As the old adage goes, one never discusses religion and politics in polite company. Sometimes just mentioning the word religion will make people uncomfortable. I jokingly think at times perhaps that’s why I chose to study religion. But in all seriousness, it’s interesting that now, not only is it a bad word among those who are not practicing believers in Christ, it’s even a bad word among those who proclaim to be practicing believers. It seems a movement has sprung up over the last few years, or perhaps longer than the last few years, where professed followers of Christ choose to completely dissociate and disdain the word religion.
They chose to define their faith as not a religion, but a “personal relationship with Jesus”. That religion is defined as rules, when it’s really all about love, which is found in a “personal relationship with Jesus”. Now I’ve already addressed the Scriptural inaccuracy of the personal relationship theory in a previous post titled “Do you have a Scriptural Relationship with God?”, so I won’t touch on that in this post. But to continue on the word religion, in a highly publicized YouTube video that became a viral hit, a young man chose to go so far as to say he hated religion, but loved Jesus. It’s an interesting tactic that many evangelical leaders and young professed believers have chosen to use as a means of attracting others to the faith of Christianity. But is it a good thing to say one hates religion? What does religion mean according to Scripture? This is information that would be fascinating and eye-opening for many to review based on the Scripture, and based on the meaning of the Greek word that religion is translated from. So let’s review it for a moment.
Now based on the translation that I use, there are only five uses of the word religion in Scripture. Acts 25:19, Acts 26:5, Col 2:23, Jam 1:26, and Jam 1:27. I encourage you to look at these verses yourselves, but to make a brief description; the first two verses don’t directly make a description about religion. The next one, Col 2:23, warns about the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion. Perhaps like a lot of the new age “spirituality” movement that’s going around these days. The last two verses which we will focus on are probably the most descriptive of what religion actually is. James 1:26-27 states, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” As we can read here, James warns of religion being worthless if one doesn’t control their tongue. In its purest form, it’s being helpful to those in need presumably, since it mentioned helping some of the neediest in society being orphans and widows, and being unstained (irreproachable) by the world.
The final two verses mentioning religion in Scripture seem to indicate that religion itself isn’t bad. The bad is the inauthenticity of the way a person lives whilst thinking themselves to be religious according to James 1:26. As much as some preachers love to say the Pharisees are an example of religiousness as a bad thing, in actuality, it was because they were hypocrites professing themselves to be religious in the sight of God when they weren’t, that was the bad thing (Mat 23). As we read James 1:27, authentic true religion and being religious is good, because of its generosity to those most in need, and one doing their best to be unstained by the world. But do we have a definition of the word religion yet? Well, this is where our handy Strong’s concordance can come into play. And for those who don’t understand why knowing the Greek word of what we read in our language is important, it’s because the New Testament was originally written in Greek, so understanding the meaning of these words in Greek, can help us get a more clearer understanding of what was meant by these words written that were Holy Spirit inspired.
The Greek word that religion is translated from in Scripture is threskia. Now what does threskia mean? The primary definition of Threskia is defined as religious worship. It also adds especially external, or that which consists of ceremonies. Now seeing the word religious may not quite help us enough in understanding the definition of the Greek word that translates to religion in our language, but the word worship might help us. Let’s look up the word that worship in the New Testament is translated from in the Greek. The Greek word that the word worship is translated from is proskyneo. Proskyneo means kiss the hand towards one, or token of reverence. Further definitions state kneeling before someone, but also again indicating out of respect. The key words in these two definitions of the Greek word translated for worship is reverence/respect. And also in that definition for proskyneo, it notes the respect being directed towards God.
So if we put two and two together, or at least from what appears to be two and two, religion is essentially reverence (deep respect) towards God. It’s not rules as some inaccurately define it to be. It’s just showing and living in respect to God. We could go into many different forms of obedience and worship described in the Scripture that are ways of respecting God, thus being religious (respectful), but that’s for another time. The point essentially that I’m challenging to be considered in thought, is that if one says they hate religion, or they’re not religious, based upon the description in Scripture and the meaning of the Greek translated word, one is basically saying they hate respecting God. Of course none of us who are Scriptural followers of Christ actually do, but to discount the word religion, is to discount it’s meaning, which is respect of God.
In my view, people of faith would be better served in just strongly stating yes, I am religious (a respecter of God). Yes, Christianity is religion (respecting God). It’s unproductive to hide behind an alternative term such as “relationship” to try to soften perception and attract people more to the faith by means of cultural conformity. Yes, Christianity involves connecting with God, which is exactly the point of saying we are religious (respecters of God). It would seem if in the end a person is that uncomfortable with the word religion where they aren’t even going to take the time to really understand it in the first place, they probably weren’t going to consider Christianity at all to begin with. As always, any questions, comments, or thoughts for further understanding, feel free to leave a response. Peace to all those who are in Christ.