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Faith vs. Religion

February 11, 2011

Once upon a time, there was a man named Abram. By anyone’s standards he could be called a king, though the record never calls him that. One day, Abram met a man whom the records do call a king, named Melchizedek, and they shared a small meal.

So awaits the stage.

About a month ago there was some disappointment over a book that came in through Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program (which I love). Let’s talk about why.

Issue #1:

“He [Melchizedek] is not a member of Abraham’s family or culture, nor is he a member of Abraham’s religion (to the degree that Abraham could be said at this point even to have a religion)” (page 25).

I understand that the statement, “nor is he a member of Abraham’s religion …” is technically true. Judaism has not taken shape. There is no formal practice of faith that could be called a “religion.”

However, the author goes on, in the same paragraph, to discuss the deep meaning of Abram sharing a sacred meal with the leader of “another faith.” He calls it that: “another faith.”

Melchizedek is not of “another faith.” Genesis 14:18 tells us that Melchizedek, “was the priest of God Most High.”

In as much as a system of worship has not been established, Abram and Melchizedek are not of the same religion. Because there is no “religion” based on our God at this point. They are not of the same religion, not because they worship different gods, but because there is no religion – no system.

But Abram and Melchizedek are of the same faith. They worship the same God, which is the heart of “religion.”

It’s a technicality per the point that the author is making, and you can’t take that technicality and build upon it a doctrine of sharing sacred rites with persons of other religions.

The meal of bread and wine shared between Melchizedek and Abram foreshadows the Passover meal, and then Christian Communion. Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 11, that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” You can’t share that with a person who is of “another faith,” who doesn’t believe what the meal represents.

Which is not to say that we should exclude non-Christians from our meetings. That’s not to say that our faith means we have nothing to do with people who don’t share it. Just the opposite is true. But a few things are for believers, and just for believers.

This simple meal, described in Genesis 14, between two men becomes a symbol, and teaches us many things throughout the rest of scripture. None of those lessons, however, have to do with relationships between various faiths. Abram and Melchizedek did not have the same system for worship (if either of them had a system at all), but they worshipped the same God.

The point of the meal is unclear in Finding Our Way Again. We’ll go there on Monday. For now, thoughts on the difference between faith and religion?

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