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?