Thomas Griffin 1/27/21
Justin Bieber appears to have made contact with Jesus Christ, but he firmly disagrees with being religious. Bieber recently published a social media post that is no-doubt a shot at all those who follow organized religion. He has no issues with naming Jesus as the redeemer of the world, but Jesus must be on his own terms, not the terms which come from the lips of the Son of God himself.
“My advice,” he says, ”is to steer clear of religion, but put your hope in the eternal one who died an excruciating death for you so that you and I can truly live on for eternity.” I am in no position to judge the faith of this stranger, despite the fact that the world knows his name and can follow his thoughts on social media. However, we are in a position to examine whether or not his explanation of individual faith is in agreement with Jesus’ intentions for his followers.
The indisputable fact is that Jesus of Nazareth came to create a church on earth. Those who take the position that they are Christians spiritually, but are not religious neglect one of Jesus’ most important tasks and teachings. He calls twelve closest followers to work together in guiding that church and promised that even the powers of hell would never destroy this gathering of believers (Matthew 16:18), key word being “gathering.”
There is a novel misunderstanding that deems religions as bad, but spiritual people as noble and respected. The reason for its novel nature is that those who read the Gospels and make them a part of the fabric of their lives know that Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17). Namely, he came to establish his church which would reign forever (Matthew 16:18), be the conduit for this kingdom to reign powerfully, and would facilitate the true capacity for all peoples to make contact with the Trinity.
Christ did not come so that we would individually meet him and then go our separate ways. God invaded our human disposition in order to conquer sin and bring us together in the gathering (Greek ekklesia, meaning church) of believers who would spread his message to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19). The Church exists to save souls and salvation comes through Christ who commissions each individually but in community, at our Baptism, to spread the good news to everyone we encounter.
Bieber also makes the false claim that “religion points out your flaws and perpetuates discouragement.” No doubt the pop star is referencing the Christian understanding of sin. This is his attempt in contemplating sin and explaining it as null and void. A true flaw proposed by Bieber is that sin must equal humanity beating themselves up. There is, however, no evidence that Christians are called to do so. St. Paul speaks about the fact that the Law does signal how we fall short (Romans 3:22), but Bieber’s pessimistic tone does not square up with the truth when one recalls the cause for our rejoicing and our hope despite our sin: Christ’s grace has been poured out upon you and me so that sin and death no longer reign (Romans 3:23).
The even greater flaw is the temptation for Bieber and countless others to claim that sin is not real. This flies in the face of the preaching and miracles of Jesus. He traveled around Galilee forgiving sins (Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48; Matthew 9:2), commanding the crowds to repent and change the course of their lives (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2; 4:17) along with outlining the reason for why he came to earth: “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). We are in need of a savior, and sin is what we are saved from.
This is, however, a logical conclusion flowing from a culture that believes individuality is the highest good – no one can tell me what is right and what is wrong. Jesus’ life and teachings are then up to anyone’s interpretation and relativism rules the day over truth. Christ knew this would happen and advised his followers to caution against false teachers (Matthew 7:15) such as those who would ignore any of his core teachings. There is, arguably, no more foundational teaching than his words concerning the gathering of his followers into one body.
“Religion,” Bieber continues, “makes people feel better than others because they go to church.” The continuation of his false reasoning moves forward with an attack against those who decide to keep God’s law and grow closer to him each week by attending communal worship. For this reason, Jesus said “take this, ALL, of you,” and eat and drink – clearly, he was implementing a communal form of worship. Taking Christ at his word is critical if we wish to remain in touch with authentic faith which is not dependent upon our own making but on the wisdom of God.
We are called to “remain in his love” (John 15:19) together by crafting or attaching ourselves to the souls around us who are on pilgrimage to the eternal kingdom of God. This will be the gathering of all those who follow Christ. While Bieber may be experiencing Christ’s presence in a powerful way in his own life we must always give Christ’s words precedence and be aware of how divisions arise when we betray what Jesus came to accomplish.
Choose to move away from the Bieber fallacy and towards the everlasting words of Christ, who instituted his one true church and said being religious is not an option.
Thomas Griffin teaches at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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