True Religion

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

James 1:27

You can find many blogs and books written against religion from Christians and skeptics alike. What I find strange is the self-professed Christians who rail against religion and even claim Jesus came to do away with religion. I understand their sentiment in some respects. Many have used religion in order to divide people instead of bringing people together. Jesus came against such religionists in his own time in the sect of the Pharisees.

No matter their sentiment I am frustrated they have thrown out the word “religion” along with the traditions of those who would abuse it. They’ve thrown out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

The reason it frustrates me is the Bible itself uses the word religion, and even gives us what the Lord calls true religion.

James gives us two marks that we can use to determine if our religion is true religion and not a tradition made up by humans. First, we are to visit orphans and widows. Second, we are to keep one’s self unstained from the world.

The second mark, keeping one’s self unstained from the world, is the one many anti-religionists would rail against. It smells too much like what the religionist was preaching. Jesus was consistently preaching against the “holier-than-thou” mentality of the Pharisees. They were more concerned about their holiness, and their traditions than they were about the poor and needy.

That is Jesus’ point in his preaching against the Pharisees. It wasn’t they were too religious; it was that their religion was too one-sided. Jesus said to them, “You… neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These [religious things] you ought to have done, without neglecting the [weightier matters],” (Mt. 23:23).

This is why James, who famously said “Faith without works is dead,” brings together both holiness and charity. What we would consider “religious” (doing holy things) should be coupled with loving our neighbors.

Religion is not bad, in fact, it is encouraged in our Scriptures as defined by our Scriptures.