Is it okay for Christians to be called religious?

by Luke Wayne

Today it is common to hear Christians balk at the idea that Christianity is a "religion" and that as faithful Christians they are "religious" people. In a modern society, there is a general stigma against anything that is called "religion," and among modern Christians in particular there is an idea that the word "religion" is innately associated with only a sort of cold, dead ritualism in contrast to the vibrant and living faith that Christians seek to embody. Perhaps less nobly, some may also associate the word "religion" with concrete rules, ethics, and doctrines that one simply wants to avoid being bound by.

Of course, these objections are typically dropped when talking about something like the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the idea of one's "religious" liberty. In conversations such as these, everyone suddenly wants Christianity to be counted as a "religion" and to be sure that all of their "religious" practices and "religious" convictions are protected under these laws. This strikes at the heart of the matter. All of the objections to Christians being called "religious" people come down to a felt perception of what it means to be called "religious" rather than working from a concrete definition of the word. Objectively speaking, whether one likes the connotations to it or not, Christianity is a religion, and practicing Christians are religious.

 The 1913 Webster's dictionary defined "religion" as:

"The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honor are due; the feeling or expression of human love, fear, or awe of some superhuman and overruling power, whether by profession of belief, by observance of rites and ceremonies, or by the conduct of life; a system of faith and worship; a manifestation of piety."

Thus, any outward expression of love, devotion, or recognition of God is religious. The common refrain "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship" breaks down completely. If one is relating to God in any way, that is by definition "religion." It is simply what the word has always meant. This makes a lot of sense out of passages of scripture such as in James where we are told:

"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).

If you are a Christian seeking to actively love God and love others, this is what it looks like, and this is what God gladly calls "religion." If God is happy to call it such, who are we to argue? There is truly nothing wrong and, in fact, something quite right, with a practicing Christian being called "religious."