This week, my friend Brandi Renemeyer is back with a discussion on the often misused word religion for this week’s edition of Word Nerd Wednesday.
“Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar
The dictionary defines religion as “a particular system of faith and worship; a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.” It is a word that encompasses almost any description of the relationship between the divine and humans. An ambiguous word that bears the weight of so much more.
There is most-likely no other word more controversial than religion (except maybe politics). The word religion can be linked to the formation of empires and the genocide of people groups. It has inspired crusades, wars, and countless family disputes. It’s far more than a word. It’s an issue. But it also is the very place we often begin the search for hope.
Some have argued that religion is a man-made concoction—a mere list of do’s and don’ts that dictate belonging. Oddly enough, there isn’t a true direct translation of this modern English word found in any Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic texts. Yet, it is a very real experience, a source of hope for billions of people.
If you look at Jesus in the context of His culture, he went against religion with every fiber of his body, defying the traditions and rote behaviors of the religious sect at that time. Human nature is one of habits and set systems, they make us comfortable—and complacent. We, much like the ancients, still like formulas and categories. And we like it when others fit into the confines of similarity.
If it doesn’t fit within the four walls of our expectations, we squirm and squander. Those tied to the religious box seek to bind others in the same way, thus the heavy weight of religion and it’s fall-out with love.
Religious Performance or Acceptance
When God walked with Adam and Eve, when He stood with Moses on Mount Sinai and helped Solomon build a temple, He was defining the Christian religion. But not in the way many have squandered. At first glance, these things looked like lists of behaviors to keep. That box, these rote obligations, was not the reason He met Abraham at the altar, nor why He rolled the stone away from Jesus’ grave. God was threading love throughout our history, He was calling us to belong, not behave.
Religion is founded on either the premise of performance or the acceptance of unconditional love and belonging. While Jesus defied one, he defined the other.
James, the brother of Jesus, was onto this distinction when he penned his letter to the early Christian church. In verse 27 of chapter 1 he writes: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight reign on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
If Then Religion
Religion becomes demanding and binding when it rolls from the mouths of men. Rote behaviors, demanded expectations, become duties and conditions. It’s an external framework designed to mold it’s subjects. If you do _____ then you belong. If ____ then _____. This religion is pride based, built on the foundation of performance.
This man-made version of how to relate to God, how to be a believer, can so easily snare the tongue. Religious people lash out in haste and instead of inviting others into a place of love with their Creator, they force people into a mold. You cannot tell another person how to relate to God. You cannot demand they worship a certain way. This removes the organic, intimate connection that God desires with all of us.
James declares this form of religion “worthless.” In a sense, it nullifies the work of the Cross.
James goes on to say in verse 27:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Religion lived is far more effective than religion preached.
People see true religion when they feel its unhindered touch. In a sense, they see past the religion and encounter God when we simply and wholly love in the same fashion we are wholly loved by God. We’ve received love from Him unconditionally and as we give the same unconditional love to those around us we live religiously.
Worship will naturally flow from that place of unconditional love, behavior will change out of a desire to be near Him. No demanding necessary. No binding obligations required. Religion birthed from the inside out is real and true. It’s where we find hope and live freely in that hope.
Real religion is not obligations bound by rote acceptance. Real religion is based on an identity birthed in love. There we are set free and connected with the Divine not because of doing, but because of being.
Brandi is a writer, speaker and faith encourager. She has served in women’s ministry for over 10 years and has co-authored a Bible study, “A Walk Through Ephesians”, with another due out later this year. Growing up in a non-denominational church, Brandi Learned scripture and encountered God, but was wounded by religion. 15 years later, God rescued her from the brink of extinction in one death-defying moment. Since then she has sought an authentic life with radiant faith. She and her dreamy husband live at the base of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with their three vivacious children.
Linking Up With
For more encouragement please join the discussions on these fabulous blog link ups – Suzanne Eller, Thought Provoking Thursday, Susan B. Mead, Faith Filled Friday, Grace and Truth, Faith and Fellowship Friday, Grace and Truth Friday, Good Morning Monday, Soul Survival, Monday Musings, Rah Rah Link Up, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Wednesday, Women With Intention Wednesday, Sitting Among Friends, Testimony Tuesday, Planting Roots, and Fresh Market Friday.