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.
Faith 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?