Something has been greatly concerning me lately, and that is this idea of Christianity not being religion. First off let me state that I wholeheartedly believe Christians and people who pretend to be Christians cannot earn their way to heaven. They have been born into sin, and they have sinned; and this sin keeps them separated and isolated from God. And living lives that are religious in appearance with all of the right aesthetics will not earn anyone a place with God. There is nothing that we can do to attain our salvation, it has been done by Jesus, for us, through him, so that we might know the father. Without getting any deeper into atonement theology at the moment lets return.
So religion that is dogmatic as described above is wrong, and I agree. Religion is often described as “man’s attempt to God.” But Jesus made this path available to God through his death, not in anything that we have done. Sola Gracia, not of ourselves, but as a gift from God in order to restore his creation, and renew their relationship with one another. Religious practice cannot be justified through actions, we are justified through Christ’s actions. A legal term (for more on this topic visit NT Wright’s “Justification”), deeming us righteous and cleansed of all our sins, though all the evidence against us shows us guilty of death…moving on.
With all of that laid out, I can now present my argument. First of all lets turn to Jame 1.27, “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” The Greek word for religion is threskeia, literally meaning ceremonial observance, religion, or worshiping, as is stated here by James. He is creating an argument, much like the same we are hearing in recent discussions. That is; man’s religion is vain (vs26), listening to the words of God and doing nothing with them, is like looking in a mirror and then going on and completely forgetting what you look like(James 1). He makes a distinction here, but its not the idea of it being a relationship and not religion, but the relationship with Jesus defines our religion. James does not say that Christianity is not a religion, but in fact when practiced correctly it is religion in its truest ceremonial observance. There does not seem to be this overwhelming dualism between the two. What James is saying and therefore and what we are hearing today do not coalesce with one another. So what?
Well, here lies the problem. If Christianity is not a religion and Jesus came to eradicate religion, which is something I have heard some say, then how do we respond? If all we are saying is that you need a relationship with Jesus, is this not the same as saying that all you need is faith, to believe, and to be saved. That is wonderful to have faith in what actually took place those thousands of years ago. But as James continues on in his book, and partly his whole purpose in writing, I will show you my faith by what I do (2.14-19). James argues that faith without deeds is dead, this does not mean he is suggesting we have to work to attain or retain our salvation, but true faith has expression. This expression is what I would define as our religion, also know as our praxis. See if it is only about relationship, and faith in one God and Jesus, then you are no better off then the demons who acknowledge this and tremble (James 2:19). There has to be more. Otherwise, grace upon grace, and freedom to sin, and a whole box is opened and the consequences are endless. So is Christianity a religion yes, the one true religion. Jesus fulfilled the law and the Old Testament and along with that the call of Israel and the religion of Judaism. And transformed Judaism into what we now know as Christianity.
Webster defines religion like this, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of the superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” That is well said, almost ties directly in with James; keeping in mind what I stated in the opening paragraph.
I know this is a popular subject at the moment, but we all need to take a look at what scripture says and have a dialectic coming to an agreement in the middle. And I challenge you to comment and join in this discussion, and as I often say; I don’t have it all together and in fact I am often wrong, but I am on the journey for truth, and I encourage you to do the same. I close with this well thought out quote:
“Religion in its essential idea is a life in God, a life lived in recognition of God, in communion with God, and under control of the indwelling spirit of God. Since it is a life, it cannot be described as consisting solely in the exercise of any one of the powers of intellect, affection or will. As physical life involves the unity and cooperation of all the organs of the body, so religion, or spiritual life, involves the united working of all powers of the soul (Relation to Religion part V,Systematic Theology ,Augustus Hopkins Strong).”