Have you ever heard this statement?
Christianity is a relationship not a religion!
Yeah, me too. I used to say it, in fact. I used to think it was a great distinction between the empty formalism of the many man-made religions of this world and the true and vital personal reality of being spiritually connected to the one and only true and living creator God of the universe. And in one regard it is. But there’s something troubling about this dichotomy when we stumble upon the words of James (1:26-27) in his letter. Check it out –
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”
James is using a word in this passage found nowhere else in the entire New Testament. In verse 26 above, the Greek word is thrēskos. This word is translated as “religious” in our English Bibles and literally means fearing or worshiping God. If you are a reader of the old 17th and 18th century Puritans, you’ll notice that the word religion is used all the time to describe one’s faithful living out of the Gospel. It’s often a term that simply captures the concept of practical Christianity. Seems to me that this is the meaning James has mind here as well. Never, to my knowledge, is the word religion used to describe something bad and/or in contrast to a relationship with Christ until around the late 1950’s. Of course, I could be way off here, as I obviously have not read everything out there. But I’d say, by and large, this religion/relationship contrast is relatively new.
Given James’ usage of the word in his letter, should we abandon the use of this contrast between religion (bad) and relationship (good)? Or instead, because of the influence of mainline “Christian” denominations that have sucked the vitality out of true Christianity in our culture, should we continue to set a relationship with the living Christ next to the seemingly lifeless religions of this world in which many find themselves ensnared and disappointed in?
What think ye?
A great and related discussion is HERE at Thabiti’s Gospel Coalition page