Daily Devotional: Day 144
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:26-27, NKJV).
In today’s Scripture reading, James is addressing Christians about pure religion versus vain religion. If Christianity is a religion, that should not be a bad thing. Paul described Judaism as a religion (cf. Acts 26:4-5), though we know that Judaism may also refer to nationality, ethnicity and culture. Jesus was a Jew, and He faithfully practiced Judaism, which means He practiced a religion. Jesus was religious, a man of religion.
We know, of course, that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and to usher in the New Covenant. But, Jesus did not attack Judaism for being a religion. What He attacked was the man-made doctrines and commandments which the Pharisees and other religious leaders had incorporated into Judaism, thereby corrupting the purity of the Jewish religion. The fact is, the Jewish religion was God’s own idea, not man’s idea. It was the Jewish religion which gave us godly people like Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Samuel, Elijah, David, Isaiah, Anna, Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, John the Baptist, etc.
A common expression among some modern Christians is, “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.” But what’s the difference between religion and relationship? And, whose job is it to define the difference? If Christianity is a religion, then it necessarily involves a relationship. Nowhere in the Bible is Christianity described as ‘a relationship.’ The attempt to create a dichotomy between religion and relationship is a modern human construct. It has no biblical basis. The phraseology is vague, confusing and misleading. All religion involves a relationship, but not all relationship qualifies as a religion. You can have a relationship with your bag, your clothing, your TV and your dog. But it does not mean you are involved in a religion.
When you are involved in a religion, it means you have some kind of relationship with Deity that involves worship. The Bible term ‘religion’ is a translation of the New Testament Greek word threiskeia, which means worship (of God). Any practice which involves worship can be legitimately classified as a religion. Christianity involves worship of God; therefore, it is not wrong to call it a religion.
The modern disdain for organized ‘religion’ – in Christian circles – can be traced, at least in part, to the Protestant reaction to centuries of abuse and oppression in the name of so-called religion. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers had had enough of the abuses within the Catholic ‘religion’ (its moral corruption, persecution, oppression, and departure from the Bible). Part of their reaction was an attempt to distance themselves from the term or entity called ‘religion.’ If you are interested in the historical background to the modern distaste for religion or the confusion about the term ‘religion,’ the following articles will shed some light on the subject:
Religion per se is not man’s creation, as some suppose. It is of God, but like everything from God, humans can corrupt it with their own ideas. Adam and Eve, and for that matter all humans, were created to know and worship the one true God. God gave us marriage, but we have corrupted it with all manner of ideas and evil practices. Today, marriage means different things to different people; so is gender. Shall we stop using the term ‘marriage’ because the meaning has been corrupted? Jesus gave us the Church, but today “church” means different things to different people. The Church has been adversely impacted by false doctrines and moral decay. Moreover, contrary to what the Bible teaches, when many Christians think of Church, what comes to mind is a physical building or a denomination. But, this state of confusion doesn’t mean we should distance ourselves from the term ‘Church.’
In sum, Christianity is a religion; we should get used to that fact. What we need to do is to distinguish between God-inspired (pure) religion (cf. James 1:26-27) and man-made (corrupted) religion (cf. Mark 7:1-13); between pure Christianity which is described in the Bible and perverted (counterfeit) Christianity which is the product of human doctrines, traditions, and elaborate rituals.
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your loved ones today! Amen.
It’s fascinating to me how the meanings of words change through their usage. I wonder when the “it’s not a religion it’s a relationship” phrase came out, and how the word “religion” became seen as a bad word to, well, many religious people? I understand what people are trying to communicate by disassociating with the word “religion”; which I think in many cases people are trying to say “I love people and don’t judge.”
However, I’m all for trying to reclaim the meaning of a word when cultures start twisting it 🙂
Thanks for your comment. Clarity is needed in these matters, especially in our generation.