It's happened a couple times in the past few weeks. I'll be driving along, minding my own business, pausing on the dial to listen to some Christian radio (because NPR is doing its fund-drive month) only to hear a preacher say something like this: Did you know God hates religion? That's right, He hates religion! But He looooves relationship!
Now that's just not right. Somehow in their need to distinguish Christianity from other religions, some feel they must go further (much further) than Scripture goes. Where in Scripture, pray tell, does it say that God hates religion? What is clear in His Word is that God hates religiosity, He hates the appearance, the pretense, the shell of religion without the heart (Ps. 40:6). But to say that God hates religion is flatly unscriptural: James tells us Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jas. 1:27) There it is, God loves religion, good religion.
In hoping to win converts by emphasizing a relationship with Jesus (a valid and Biblical concept), we cannot deny that God has called us to a religion. Following Christ is a religion as well as a saving relationship through the Holy Spirit. We don't need this relationship-only idea to separate Christ-followers from the rest of the world. God does that quite well Himself, thank you. The Christian religion is different, not because it isn't a religion, but because the God of the Bible is a God who forgives (Mic. 7:18), a God incarnate, a God joined to His creation in order to save it (1 Jn. 4:2). Our response to such a God? Live up to the calling with which we have been called - live out the good religion!
Like Islam and Mormonism and Buddhism, Christianity is a religion. The difference is not categorical, it's qualitative. The difference is that following Christ is the right and true religion.