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The Word Religion

Wow.  Now that’s a loaded word – religion.  Its a singular word that brings so many thoughts, images, and debates to mind when its mentioned.  It is said that in polite company one should not broach the topic of religion.

That is a sad thing.

Because I think we have had it all backwards for a while now. 

I know that the evangelical world shies away from the word opting to use the phrase ‘in a relationship’ instead.  And the secular world refers to the believing crowd as those ‘religious people’, addressing their belief-sets as a way to label them.

Admit it… when you think of the word religion, it stirs up uneasy feelings as well.  Just as  ‘Christian’ or ‘fundamentalist’ are starting to become negative labels in our society.  So what has happened to cause this not-so-new ambivalence?

Here it is… the actions of the self-proclaiming religionist, Christian, or fundamentalist have been weighed against a belief system that the they cannot attain and are, therefore, judged to be hypocritical.  And truth be told, I understand and agree with this judgement.

But I think its time to give the word religion a second chance. And here is why:

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of {our} God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, {and} to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1:27

Confused?  Good!

The word ‘religion’ does not show up very often in biblical scripture, in fact, the underlying Greek word in the above verse only shows up 5 times in the New Testament and is not always translated to religion.  In other places it is translated to ‘worship’.  What is really cool is that in this instance, James is talking about the actions that the people do in the course of living out their beliefs.  Religion isn’t the belief but the actions that correspond to that belief. 

Let that sink in.  Religion is NOT the set of beliefs but the actions that correspond to them. 

James wants to make sure that we understand that AND that there is a way to know how to do it right.  He tells us that there exists a pure and undefiled way of carrying out those actions.  When we think of pure and undefiled we should be thinking about a stream in a forest and how we would assess whether or not we would drink from it.  We would want that stream to be as close to the true source and with little unnatural additives as possible to insure that it would not make us sick.  To point, we would want it to refresh us.

James is making the same point.  If you want a religion that refreshes you then get to the source and and don’t start adding things to it.  In fact, he gives us an example of what that kind of religion looks like.  He mentions taking care of orphans and widows and not being stained by the world.   Basically, he is telling us that true religion looks beyond self and finds the need in other people’s lives.  Not only finds the need but acts to care for that need.  Its all about action, baby!

Of course we can’t skip over the part about remaining unstained by the world. This is not a command to become pious do-gooders that live inside of Christian bubbles.  If you are trying to quench the thirst of someone in need of water you don’t put the person in the water you put the water in the person.  Otherwise you just make the water dirty and the person angry.  We need a religion that is not about reflecting the principles of the thirsty.  That’s what the world is seeing the church as today.  A bunch of johnny-come-lately’s mimicing what they already have and have found wanting.  Its not about the kind of music that we have on Sunday morning or how we dress.  Its not about having a charismatic speaker who could make us cry one moment and then laugh the next.  The world already has those things and they are still thirsty.

They need people to dip some water and carry it to them.  Clean and pure water that quenches the thirst.  They need some people who understand true religion is acting on the belief that Christ loved them so much that they just can’t help but love on somebody else.

So how about you, you ready to give religion a second chance?

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