Why saying “I’m Not Religious” is a Cop Out!

Let’s bring back the word “religion”! Are we really honest in trying to say we are not a “religious” people and only in a “relationship” with Jesus? Do not Jesus and the Bible clearly state we are to be religious? I understand there is an aversion to use it. There is a desire to culturally distance us from a dirty word in our society. After all, apparently religion is a bad thing. This could be true if we are tempted to put organizational power, control of people and the dreaded Spanish Inquisition as pillars that define the word religion. Clearly, we have allowed a perfectly usable, clear word to be defined other than by how scripture explains it.

Yes, it is perfectly fine to say, “I am a follower of Christ” because the word “Christian” could be tied to the killing of Muslims by Christians in a news story, or because folks cringe around us when that word is used. It may be acceptable to claim, “I have a relationship with God” rather than say you are a religious person. You see, it means you get to create and use a term that really means nothing to the audience you hope to least offend. Is that a copout?

Religion is an excellently appropriate word when it means taking care of widows and orphans, feeding the poor, and being kind to the transient and foreigner in your midst. Those of us who are “followers of Christ” are commanded to be religious in this way. If we lived and claimed this word in this way, the Inquisition and the Crusades would no longer matter. Those historical events are not religion. Actually, our society hopes—and dare I say prays—that we would be “religious” in the biblical way. In this one case, those around us actually might have a better understanding of the Bible than we do.

Religion is not cutting or whipping one’s self, living silently in a monastery, singing emotionally in a worship service. It is not the Inquisition, the wars of the Crusades, the failings of a Pope or local church pastor. It is not complicated and requiring of academic prowess or hours of serving in a church ministry program. In fact, it is not something a seminary owns rights or that one particular church can claim as their original thought.

What is it, then?

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27 New Living Translation (NLT)

So, are we copping out when we drop the word religion other than simply using it like James 1:27 does?

 

Share:
Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

59 comments

  1. Nice post Rich, thanks for taking a clear stand.

  2. I agree with a lot of what you say about what ‘religion’ should be to us as Christians. However, I would argue that as a new generation of Christians rise up that we must set our own terms to those definitions. Our theology and practice must remain ‘kosher’ and sacred, our language may need to change as our culture changes so that we can communicate clearly to a secular world about sacred things. I hope thats clear. Our practice of our faith, or religion should never change, and be biblical. Our language and labels may need to change.

      1. I see your point there, when I normally talk to non-Christians I try to use both more common vernacular as well as sacred vernacular so that they understand what I mean, and also have an idea of the language commonly used. I guess in a way it creates a bridge. I do tend to not like the word religious, but that is more because I feel it relates more to a set of rules, regulations and rituals. I suppose in my own way I do contribute to the problem. Thanks for the gut and heart check!

        1. I think one additional thing I might have put in the post is this.
          The aversion we have as “evangelicals” to using the word “religion” for ourselves is that we intentionally disconnect from our historical roots–pre-twentieth century. Most of those talking with us see what we believe or call ourselves as coming from an ancient religion. They would be correct! At least we are 2,000 years old plus the OT history we share as well.

  3. I agree with a lot of what you say about what ‘religion’ should be to us as Christians. However, I would argue that as a new generation of Christians rise up that we must set our own terms to those definitions. Our theology and practice must remain ‘kosher’ and sacred, our language may need to change as our culture changes so that we can communicate clearly to a secular world about sacred things. I hope thats clear. Our practice of our faith, or religion should never change, and be biblical. Our language and labels may need to change.

    1. If that were happening I would agree. But, fuzzy lingo is not helpful and lazy. Spin means we hide. Please be clear.
      Rich Kirkpatrick
      http://rkweblog.com

  4. I agree with a lot of what you say about what ‘religion’ should be to us as Christians. However, I would argue that as a new generation of Christians rise up that we must set our own terms to those definitions. Our theology and practice must remain ‘kosher’ and sacred, our language may need to change as our culture changes so that we can communicate clearly to a secular world about sacred things. I hope thats clear. Our practice of our faith, or religion should never change, and be biblical. Our language and labels may need to change.

      1. I see your point there, when I normally talk to non-Christians I try to use both more common vernacular as well as sacred vernacular so that they understand what I mean, and also have an idea of the language commonly used. I guess in a way it creates a bridge. I do tend to not like the word religious, but that is more because I feel it relates more to a set of rules, regulations and rituals. I suppose in my own way I do contribute to the problem. Thanks for the gut and heart check!

        1. I think one additional thing I might have put in the post is this.
          The aversion we have as “evangelicals” to using the word “religion” for ourselves is that we intentionally disconnect from our historical roots–pre-twentieth century. Most of those talking with us see what we believe or call ourselves as coming from an ancient religion. They would be correct! At least we are 2,000 years old plus the OT history we share as well.

  5. I agree with a lot of what you say about what ‘religion’ should be to us as Christians. However, I would argue that as a new generation of Christians rise up that we must set our own terms to those definitions. Our theology and practice must remain ‘kosher’ and sacred, our language may need to change as our culture changes so that we can communicate clearly to a secular world about sacred things. I hope thats clear. Our practice of our faith, or religion should never change, and be biblical. Our language and labels may need to change.

      1. I see your point there, when I normally talk to non-Christians I try to use both more common vernacular as well as sacred vernacular so that they understand what I mean, and also have an idea of the language commonly used. I guess in a way it creates a bridge. I do tend to not like the word religious, but that is more because I feel it relates more to a set of rules, regulations and rituals. I suppose in my own way I do contribute to the problem. Thanks for the gut and heart check!

        1. I think one additional thing I might have put in the post is this.
          The aversion we have as “evangelicals” to using the word “religion” for ourselves is that we intentionally disconnect from our historical roots–pre-twentieth century. Most of those talking with us see what we believe or call ourselves as coming from an ancient religion. They would be correct! At least we are 2,000 years old plus the OT history we share as well.

  6. I agree with a lot of what you say about what ‘religion’ should be to us as Christians. However, I would argue that as a new generation of Christians rise up that we must set our own terms to those definitions. Our theology and practice must remain ‘kosher’ and sacred, our language may need to change as our culture changes so that we can communicate clearly to a secular world about sacred things. I hope thats clear. Our practice of our faith, or religion should never change, and be biblical. Our language and labels may need to change.

      1. I see your point there, when I normally talk to non-Christians I try to use both more common vernacular as well as sacred vernacular so that they understand what I mean, and also have an idea of the language commonly used. I guess in a way it creates a bridge. I do tend to not like the word religious, but that is more because I feel it relates more to a set of rules, regulations and rituals. I suppose in my own way I do contribute to the problem. Thanks for the gut and heart check!

        1. I think one additional thing I might have put in the post is this.
          The aversion we have as “evangelicals” to using the word “religion” for ourselves is that we intentionally disconnect from our historical roots–pre-twentieth century. Most of those talking with us see what we believe or call ourselves as coming from an ancient religion. They would be correct! At least we are 2,000 years old plus the OT history we share as well.

  7. Amen! It’s about time somebody said that. BTW, I understand that in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church distinguished between religious and secular clergy. The religious were in monastic orders; the secular were pastoring in the world.

    1. Janet, yes that is true. However, that part of church history really messed us up. The division of “secular” and “sacred” is non-existent. I love how Tozer makes that point.

  8. Amen! It’s about time somebody said that. BTW, I understand that in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church distinguished between religious and secular clergy. The religious were in monastic orders; the secular were pastoring in the world.

    1. Janet, yes that is true. However, that part of church history really messed us up. The division of “secular” and “sacred” is non-existent. I love how Tozer makes that point.

  9. Amen! It’s about time somebody said that. BTW, I understand that in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church distinguished between religious and secular clergy. The religious were in monastic orders; the secular were pastoring in the world.

    1. Janet, yes that is true. However, that part of church history really messed us up. The division of “secular” and “sacred” is non-existent. I love how Tozer makes that point.

  10. Amen! It’s about time somebody said that. BTW, I understand that in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church distinguished between religious and secular clergy. The religious were in monastic orders; the secular were pastoring in the world.

    1. Janet, yes that is true. However, that part of church history really messed us up. The division of “secular” and “sacred” is non-existent. I love how Tozer makes that point.

  11. Amen! It’s about time somebody said that. BTW, I understand that in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church distinguished between religious and secular clergy. The religious were in monastic orders; the secular were pastoring in the world.

    1. Janet, yes that is true. However, that part of church history really messed us up. The division of “secular” and “sacred” is non-existent. I love how Tozer makes that point.

  12. Thanks, Rich, for a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    I think this issue is one of the pendulums that has swung its swing, and is starting to come back to center, which usually results in a clearer understanding of truth.

    When I was first saved thirty years ago it was becoming popular to not be ‘religious’, I believe as a reaction to a dissatisfaction with what was perceived as church life that was stale, irrelevant, and only had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.

    So ONLY being ‘religious’ – not just rooted in tradition, but being like the Pharisees, who made the traditions of men more important than the Word of God – IS a bad thing. But what has been realized as the pendulum swing made the word itself a bad thing is that, as you said, we have a history and traditions that should enrich our experience of God, and not take away from it. And to ignore all that really does leave us culturally poor.

    We understand that we want the life of God, and life with God, and that we don’t want to be Pharisees. But to be truly, biblically, religious should not only be acceptable, it should be our goal.

    Again, thanks!

    1. Wow, thanks. Great thoughts about Pharisees and legalism, Harold. The center is a tough place to land!

  13. Thanks, Rich, for a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    I think this issue is one of the pendulums that has swung its swing, and is starting to come back to center, which usually results in a clearer understanding of truth.
    When I was first saved thirty years ago it was becoming popular to not be ‘religious’, I believe as a reaction to a dissatisfaction with what was perceived as church life that was stale, irrelevant, and only had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.
    So ONLY being ‘religious’ – not just rooted in tradition, but being like the Pharisees, who made the traditions of men more important than the Word of God – IS a bad thing. But what has been realized as the pendulum swing made the word itself a bad thing is that, as you said, we have a history and traditions that should enrich our experience of God, and not take away from it. And to ignore all that really does leave us culturally poor.
    We understand that we want the life of God, and life with God, and that we don’t want to be Pharisees. But to be truly, biblically, religious should not only be acceptable, it should be our goal.
    Again, thanks!

    1. Wow, thanks. Great thoughts about Pharisees and legalism, Harold. The center is a tough place to land!

  14. Thanks, Rich, for a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    I think this issue is one of the pendulums that has swung its swing, and is starting to come back to center, which usually results in a clearer understanding of truth.

    When I was first saved thirty years ago it was becoming popular to not be ‘religious’, I believe as a reaction to a dissatisfaction with what was perceived as church life that was stale, irrelevant, and only had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.

    So ONLY being ‘religious’ – not just rooted in tradition, but being like the Pharisees, who made the traditions of men more important than the Word of God – IS a bad thing. But what has been realized as the pendulum swing made the word itself a bad thing is that, as you said, we have a history and traditions that should enrich our experience of God, and not take away from it. And to ignore all that really does leave us culturally poor.

    We understand that we want the life of God, and life with God, and that we don’t want to be Pharisees. But to be truly, biblically, religious should not only be acceptable, it should be our goal.

    Again, thanks!

    1. Wow, thanks. Great thoughts about Pharisees and legalism, Harold. The center is a tough place to land!

  15. Thanks, Rich, for a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    I think this issue is one of the pendulums that has swung its swing, and is starting to come back to center, which usually results in a clearer understanding of truth.

    When I was first saved thirty years ago it was becoming popular to not be ‘religious’, I believe as a reaction to a dissatisfaction with what was perceived as church life that was stale, irrelevant, and only had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.

    So ONLY being ‘religious’ – not just rooted in tradition, but being like the Pharisees, who made the traditions of men more important than the Word of God – IS a bad thing. But what has been realized as the pendulum swing made the word itself a bad thing is that, as you said, we have a history and traditions that should enrich our experience of God, and not take away from it. And to ignore all that really does leave us culturally poor.

    We understand that we want the life of God, and life with God, and that we don’t want to be Pharisees. But to be truly, biblically, religious should not only be acceptable, it should be our goal.

    Again, thanks!

    1. Wow, thanks. Great thoughts about Pharisees and legalism, Harold. The center is a tough place to land!

  16. Thanks, Rich, for a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    I think this issue is one of the pendulums that has swung its swing, and is starting to come back to center, which usually results in a clearer understanding of truth.

    When I was first saved thirty years ago it was becoming popular to not be ‘religious’, I believe as a reaction to a dissatisfaction with what was perceived as church life that was stale, irrelevant, and only had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.

    So ONLY being ‘religious’ – not just rooted in tradition, but being like the Pharisees, who made the traditions of men more important than the Word of God – IS a bad thing. But what has been realized as the pendulum swing made the word itself a bad thing is that, as you said, we have a history and traditions that should enrich our experience of God, and not take away from it. And to ignore all that really does leave us culturally poor.

    We understand that we want the life of God, and life with God, and that we don’t want to be Pharisees. But to be truly, biblically, religious should not only be acceptable, it should be our goal.

    Again, thanks!

    1. Wow, thanks. Great thoughts about Pharisees and legalism, Harold. The center is a tough place to land!

  17. Love this, Rich. I’ve never had a problem with the word “religion”. I think what bugs people is when you “believe the truth” but deny its power or simply “go through the motions” of church. I think it would be healthy to recover the word “religion” and unpack what it means. Sounds like a sermon series 🙂

  18. Love this, Rich. I’ve never had a problem with the word “religion”. I think what bugs people is when you “believe the truth” but deny its power or simply “go through the motions” of church. I think it would be healthy to recover the word “religion” and unpack what it means. Sounds like a sermon series 🙂

  19. Love this, Rich. I’ve never had a problem with the word “religion”. I think what bugs people is when you “believe the truth” but deny its power or simply “go through the motions” of church. I think it would be healthy to recover the word “religion” and unpack what it means. Sounds like a sermon series 🙂

  20. Love this, Rich. I’ve never had a problem with the word “religion”. I think what bugs people is when you “believe the truth” but deny its power or simply “go through the motions” of church. I think it would be healthy to recover the word “religion” and unpack what it means. Sounds like a sermon series 🙂

  21. Love this, Rich. I’ve never had a problem with the word “religion”. I think what bugs people is when you “believe the truth” but deny its power or simply “go through the motions” of church. I think it would be healthy to recover the word “religion” and unpack what it means. Sounds like a sermon series 🙂

Leave a Reply