Then I’m challenged, “Is Christianity in no sense a religion?”
If “the service and worship of God,” defined by Webster, is an appropriate explanation of “religion,” then by all means in some senses Christianity is a religion.
Hopefully, what we insinuate by these thoughts-become-words is understood against a backdrop of contemporary disorientation when discussing Christianity and the term religion. For you see, with a little explanation, this may be an accurate statement. But how so?
Remember that James once wrote of a religion that is pure and un-defiled and that is approved of by God. “…to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself un-spotted from the world (1:27).”
In the not so distant past, John Stott in his now classic, Basic Christianity, could use the term ‘Christian religion’ with confidence that his readers would grasp his intent. For most of America’s history, we have enjoyed the ability to synonymously use both to define our faith, for in those previous generations, we knew pretty much what someone was insinuating when it was said, “he got religion.”
So to throw every use of the word out of our vocabulary isn’t necessary to come to the same conclusion as Jesus when He voiced His hatred for the Pharisee’s religion (Matthew 23).
Most often when believers in Christ say these words (I hate religion), we are referring to a humanly crafted method of getting to God. In other words, a works-based religion. The “I do something for God, so He does something for me” mythical syndrome.
Man made religions are driven by rules and by performance; these seek God’s approval through self-empowered activities.
When this topic comes up I usually remember the story of the tribal chiefs sitting around a fire with a Christian missionary. They are busy describing how God is seated at the top of a very unassailable mountain peak. Each of their religions explains how they strive to climb the mountain and get to their gods. The missionary then offers to tell them of the God who came down the mountain instead.
We hate religion when it confounds the gospel of Jesus Christ. The story of the God who became a man and rescued His people refuses to coexist with a religion that rewards the efforts of men.
Jesus didn’t come to give us a new religion. He came to offer something transcendently better than religion. He came to redeem His fallen world from sin and death. In this light, Jesus does hate the religion of men for He gives His redemption freely.
Can you think of ways that it could be confusing to others when as Christians they hear us make statements like, “I hate religion?”