Religion vs. Religion

Religion vs. Religion

By Dr. Joe Mulvihill

So, the word “religion” has taken a beating over the years, or rather, the concept has not aged well. In a rapidly secularizing, materialistically dominated culture, this word is either weakened to an opinion or said to be linked invariably to naïveté and superstition. Even in Christian contexts, the word is almost always expressed as a pejorative one. That is to say, “Christ delivered me from religion to relationship,” or “dead religion is not Christianity,” or “God does not want religion, he wants your heart.”

There is a truth encoded in this bungled expression for the Christian, & a need for general correction to the skeptical expression as well.

First, the modern materialist actually understands the traditional definition and disdains the lack of concentration on the physical, practical world. However, for the secularist to bypass or undermine the enormous influence religion has had across the ages is to court ignorance. There is an undeniable individual and social power to attempting to organize and live by ultimate principles.

Second, for our purposes, or for the Christian. The word “religion” is a basic category of understanding deriving from the Latin. Take this definition from the reliable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
religion as a taxon for sets of social practices, a category-concept whose paradigmatic examples
are the so-called “world” religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism,
Confucianism, and Daoism… The concept religion did not originally refer to a social genus or
cultural type. It was adapted from the Latin term religio, a term roughly equivalent to
“scrupulousness”. Religio also approximates “conscientiousness”, “devotedness”, or “felt
obligation”, since religio was an effect of taboos, promises, curses, or transgressions, even when
these were unrelated to the gods…though the term continued to be used, as it had been in
antiquity, in adjective form to describe those who were devout and in noun form to refer to
worship (Biller 1985: 358; Nongbri 2013: ch. 2). (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, entry “The
Concept of Religion”)

Defined as such, Christianity is clearly a “religion.”
Also, it only takes a moment’s reflection or minimal Biblical exposure to see that Christianity includes clear “rules.” We are even told to obey God’s laws as they are from our Creator to us and are indexed to our nature as creatures. *Even relationships include rules and parameters that make it healthy or even a relationship at all.* So there are significant downsides to this common cliché in Christian circles.

Here is the Biblical truth lying beneath the Christian expression, “no rules, just love God in relationship.” Because of Christianity’s uniqueness in content (i.e. truths about who we are in relation to the God Who is) there is a major distinction. One major line of demarcation between Christianity and every other religious system or ultimate commitment to principles (perspectives) & practices is how Christianity situates the God – human initiative & subsequent relationship.

There are many unique concepts embedded in Christianity about a variety of subjects, but this is foundational and significant. Christ did not give us a list of practices and say, “keep them and then get graded at the end of your life,” every other religion reduces to that. This was Jesus’ main issue with the scribes and Pharisees, reducing God love to just commands/rules and then failing to keep them consistently.
Instead, Christianity begins with God seeking to reconnect with us on a variety of levels BEGINNING with we humans admitting we cannot keep the rules, regulations, parameters, & laws. This is why repentance is crucial to salvation. It is grace alone that saves (Eph. 2) but as Martin Luther’s genius right hand man, Phillip Melanchthon, said “…but if the belief is authentic the grace and faith never remains ‘alone.’” In other words, a true faith bears fruit of repentance and acceptance of what God has done for us through Christ, His Son. So, we don’t offer our inadequate and mixed moral record to God, instead, we use God’s provision in Christ to reconnect and order our loves properly with His power and grace. The rules are then kept in increasing frequency and blessing as we mature in holiness starting from an apex point of
admitting our insufficiency and utter dependence on God!

Let’s be circumspect in our use of “Christianese” as it is not all poor, there is power in summary statements. Christianity clearly is a “religion” when defined by basic categories, but it is also much more than that and the defining, alpha difference is absolutely crucial to understand. We also don’t want to lead people astray as we show them the wonder of Christ’s uniqueness in teaching, identity and theology by posing as if this means we are lawless or antinomian. Christianity is more than man’s understanding of God, and offers something needed and unique…a way to live according to God’s loving plan for us on our way to our true home.
Posted in ,

1 Comment

Josiah - November 16th, 2022 at 10:34am

Great insight!