Religion, especially in the 21st century, is a controversial word. Many of the issues dominating the world stage are religious in nature. It is a very complex issue. I was making a comment about Paris attacks and the inherent problems with Islam. My roommate quickly commented that it is all religion, not just Islam, that is the problem. I quickly pointed out that Islamic doctrine is very different from Christian doctrine so the problem cannot be with all religions. People often make the remarkable mistake that all religions are the same or can be put neatly under one umbrella. Nothing can be further from this. No two religions are ever the same. Every single ones makes exclusive claims.
Those who study religion are very much aware of how notoriously difficult it is to define. No one definition fits all because of these fundamental differences. Apart from that religion is interwoven into other areas of life which makes it even harder to neatly distinguish. Religion tends to percolate into every nook and cranny, into our very fibre.
When Christians wade into the discussion they are usually of two views. Those who think Christianity is a religion and those who don’t. Unwittingly both of them generally agree that religion is something separate and compartmentalised from other areas of life. The separation of Church and State, of religion and politics, is an export of Western thinking. For the most part, the privatisation of religion is something strange in the history of human civilisation. It is often quiet amusing how people thoroughly rooted in Western thinking speak of religious fanatics. To be sure there are people who abuse various systems of thinking for their own means. Usually, when they speak about religious extremists they are just expressing surprise, or contempt, at how someone can hold a belief so strongly that they don’t agree with. If religion represents the things that are the most sacred in people’s lives, it should come as no surprise that people hold it with unflinching devotion. The irony is in the fact the Western man also holds passionately his belief in science or democracy, going to extraordinary lengths to defend it. He is not immune to what he calls fanaticism in others.
Religious power was often abused, along with many other factors that lead to the dissociation and privatisation of religion in the West. Many Christians look at the baggage of Christianity and other religious traditions and reject the idea of Christianity being a religion all together. They define religion as man using his own means to get to God whilst Christianity is about God coming down to man. It often goes along with an overemphasis on a “personal” relationship with God. It is true that Christianity is different from other worldviews but not every religion even has a concept of God to begin with. Those who do have completely different portraits of God. This gross oversimplification is usually motivated by equal measures of zeal and ignorance.
In Bible times, as I already suggested, religion meant something completely different to what it is today. They did not see themselves in the either/or terms of our modern categories. Christianity was not just a new religion but to them a new way of life that was birthed from the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one event that completely redefines reality. Instead of the Christian boxing himself into narrow religious or non-religious categories, he rather envisioned Christianity encompassing all areas of life. The message of the gospel affects family, society, culture, politics, religion, science, philosophy, law, history, art, all imaginable spheres of life. Faith in Christ is more than a religion yet it does not exclude it.
Every aspect of our lives needs to be evangelised. How we think, how we behave, needs to be affected by the good news. Every thought needs to be taken captive in the knowledge of the Messiah. The purpose of the Gospel is certainly not to give man a religion neither is to develop a private relationship with God. It is rather the announcement that God has started a new creation by raising Jesus from the dead. This new order called the Kingdom of God is worked out in and through the Church. We are the first exhibits of what God is going to do to the entire cosmos.