The Religious Compartment

Jacket Two days ago I mentioned William Wilberforce’s book called Real Christianity (that’s the modern title for it anyway).  In chapter four he explains the true character of the real Christian life and then contrasts it with the beliefs and practices of nominal Christians.  The second section of this chapter is where Wilberforce describes how nominal Christians view the Christian religion.  Here are a few excerpts:

“They [nominal Christians] assign to religion a plot of land – larger or smaller according to their views and circumstances – in which it has merely a qualified (limited) jurisdiction.  This done, they presume they have a right to roam at will over the spacious remainder of territory.”

“In other words, religion can claim only a stated proportion of their thoughts, their time, their money, and their influence.  If they may give a liberal allowance to one or more of these resources, then they assume they have satisfied religion.  The rest is theirs; they do with it what they please.  They have paid their tithes; they have satisfied the demand of the church.  Surely they have won permission to enjoy what is left without interferences!

“It is scarcely possible to state too strongly the mischief that results from this fundamental error.  Its consequences are obvious.  For it assumes the greatest part of human actions are indifferent to religion.  If men are not chargeable with actual vices, they are decent in the performance of their religious duties; and they do not stray into the forbidden ground.  And if they reflect the rights of the portion of land given to religion, what more can be expected of them?”

Wilberforce is saying that nominal Christians give a portion, or compartment, of their life to the Christian religion.  That compartment has a place in life along with other things, and sometimes the religious compartment claims some of their time or thoughts or money, and they think that’s good enough.  The other compartments of life are theirs to do with what they want. What happens then, as Wilberforce notes, is that the religious compartment doesn’t affect/influence other parts of life; however, no one can criticize them (they think), because they are “religious” (i.e. they have a religious compartment).

Later Wilberforce says first of all this is unbiblical because Scripture says that the heart and actions – indeed, all of life – should be lived by faith and obedience.  Secondly, this is a tragedy because often the religious “compartment” of a nominal Christian’s life shrinks as time goes on and as the world gets into the heart:

“The space occupied by it (the religious plot/compartment) diminishes until it is scarcely discernible.  They (nominal Christians) extinguish its spirit and destroy its force, reducing it to little more than the nominal possessor even of its contracted area.”

The next step is totally avoiding religion and becoming one’s own master.

In summary, compartmentalizing our faith (the Christian religion) is an unbiblical error that often leads to complete denial of the faith.

This should not make us point fingers at others; rather, it should encourage us to “decompartmentalize” our lives if we’ve done so.  It should make us pray that God would grant us the grace to be truly religious in every area of our lives – for his glory (1 Cor. 10:31)!

For more info, see Chapter 4, section 2, of Wilberforce’s Real Christianity.

shane lems

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