There’s been a disturbing trend in Christian circles, and it’s been around for a number of years. It has ebbed and flowed, but with the explosion of social media in the past half-decade it is not only “trending”, it’s spreading like an epidemic among the evangelical world. What is this trend? It is a war on religion. Not religions, like Islam, Judaism, etc., but the word, ‘religion.’ It seems that the rank and file of Christianity have circled their collective pews (or folding chairs if you lean more to the progressive end of the ecclesiastical spectrum) and have declared war on this unsuspecting term that has done nothing to merit such animosity. Consider some of the artillery volleyed at religion by many a Christ-follower:
- “I love Jesus but hate religion.”
- “Christianity’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.”
- “Religion is about rules. Christianity is about grace.”
- “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”¹
Okay, maybe that last one is a little far-fetched, but one can’t help but get the feeling that the American Church has not only turned her back on the term “religion,” she has become anti-religion, and this should concern Christians a great deal. Why? Because Christianity is not religion or relationship. It’s religion and relationship. Consider the following facts.
In the Bible God’s People Loved God’s Word
What does loving God’s word have to do with religion? Everything! Too often the “religion-haters” equate religion with a list of rules, or dry and boring tomes tucked away on a shelf. An unintended consequence is a message that conveys God doesn’t want us to achieve Biblical literacy. Yes, the meme that says How much Bible we can quote is not as vital as how much we love others has a grain of truth in it, yet it fails to convey the importance of reading and knowing God’s Word. Psalm 119 is King David’s love poem to the law. In it he talks about “hiding it in his heart” and having it as a “lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.” The Jewish monarch sings of how God’s law keeps him up at night meditating and contemplating.
Then there’s the Apostle Paul. His letters are replete with Scriptural quotes and allusions. This author of nearly half of the New Testament books spoke fluent Old Testament. On repeated occasions he used the Old Testament to prove how Christ fulfilled prophecies and how the Church was always part of God’s plan. But Paul wasn’t the only one who did this. So did Peter, Luke, John, Matthew and more. We can add to this accounts of Christians, like the Bereans in the book of Acts, who were commended for not only their knowledge of the Scriptures, but their application of them as well.
While religion may include some “rules” to live by, it also provides structure. Structure is needed for developing a love for God’s Word and the discipline necessary to cultivate such a love. We can talk about being Jesus to people all we want, but how can we know what Jesus would have us do if we are ignorant of His teachings? How can we claim an intimate relationship with Jesus if we aren’t intimately acquainted with His word?
The New Testament Refers to Christianity as a Religion
In fact, it does so twice (I Timothy 5:4 and James 1:26-27). Both times it references Christianity as a religion it does so in the context of caring for others. In other words, the religion of Christianity is caring for (or loving) other people, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. To say that Christianity is not a religion is to take the application out of the Gospel. Without religion, Christianity becomes a car without tires. You have everything except that which puts you in contact with the road. Religion puts us in contact with others. How? By forcing us out of our comfort zones into the realm of working faith. Religion-less Christianity has nothing to compel my spiritually comfortable self to move. The religion of Christianity pricks my conscience, pokes me in the ribs and breaks my heart so that I am propelled into loving and caring for others.
Knowing Doctrine is Important
Perhaps my greatest concern with the whole war on religion is the touchy-feely nature of the Christianity that is being peddled in the American Church. It’s all about how you feel, and what your heart says. There’s very little about engaging the mind. Does God want us to “experience” Him? Yes. But He also wants us to know Him.
We are called to love God. I’m not denying that. But what does that command entail? We are to love God with all of our heart (emotion), all of our mind (thoughts) and all of our strength (actions). When someone says they love Jesus but hate religion they are embracing loving with their heart but rejecting loving with their mind and, as seen above, less effective at loving with their strength.
God not only calls us to love with our minds, but He also renews our minds so we can know His will (see Romans 12:2). God wants to engage us, not only on an emotional level, but on an intellectual level as well. This is why we are commanded to study the Scriptures. This is why throughout Paul’s letters he exhorts his readers to avoid false teachers. Just read Galatians. It’s a verbal smackdown of one false teaching after another. It’s harsh in some places. Paul minces no words. But when salvation is on the line, he can’t afford to. God wants us to believe and love, but He wants us to believe and love rightly. Once our emotions and thoughts are in line with God’s will, then we can put our love into action. When that happens, we are loving with all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our strength.
It’s Time for a Truce
I think it’s time to call for a ceasefire on the word “religion”. Sure, it has some negative connotations, but so does the word “Christian”. Let’s embrace the religious side of Christianity. It has a long and rich history of helping others, building hospitals, starting universities and shining light into dark places. It wasn’t merely “loving Jesus” that did those things. It was “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27) that did those things. A religion saturated in the love of God and a love for God.
¹Just a little shout out to my fellow Star Wars nerds out there!