What is religion? Part 1


1st November 2020

The Collins dictionary says;

” 1. belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny

2.  any formal or institutionalized expression of such belief

the world’s major religions

3. the attitude and feeling of one who believes in a transcendent controlling power or powers

4.  mainly Roman Catholic Church

the way of life determined by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience entered upon by monks, friars, and nuns to enter religion

5. something of overwhelming importance to a person football is his religion

6.  archaic

a. the practice of sacred ritual observances

b. sacred rites and ceremonies

Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers ”

Taken from; https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/religion

I’m sure that if I was to look at various dictionaries, I would find different takes on the word religion.  This would be a work in itself.   For Christian theology itself this is a very important question.  Secular schools of thought have penetrated every aspect of culture in the West and religions tends to be looked at in terms of comparative lenses. For me this misses the big picture and it does not give respect to the various religions including Christianity.  All the religions are not the same, they are different.  Thankfully for us Herman Bavinck in his ethics goes to great lengths in his explanation of what religions are  and are  not.  I have heard in Christian circles;

“I am not religious because I have a living relationship with God.”

I never really understood this but after reading Bavinck I have a better understanding of the issues involved, and it is time to reclaim the words ‘religion and piety’ for the living Christian faith.  Religion and piety although close are not the same thing.  We will go on our road of discovery looking Our Relation to God at pages 50 – 60.

On pages 50 – 51 Bavinck looks at some definitions of the word religion found from;

1.     Acts of the Apostles 1728.

2.     Zwingli; Reformer

3.     Thomas Aquinas; Very important theologian

4.     John Calvin; Very important theologian and Reformer

5.     Polanus von Polansdorf; (He was a church reformer and translated the first Calvinistic German translation of the Bible).

Bavinck starts with;

 Our Relation to God

As humans we are God’s image and have an innate idea of God.” Never

and nowhere are we independent of God but always dependent on the highest

power. Yet this is not the relation of which we are speaking here. Animals

and plants are also dependent on God. All creatures live and move and have

their being in God (Acts 17:28). Animals and plants also stand in relation to

God. But in the case of humanity, that relation is a relationship and a post or

office.” An animal exists before God in a state of bondage, a human person in

a state of dependence. This peculiar human relation to God we call “religion.”

What is religion?” We are born to obey, know, and follow God. “By this bond

piety, we are bound and obligated to God, and this is whence it received

the name ‘religion’ itself, not, as Cicero thought, from the word ‘reread.’ From Bavincks Reformed ethics page 50 


This is an important context.  All plants, animals and humans have a relation to God, but our relation also has an office and our complete dependence of God.   He then says; “this peculiar human relation to God we call “religion.”” Page 50 

Collection point for interpretations of relgion in various churches

He then raises a general discussion on the nature of religion and he finishes off  with three collecting points;

The following, then, are some features of the Reformed and Lutheran views;


1. In establishing what religion is, they start from true religion and on that

basis determine what false religion is. This is especially the case with



2. The Reformed definition always makes it apparent that religion rests

upon and arises from knowledge of God. The views of Calvin and Sohn

serve as examples.

3 The Reformed maintain that the essence of religion is not abstract

knowledge, but knowledge and activity (trusting, believing, willing



The word religion is not an empty word devoid of meaning.  It is a word that is loaded with connotations.  Bavinck has a lot to say about our understanding of our relation to God.  I am not making anything personal at the moment with this word.  What I can say is that there are subjective and objective definitions for the word religion and also with how knowledge of God and activity were split with the liberal movement.  We have only scratched the surface.  In the next section we will continue looking at Bavinck and, in the end, find a proper understanding of our relation to God.

Ad excursus (An excursion)

It is interesting that Bavinck uses the word office.  Yes, we have a relation to God, and we have a job to do for God as the image of God.  We have a serious responsibility to this earth and as humans we need to take a certain amount of the blame for the mess that this planet finds itself in.  I think we need an ecological theology for this day.  We need to repent of our bad stewardship of the human resources and realize that making money is not the be all and end of all of our activities.  

Why don’t you visit my other blog;  https://weaver1hasonline.international/

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