces” is by doing something pleasing to him. Among the Baptists it has become accepted doctrine by the majority that “going forward” and “praying the sinner’s prayer” or “making a decision for Christ” or some other such thing is the act whereby one initiates toward himself God’s pleasure and thus his acceptance by God – in short, his salvation.
Our appeal is not to human reason for that is the source of natural religious ideas among the Baptists. Our appeal is to the Word of God. What saith the Scripture? Let us first look at Romans 8:7-9. There we read: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Emphasis added.) The Holy Spirit, writing through our Brother Paul makes it clear that there are two kinds of people. Those two kinds of people are “they that are in the flesh” and they that are “in the Spirit.” (Incidentally, here also perishes the idea that being “in the Spirit” has reference to some kind of hyperemotional state as is believed by some called Pentecostals and Charismatics.) Paul writes that every true child of God, having been regenerated by and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is “in the Spirit” and “not in the flesh.” But the concept we want to point out in this very practical passage is this: “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Simply stated, there is nothing that an unsaved person can do to please God. There is nothing that an unsaved person can do to appease or placate God.
This means, then, that when an unsaved person “goes forward” at the end of a religious service in a Baptist Church (I said I would stick with the Baptists!) that person is not doing something that is pleasing to God. When an unsaved person makes a “decision for Christ” or “prays the sinner’s prayer” neither of those acts is pleasing to God. That idea may be shocking to some readers, but it is the plain teaching of the Word of God! (Incidentally, where in the Bible did you ever read of any apostle or other New Testament preacher inviting people to “walk the aisle” or “make a decision for Christ” or “pray the sinner’s prayer?”)
I do not mean to say that it is wrong to pray. Born again (regenerated) children of God do pray! They are continually calling upon the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13, I Cor. 1:2). I am saying that unregenerate people act according to their hearts and that their hearts are wicked and unknowable. Therefore that which issues forth from their hearts is evil. Want proof ? The following Scriptures need little comment. They prove that the heart of the natural (unregenerate) human is evil and evil things spring from it. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and deerately wicked: who can know it?” ( Jer. 17:9). “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:18-19).
Natural religion, its ideas and practices come from the unregenerate heart of natural men and women – from the heart of those “that are in the flesh.” These folk look at creation and sense that some things are right and wrong from their consciences and develop their religious ideas from these two lights. Someone says, “But what about those ideas that natural men and women get from the Bible?” “Don’t those Baptists whom you say are polluted with natural religion use the Bible too?” Again we hurry to the Bible for our answer where we seek to let God’s Word say what It says! Speaking of knowing (understanding in a spiritually profitable way) the revealed Word of God, we read: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Two reasons are given that the natural (unregenerate) man does not “receive” (believe in a spiritually profitable way) the Bible. First of all, he thinks the things taught in the Word of God are foolishness. They are foreign to his natural ideas for he has ingrained in his thinking the idea that he can do something and “get in good” with God. Some Baptists do this! They omit the reading and study of certain portions of the Bible, especially of the New Testament because these portions don’t “fit” with their preconceived (“natural”) ideas. The idea that unsaved humans cannot do anything to please God is totally foreign to their “natural” religious ideas and so they think the Scriptures that teach against this idea are foolish. There must be another plausible interpretation – one that fits in with their “natural” ideas. But these 3 verses quoted above go much further. They say that “natural” (unregenerate) men are unable to know (in a spiritually profitable way) the things revealed in the Bible because they are “spiritually discerned.” The unregenerate man – the “natural” man does not have the Spirit of God. Because of this he cannot – he does not have the ability – to profitably know what the Bible teaches.
And so many – dare I write “most” – Baptists insist that lost men and women must “pray the sinner’s prayer,” etc., so that God will look favorably down upon them and regenerate them. They twist the idea of the new birth (regeneration) and make it the result of an act of the will of a human being. This in spite of the clear teaching of the Bible which says in John 1:13: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Read the context! The preceding verse ( John 1:12) speaks of those who during Jesus’ earthly ministry welcomed (“received”) Him. Verse 13, the verse last quoted tells us why some people received Christ. It was because they were “born,” i.e. born again. And it clearly says they were born “of God” – not of any kind of action of any thing that might be called “the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man.” That is clear enough if you will have it!
But if the Bible does not command that people “pray the sinner’s prayer, “etc., what does it command? First of all God commands “...all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). This is an obligation upon all men! And at the same time, the Bible says that God grants or gives or works repentance in individuals (Acts 11:18). Unlike natural religion, the religion of the Bible is one of free and sovereignly bestowed grace. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). In spite of this passage and others like it, the influence of natural religion among many Baptists causes them to deny that faith is a gift. It causes them to insist that repentance and faith are not works, but at the same time they are things that must be done by lost people in order for them to qualify for God’s grace. If that is not salvation by works, I don’t understand the English language! Do not let the double talk fool you!
In conclusion it may be said that “natural religion” has made great inroads among the Baptists of our day. Long years ago it was not the case, but topwater studying and top-water preaching never plumb the depths of truth. As one country preacher said it, “Preacherettes preach sermon-ettes and produce Christian-ettes.” Oh reader! Hear the wise words of the Proverbs (16:25), “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Natural religion, I would hasten to add, brings damnation and eternal death. God is not pleased with that religion that attempts to please Him and yet ignores and despises His Son, God’s gift, whose one sacrifice of Himself was enough. The Bible says of Christ, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” Christ’s one sacrifice of Himself pleased God. God does not need to be placated because He has already been placated by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ on behalf of lost sinners.
Cast away your natural religion and all its ideas! Look to the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who was the acceptable sacrifice. He was and still is, in the words of John the Baptist, “the Lamb of God” ( John 1:36). You cannot placate God because you, as a lost sinner cannot please God. But you do not need to placate God – you do not need to appease Him! The Lord Jesus Christ died to placate God and God accepted His bloody death and proved it in that He resurrected Him and seated Him at His own right hand. What do you think to add to that with your natural religion?
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