Holiness and Religious Pretense

20 Oct
from Google Images

from Google Images

The phrase ‘one nation under God’ is recited daily by every American child as he begins his school-day. Its implication is also probably the understanding of many Christians who live in this country. Nevertheless, the United States government does not see itself as under God in any matter. Although some Christian organizations added these words to the Pledge of Allegiance in the late 1940s, the phrase under God wasn’t officially added to the pledge until 1954. That was during the 50s’ communist scare and the McCarthy era. While it may sound good to a Christian to ‘say’ his nation acts under God, which means he believes its deeds are approved of and directed by God, in reality a nation under God is a theocracy, not a democratic republic as ours is.

Actually, there was only one theocracy that ever existed in the world. While some nations may have called themselves a theocracy, in its purest form only Israel ever showed itself to be a theocracy. That is, its government was given by God, and its people were ruled by God, having no other head of state. Interestingly, this government was temporary, and was never meant to remain in existence (Deuteronomy 17:14-15). Rather, the theocracy was meant to foreshadow the ministry of Christ, whereby we, in the church, have no single human leader, but all recognize Jesus as Lord.

In the same way that some Christians often mistake the United States as a Christian nation conducting itself under God, the new atheists judge the God of the Old Testament according to their own modern worldview, and through the lens of modern traditions and customs.[1] For example:

Part of what makes Jehovah such a fascinating participant in the stories of the Old Testament is his kinglike jealousy and pride, and his great appetite for praise and sacrifices.[2]

While such ideas may sound logical to our modern ears, bred in the understanding of American culture, our modern worldview would seem equally strange to those living in the context of the ancient cultures in the days of Moses, David and even those of Jesus. Jewish life, as commanded by Moses, was never meant to fit in as far as worldly culture was concerned. The Mosaic Law concerned everything from what one ate to the clothes one wore. It concerned what one planted in one’s field, how one treated one’s neighbor and one’s neighbor’s property and even how one approached sexual relations. While not exhaustive, the Mosaic Law implied God was interested in holiness – in every facet of human life. He wasn’t merely concerned with the priests, but everyone (cf. 1Peter 2:9). The entire nation needed to be holy—i.e. set apart from the world to become God’s own people. Holiness concerned both what was public—what everyone knew about a person, and what was private—what only the person knew about himself.

Holiness was hardly the religious pretense we often see today in religious circles. In fact, God hated religious pretense which argues against what Daniel Dennett claims about him above:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24 NASB)

Whatever might have been the specific meaning of the clean and unclean foods, or the command against mixing grains or cloths, one thing is certain, as it pertains to these laws. That is, Israel was set apart from the world. They weren’t to mix in with the nations around them. They were to act and to appear different in every facet of life. Israel was to be holy or set apart from other nations in all things, because God was holy (set apart) with respect to sinful man. God is simply not like man, even though mankind was created in God’s image, and God was at work among his people to correct that flaw in human behavior. Although the Mosaic commands were impotent to make man appear and act like God, they did point to another Prophet, like Moses, who would be able to do what the Law could not (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15; Romans 8:3-4).


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), page 265.

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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in apologetics


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