Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Religion or Faith?

Religion is not the same as faith, religion does not require faith, and faith does not need religion. Sound strange? Read on.

Religion is an organized system of beliefs, not necessarily in a god or gods. Jainism and some Quakers do not believe in the concept of a god, same with some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism. While a belief in supernatural (non-corporeal) is present, the idea of them being gods is not always a part of their beliefs. Jain, for example, believes in life and lifeless objects that compose the universe, and that living objects transit between corporeal and non-corporeal existence.

a61ca28579680e28b853dc24e1b868d8-kid-science-experiments-stem-activitiesFaith is a strong belief in something or someone, and does not require a religion. You can have faith in a spouse, friend, or that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. I have faith that if I add Mentos to a carbonated liquid that I will get an amazing reaction. You actually cannot have faith in a religion, you can have faith in the tenets of the religion, or in the central figure of the religion (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed), but religion itself is a title, not the core of a belief system. Christianity, for example, is a title given to a group of people who believe in the teachings of Jesus, but does not, itself, have a single set of things that every Christian can say they believe, which is why there are thousands of different Christian denominations, each with their own system of beliefs.

Jesus was not looking to form a new religion, he did not say, “Go and make Christians of the nations.” What he told his followers was:

Matthew 28:19-20 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

A disciple is a follower of someone, in this case Jesus. The followers are to do what? Create buildings, pews, another version of the Sanhedrin and the Temple? No, for Jesus foretold of the destruction of the Temple, not to be rebuilt, but to be replaced:

John 4:21 (RSV) Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

Note that he does not tell them to replace the temple with another structure, but that they are to:

John 4:23-24 (RSV) …true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Faith is what is needed, not religion. The greatest of the ancient Fathers – Father Abraham – did not have religion as we understand it, for he had no temple, no building, no set of rules (commandments) to follow, he simply had faith in God. Religious worship didn’t come about until much, much later. God sought a full and direct relationship with his people, that didn’t change until Israel demanded he be replaced with a king. That must have broken God’s heart, sent a piercing sword through it. Here were the people that he loved and cared for, taking them from famine to security in Egypt, then bringing them out a giving them land abundant. Fighting their battles for/with them, hand-in-hand. Now they want to give all that up and have a king.

Jesus came to end all that and restore Israel to what it was intended to be – the people/disciples/followers of God. For a time (The Way) it was like that, then we decided we needed people in authority over us (give us a king!) – bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, and popes. We gave up faith for religion. Jesus leaves us with one question:

Luke 18:8 (RSV) when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?

So, do you have religion, or do you have faith?


Comments on: "Religion or Faith?" (5)

  1. I define “religion” differently. Under your definition, I completely agree with your conclusion. The definition of “religion” I operate under is “a set of practices based on spiritual or metaphysical beliefs.” In other words, I would say, “faith is what you believe, and religion is how you act on that belief”.

    Which is why I believe James can claim, in James 1, that “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 NASB) This supports his claim later on that faith without work is worthless.

    It sounds like, in your definition, religion is the “bucket” your beliefs go into, and “faith” is the “belief” regardless of object. Both seem devoid of action though, and I suspect I’m not getting a great or clear view of your definitions.

    Webster’s definition seems to include both yours and mine in a single statement, which doesn’t necessarily validate either one. I’m glad to read your definition, though. It provides a good context for discussions we have. I’ve really enjoyed them, and your definition of religion helps me understand your point of view better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I admit I use a broad definition of “religion” here in an attempt to encompass all belief systems.

      Works, per se, do not enter into the equation (IMO) because works is not part of either term, but, rather, is the outcome of truly following most systems. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc., all have as part of their teachings the helping and outreach to those in need, regardless of the religion/faith/belief of the person in need.

      As Paul would say, faith does not come from works, works come from true faith. Put another way, people are not saved by works but, rather, works are a sign that faith is flourishing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I supposed my definition may be more accurately called “religious practice”. I refer to these practices as religion because I think (IMO), in most minds, religion is indistinguishable from the practice of the set of beliefs in the “bucket”. The part of the iceberg above the water, in a sense. That’s kind of huge assumption, though.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why I separated the two. Religion, to me, is a set of rules to follow: “don’t eat meat on Friday’s”, “marry only other …”, “go to church every…”, if you don’t follow them then you burn in hell (or whatever the opposite is to your religion’s top reward).

      Faith is not that baggage. Moses delivered 10 rules to follow, then expanded on those because everyone said, “well, what about…” to the point that there are over 600 rules in the OT. Jesus tried to get us back to the basic faith that Adam, Eve, and Abraham had: “Trust that your Father in Heaven knows what is best for you, love him, love each other.” That kind of faith isn’t tied up in a bunch of rules.

      If you follow Jesus’ faith teaching then you don’t have to look through the Bible to see if slavery is right or wrong. Would you enslave anyone whom you loved? You don’t have to ask if murder is right or wrong, would you kill someone you loved? If you have faith you don’t question helping someone else, you don’t ask, “Is it deductible?”, you do it because someone you love is hurting.

      Charities are hurting now because some people only supported them for the deduction; if they had faith (instead of the religion they profess) they would give because others are hurting, and look at the deduction as a nice bonus. One man I knew gave to charity, took the deduction, then donated the deduction as well. That is faith in action (works).

      Peace, my brother.

      Liked by 2 people

      • And there’s so much peace in that, not having to “behave” to be acceptable to our Savior, no fear that some unintended or spontaneous error could erase all He has done for us. We need not worry, and that is a huge blessing.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: