Candlewax, chanting monks in hooded cloaks with voices echoing off cold-brick walls in monasteries. This is what the word ‘religion’ brings to my mind: monks and monasteries! To be sure, it could just as easily be Muslims and mosques or any others involved in religious rituals in religious buildings. Yes, ‘religion’ is one of those funny words that can mean different things to different folks. I heard one preacher say that when he was converted his mates started saying that he had found religion. But he maintains that he hadn’t found religion. Rather that he’d found his Creator! I would even contend that Atheism is a just another religion! So, what is religion? Is it all about relics and robes, chants and churches and bats in belfies? Or is there more to it?
Let’s dig a little deeper. An on-line Oxford dictionary uses the expected words such as faith, belief and worship of God or gods to define religion. However, it also includes the following: Religion: ‘A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.’ We see how hard it is to nail down a precise meaning for the word religion when we consider the following: Many (but not all) Atheists are greatly devoted to removing every last vestige of God from Western civilization! For example, consider the title of the late great militant Atheist Christopher Hitchens’s book, ‘God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.’ Clearly Hitchens excluded his own form of Atheism from ‘religion.’ So, the question then becomes: What is true religion? True religion is about worshiping God as He is (i.e. Spirit) the way He wants (i.e. in spirit and in truth, Exo. 20:2-8). For Jesus gives the following definition, ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’ John 4:24. Therefore, God is not sticks and stones, lakes and mountains, planets and stars. Nor are these sorts of things to be used as props or aids to worship. Nor should buildings, no matter how ornate. For, when the woman at the well said to Jesus, ‘“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem worship the Father”’ John 4:20-21. None of this is to say that there is anything wrong with donning your Sunday best to worship God in a nice church building, but only that garments and garb, spaces and places are things indifferent. For true religion has to do with greatly devoting ourselves to God. One may feel closer to God in a garden than in a building, but whether in a garden or in a building God wants to be worshiped in ‘spirit and truth’ (c.f. Luke 10:27-28).
Spirit and truth are spelled out in the Bible. For example, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, ‘You worship what you do not know’ John 4:22a. Matthew Henry comments on this: ‘Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion that it is the murderer of it.’ Therefore, true religion devotes itself to the pursuit of the knowledge of God. Jesus went on to say, ‘We know what we worship…’ John 4:22b. Thus, true religion is about knowing God, which includes engaging the mind as to how He wants to be served and to be worshiped.
How is true religion to be practiced? , ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’ Luke 10:27.