There seems to be a trend I have noticed in Christian circles and that is the dichotomizing religion and relationship as if the two were mutually exclusive. It really depends on what you mean by the term religion. Are we merely referring to the collective set of practices and beliefs that pertain to our faith in a supernatural being particularly, the Eternal Godhead, or are we referring to the Pharisaic self-righteous traditions that Jesus so sternly rebuked. The latter is diametrically opposed to the Christian faith but, exclusion of the former is utterly ruinous to the relationship that is sought after in the first place.
English Standard Version (ESV)
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.
1 Peter 2:9
New King James Version (NKJV)
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
As one can note, our faith and relationship definitely have religion undertones that should not be overlooked. We are plainly called to be royal priesthood. That seems like a religious office to me and, by religious, I mean religion as defined by the 1828 Webster’s dictionary and not today’s less concise definition. Allow me to show you the difference.
According to the current definition:
Definition of RELIGION
a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year ofreligion>
b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3:archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary:
RELIGION, n. relij’on. [L. religio, from religo, to bind anew; re and ligo, to bind. This word seems originally to have signified an oath or vow to the gods, or the obligation of such an oath or vow, which was held very sacred by the Romans.]1. Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.
2. Religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. James 1.
3. Religion, as distinct from virtue, or morality, consists in the performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience to his will. Hence we often speak of religion and virtue, as different branches of one system, or the duties of the first and second tables of the law.
Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.
4. Any system of faith and worship. In this sense, religion comprehends the belief and worship of pagans and Mohammedans, as well as of christians; any religion consisting in the belief of a superior power or powers governing the world, and in the worship of such power or powers. Thus we speak of the religion of the Turks, of the Hindoos, of the Indians, &c. as well as of the christian religion. We speak of false religion, as well as of true religion.
5. The rites of religion; in the plural.
As you can see, the two definitions are very different. Sidenote: If you are seeking more biblical definitions of words, go with the 1828 in my opinion.
What can we gather from all this? I will sum it up quite simply. Religion should not be treated as a bad word, in fact, we should be careful not to contribute to the negative connotations of the word. I cringe every time I hear it. The truth is that our relationship with God is incomplete without religion.