The Cloud of God’s Glory: Why Abandoning Religion is What it’s All About

   

Image by Elisenda Castro

Beyond anything we could ever image, God is. Beyond time, beyond the vastness of the universe, beyond the petty squabbles which fill the news, and beyond any one of us. In relation between us and God, we might compare ourselves to ants or some kind of microbe in order to gain a better picture. Such a small and meaningless creature is nothing to you or I. We either pay no regard to such things or just for sport, see them squirm as we crush their ant pile or take magnifying glasses to see how man we can torture or kill.

Yet how superior you or I are over such little bugs is nothing compared to how vast God is above us. He is infinitely beyond any comparison that we might make. But the incredible mystery of our creator is that He loves us! He wants to spend time with us! He wants us to know Him! He wants a relationship, not because He doesn’t know us but that we don’t know Him!

What an incredible, inconceivable, unfathomable, and irresistible love that our Father has for us.

Yet something even more unfathomable is true of this God.

He dwells within us when we become his true children and disciples.

Such a reality is beyond anything Solomon in all his wisdom could have ever understood or foreseen.

Kind David, Solomon’s father, longed to build for God a grand and glorious temple. The task fell to Solomon, who build a vast and unmatched temple in which the glory of God could dwell. And as the temple was being dedicated, the arc of the covenant placed in the Holy of Holies, and countless goats, bulls, sheep, and other animals were being sacrificed to God by a great many priests, the cloud of God’s glory descended upon the temple.

According to 2 Chronicles 6:13-14, “The temple, the LORD’s temple, was filled with a cloud. And because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple.”

God descended in the middle of all their religious rituals and stopped all that they were doing. While the text does not explicitly state much more, put yourself in this seen. Their temple dedication must have been grandiose—but none of the priests planned or expected God to fill that place as He did. Perhaps they ran in fear or terror as the temple began to fill with smoke—the cloud of His glory. His presence stopped their religious activities—such ceaseless sacrifices were meaningless. He cared about their devotion and commitment. He cared about relationship.

Generations later when the tribes’ wickedness was at it’s height and their kingdom now sat in doom from coming judgement, the cloud of God’s glory lifted off of the temple. But instead of seeking God’s presence once again, they filled the temple with their own smoke. They adapted their own rituals. They brought into the Holy of Holies burning coals which smoked and filled the temple with human glory—with religious ritual.

The cloud of God’s glory now descends and fills the temples of our bodies. This is the Holy Spirit which fills us when we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ and become His true disciples.

The creator of the vast universe and time itself, the being who walked with Adam and Eve, called Abraham out of his false religious devotions to false gods, who made so many promises to Isaac and Jacob, who spoke with David, and dwelled within Solomon’s temple. This is the God who dwells within us. Who wants a relationship with us. And wants to do mighty and powerful things through us.

But how often do we do attempt to fill our own lives with the man-made “smoke” of religion rather than pursue and cry out to God to be filled with His cloud of glory? How often do we equate the rightness of our relationship with God to how many times we go to church, how many dollars we through in the coffer, or how many times we have read through the Bible? Those are all good things—but not to “win” God’s favor. You already have it! You are already loved! You are already desired by Him! He wants a relationship now!

We ought to pursue the filling by His cloud of glory and not man-made religion.

Are there any religious rituals to which you cling?

Are there any moments in which you felt filled and in the presence of the “Cloud of God’s Glory”?

Do you have any advise to those stuck in rituals and religion and not in relationship?

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  • Jonathan,
    Thanks for the reminder. How do you see this in relation to Bonhoeffer’s notion of ‘religionless Christianity’? 

  • Are there any religious rituals to which you cling?

    Are there any moments in which you felt filled and in the presence of the “Cloud of God’s Glory”?

    Do you have any advice to those stuck in rituals and religion and not in relationship?
    ————————————-

    1.  Absolutely not.  I detest religion.  It was the religious leaders of His day that called for the death of Jesus.  The closest thing I have to “religious ritual” would be Communion.  But even then it is relational and covenantal at its core.

    2.  My friend, I will unashamedly confess that when the Spirit manifests Himself in glory, and the area around me is literally pulsing with His power and holiness, I hit the floor on my knees or on my face and can barely look up.  I also begin to cry, but not weep.  I am not attached to it in any way.  It simply happens.

    3.  Hmmm.  For this I would say, “What are you, Catholic?”  I would tell folks wrapped up in all that silly nonsense, Catholicism-related and otherwise, to knock it off.  If you really want to worship something that you can touch and see, or recite a prayer or incantation for, why not just go outside and worship a tree.

    I fear I have neither the time nor the stomach for religious nonsense and idle faith.  For most people it is a cultural thing.  “I was raised Catholic, and my parents are Catholic, and my grandparents are Catholic, so this is why I do what I do…”  Or some other religious/ritualistic religion.  (Oh, yes, I am not so “progressively-minded and hip” -as some of your readers might be- that I do not speak against Catholicism as a whole.  What can I say?….I’m a covenant son.  We hate religion in the name of Jesus.  Or the Blessed Holy Virgin.  Or Saint Blah Blah Blah.  The Holy Roman Catholic Church doesn’t need Jesus.  It preaches its own brand of Salvation.)

    The long story short is that once a person is entrenched in dead religious rituals and rites, it is akin to trying to un-brainwash someone to get them to stop.  The Spirit knows how to best handle this.

  • To be honest, I have not read much Bonhoeffer. I did a quick search of what Bonhoeffer means by the term—but I suspect that he is right. In one sense, many have seen Christianity as the “true” form of religion—but I am more inclined to see religion as a set of practices, beliefs, and behaviors in which we reach God or the “divine.” 

    In some sense, Christianity—or “following Christ” or “being saved”—is “religious.” We talk of believing the right things, doing the right things, etc. But I think these things come as a result—a product—not as a conditional source. 

    Perhaps I can ask the same question back. What do you think of this notion of “religionless Christianity”? What did Bonhoeffer mean in those letters to his brother? 

  • I hear you. And I appreciate your conviction. For me, I find some sacredness or unity in some of the old ways. Not as chains, but as connection. For example, I am currently reading “Common Prayer”—a book of liturgy for radicals. I am really enjoying it. The ritualized prayers and traditions do not restrain my freedom to pray—but do remind me of the billions of Christians who I am in unity with from the last 2,000 years whom I am praying with. A bit mystical. But we see this “common” prayer and praise around the thrown of God sung by the angels—holy, holy, holy. For this sense, I have no problem saying the “Our Father” or the Doxology or whatever. Now agreed, I don’t need these rituals to approach boldly the thrown of God and enter the holy of holies. 

    Now as far as the Catholic thing. This is hard. I think that the “religion” of Catholicism—or Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Calvinism, or whatever!—is oppressive. A system will always be religion. But are there true brothers and sisters in these places—I think so. But no church is THE CHURCH. That is through the Holy Spirit. 

  • jonathan,

    Again, thank you for your response.  I enjoy venturing here to see what you will say to my ramblings!  :)

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that any man-made “system” will only bring oppression eventually.  It is as inevitable as throwing lit matches in a barn full of dried straw– that barn will burn down.

    As an illustration to further bring home a point, in politics I am an independent Conservative.  I am not GOP.  I am not Democrat.  I am not Libertarian, Socialist, Progressive, etc, etc.  I am me.  I answer to no one or cling too tightly to any ideology.  This is how I flow in politics when I choose to do so.

    In our faith I am simply, as cliche as this sounds, a common-sense, everyday, black and white, uncomplicated son of God through the adoption as a son in the Holy Spirit.  I walk in The Kingdom, but also function in The World.  There is no complexity to me.  If a person wishes to dissect my “theology”, all they need do is go to The Scriptures.

    I subscribe nor bow nor owe any fealty to a denomination or a formalized expression of Christianity this side of Heaven.  Not my scene, and surely not my priority.  So when I tell folks, “Listen, I am a non-denominational Christian”, I really mean it.

    I agree with the “Our Father”.  Great prayer for any disciple to embrace and wrap themselves in.  I have mentioned Communion, as well.  I even consider water baptism as an ordinance, (not a requirement!), of The New Covenant.  So I cannot say there is no “ritual” in me, provided a person would view these items as “ritualistic”.

    But it will indeed be a cold day in Hell before I acknowledge or acquiesce to any denomination for fellowship or as a standard of practical faith as a Christian.  Nope.  It just ain’t ever gonna happen.

    Jesus is building His Church.  We are not Jesus.  It is not OUR Church to build.  He has never asked us to do so, nor will He ever ask us our opinions or advice.  It is not as if He is seated at the right hand of our Dad and says, “Gee, Pop, I wonder what Jonathan and Donald would think about this or that…?”

    Thanks for allowing me further access and the ability to opine here at Theology21, jonathan.  It matters to me.  Your responses matter to me, as well.

  • Donald. I think we should set up some guest posts on our respective sites. I have really valued your contributions thus far. 

    As you say, I am not denominational. But further, I am not stuck to a branch of Christianity either. I think their is merit in most if not all branches. Because of this, I might consider myself an interdenominational minded Christian. 

    Regardless, I do want to take up a statement you made and perhaps it can carry over to another article I wrote. Just a pet peeve but, you said your doctrines just come from the scripture—that is as far as one needs to go. 

    I don’t think you really mean this. What I think you mean is, “my interpretation of the scriptures is the source of my doctrine.” I reject, on many levels, the “simplicity” of sola scriptura—that somehow doctrines are plain and laying out on the pages of the bible clear as day. What I have found, while discussing, debating, and spending time in a great number of churches and “heretical groups”—such as with LDS, is that all claim their doctrines are clear and plain as day from the scripture. I think saying, “All we believe, or all we teach is the Bible” is wrong. Check this article out for my interpretation. http://bit.ly/a2VJy0

  • Jonathan,

    Bad link, my sir.  404 Error Message.  Yikes!

    It is true, I am of the Sola Scriptura school of theology.  I admit it.  Some folks think this means I am saying I am some Fundamentalist, but in truth I am a classical Fundie, far removed from the current IFB clowns that have hijacked it.  With those people I have no familiarity or affiliation.

    As to LDS or JW, have you read their “Bibles”?  I have.  Mostly they are a rewording of The Scriptures to fit their cultish ideals and lies.  Not that this is shocking or surprising.  People have been meddling about with The Scriptures for hundreds of years, so why stop now?

    The thing is Jonathan, that all my theology, my walk, my daily faith, can be found in The Scriptures.  I have no outside influences, no clever flavor-of-the-month Christian books to go to, no classic Christian books written decades or hundreds of years ago to consult.  Nope.  It’s me, The Scriptures, and the Spirit Who guides me and corrects me and teaches me as He wills.

    Yes, that sounded freakishly odd, I understand.  But have I given you any reason to believe I am unstable Bible-thumping-holier-than-thou nutjob who lives isolated from The World and other Christians for fear of being contaminated by their fleshly doctrines and evil sinful ways?

    Hope not.  Cuz that ain’t me.

    I would be very happy to discuss some cross-posting, (not to be confused with cross-dressing, unless you do it for the glory of Jesus), with Theology21.

    But you gotta get to know me first, outside of this blog and my own.  And vice-versa.  My email and phone number are on my blog at Project: Mathetes.  I’m a pretty transparent guy.

  • I was just curious though when you say, “that all my theology, my walk, my daily faith, can be found in The Scriptures.  I have no outside influences, no clever flavor-of-the-month Christian books to go to, no classic Christian books written decades or hundreds of years ago to consult.  Nope.  It’s me, The Scriptures, and the Spirit Who guides me and corrects me and teaches me as He wills….” do you ever pick up a book written by someone else?  

    Obviously you read a lot of blogs, so I would think that it has to help shape some of your thinking, (which is perfectly ok and natural).  I know you give your thoughts a lot, but I am guessing you are also coming with the heart to learn.  Isn’t that what you do in discipleship, Church, worship etc?

    I guess I am just (in a completely loving way, without knowing you), challenging the idea that you have no outside influences.  Even your mentors are outside influences.  And like you have mentioned, you are big on discipleship, which is completely meant to be an environment of growing, learning, and influencing each other to press closer into a relationship with the Lord.

    What I am looking to do is to get a deeper understanding of exactly what you mean.  Can you help me with that?

  • Shaun,

    As ever, your courtesy and politeness is almost intoxicating.  How could I not wish to respond?!  :)

    However, I cannot at this present moment.  I will endeavor to return this evening to answer your queries.

    Thanks for asking, Shaun!

  • Here, lets try this one Donald. My bad! http://ow.ly/5hZur

  • Shaun!

    Thank you for your patience.

    In a simple nutshell, I am what you would refer to as a classical Fundamentalist.  I wholeheartedly, and with extreme heart, believe The Scriptures wholly, and also believe them to be the final standard for all faith and practice this side of Heaven.

    It is true, however, that I jealously covet and guard my relationship with the Holy Spirit, as well.  I cling to The Scriptures and I lean on the Spirit.  The Spirit will never tell me something that contradicts or serves to redact one precept of The Scriptures and will ever seek to point me towards my Father.

    Having said all this, I will let you now that while I give a nod to the writings of others, and have gleaned supplemental understanding of The Scriptures through others, they in no way replace or usurp the authority of The Scriptures in my covenantal life this side of Heaven.

    Like Theology21, for example.  I do visit.  I comment.  I read.  I digest.  I eat the meat and spit out the bones.  I enjoy it here.

    But….

    Theology21 is not The Scriptures.  (Not that I am saying you are trying to be!  Not at all!)  TH21 may cause me to defend my stances on life and faith, but it cannot illuminate or bring about my stances on life and faith.  TH21 can only either sharpen or dull my faith.

    There are a plethora of Christian writers who have come before us and who have written blazingly wonderful books and essays on the things of God.  I have no contempt nor love for these writings of theirs.  I am ambivalent, at best.  I rarely, rarely read anything outside of The Scriptures, for The Scriptures have all the bases covered.  Everything else, to me, is just commentary.  It takes a lot to get me to read just commentary.  My time is too valuable to me, since it is not my time to be loose with.

    I do not seek out the latest and newest cool flavor-of-the-month Christian books written by cool and hip and cutting-edge pastors of mega-churches or the newest “movement of GOD”.  Nah.  I am quite happy being an ignorant schlup who still actually reads The Scriptures and prays that the Spirit would bring more revelation to me about the depth and richness of His Word.

    For the record, the last Christian book I read was “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Vioola.  Nice read.  But not The Scriptures.

    Hope that answered your excellent question, Shaun!  Blessings to you and yours in Peru!

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