I recently tried to make a point with somebody about the word “religion” but I don’t think I was very successful. I’ll try again here.
Perhaps this will come as a surprise to many people, but the Bible is not a very religious book in the sense that it seldom uses the word “religion.” One of the few places it is used, and used twice in two verses, is in James 1:26–27,
“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.”
Those who take the Bible as God’s word take this as God’s definition of religion.
In his Daily Study Bible, William Barclay writes,
“The word translated religion is threskeia, and its meaning is not so much religion as worship in the sense of the outward expression of religion in ritual and liturgy and ceremony. What James is saying is, ‘The finest ritual and the finest liturgy you can offer to God is service of the poor and personal purity.’ To him real worship did not lie in elaborate vestments or in magnificent music or in a carefully wrought service; it lay in the practical service of mankind and in the purity of one’s own personal life.”
Lewis opens his chapter entitled “Membership” in the book The Weight of Glory and Other Essays with this observation about religion,
“No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as ‘what a man does with his solitude.’ It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.”1
In a day and age when culture wants religion kept out of the “public square” and Christians seem less and less interested in participating in a local church, Lewis’ observation reminds me of a passage, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” – Hebrews 11:4.
- C. S. Lewis. The Weight of Glory and Other Essays (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1976), 158.