Many people today would not identify as “religious” but rather “spiritual.” Part of this is a reaction against the nominalism and abuses of organised religion. Part of this is also due to the anti-authority climate of the day, which rejects what Divine religion may require, favouring instead the subjective notion of being “spiritual” as one personally chooses to define it. Picking up on this language shift, either consciously or unconsciously, many Christians will often respond to an unbeliever’s comment, “I’m not religious,” with a “Neither I’m I, it’s not about religion but a relationship,” or “I’m not religious, I’m a person of faith.” Now neither of those two responses, and others like them, are in themselves wrong— I’ve used them myself. However, is religion an altogether unhelpful word?
Religion means: a) of reverence to the Divine, or b) a set of beliefs, or C) to be devoted and zealous.
Not that this alone sanitizes it, but it is a word we find used in the Bible:
Negatively of man-made religion (Acts 25:19, 26:5; Col 2:23) or of mis-guided religion (Acts 17:22).
More positively, though in a form of a warning, we find it used in James 1:26–27:
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (emphasis mine).
Here James is not saying religion is bad, rather he is contrasting a worthless and a worthwhile form of religion, or true religion and false religion.
Historically, to say one was religious was synonymous with saying someone was a Christian. To be non-religious or of another religion was to embrace false religion (just as being “spiritual” does not necessarily mean the “spirituality” one has embraced is positive).
Though “religion” is an unpopular word, I do not think it has lost its value, if clarified. Christianity is a religion, it is a set of beliefs (divine revelation). Christianity is a religion, it is reverence and devotion to the true God. Religion is truth and anything other than the truth is a false religion. Certainly a relationship is central to the Christian religion, without it all that is left is a dead religion, however, it is still a religion and something to be proud of if asked to declare your religion—CHRISTIAN!
So the next time someone derides what is actually a helpful idea, you might reply (either within the church or in apologetics and evangelism without) with one of the following responses. Person A, “I’m not religious.” Person B, “Why not?”, or “What does religion mean to you?”, etc.
Something to think about.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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