Interestingly, those that were in the church saw it as only negative: “dead, repetition, ritual, legalistic, boring, tradition and rules” were amongst the list of adjectives. This is because often within the contemporary church the word “religion” is used negatively in order to distance itself from the more traditional, and generally declining, churches. You’ll hear statements like, “we’re not religious, we just love the Lord” and, “God’s not into religion He’s into relationship.”
While I understand what is being communicated here and why, this attitude to the word religion is not completely accurate.
The truth is that everything that is good, true and real can also be counterfeited. Those who make forgeries of money, for example, don’t make $7 notes (unless they’re Irish ). The reason is that a $7 note would be easy to pick as a forgery because there’s no such thing. When it comes to money it’s the real notes that are counterfeited – $20, $50 & $100. And those involved in this crime go to great lengths to make their product look exactly like the real thing so that only an expert, who spends years studying the real thing, can tell it apart.
It’s the same with religion: that’s why the Bible distinguishes between true and false religion. In the New Testament three different Greek words are translated “religion.” One means “superstition,” another “ceremonial observance,” and the third means “to love and worship God and to give respect and caring support to others.”
When the people who engaged with our research viewed the word “religion” as negative they were talking about false religion: the superstitious, ritualistic, ceremonial observance that turns so many people off. The positive view of religion is what the Bible calls “Pure and genuine religion” – the kind that loves and worships God while also being respectful and supportive to others.
This is the kind of religion spoken of by the apostle Paul: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:3, 4, 8)
Another Bible writer puts it this way: “If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:26-27)
I understand people being confused when it comes to religion. I spoke to a man this week that said he’d believe in a religion if there were only one of them. Truth is, there are over 20 in the world today, and, in Christianity, there are over 40,000 different groups. The only way to find the true is by studying it – by looking out for the qualities the Bible gives for the genuine article: the kind that loves and worships God while also being respectful, caring and supportive to others.