Word of the Week: Faith vs Religion

By Rev. Mike Patterson, Gift of Grace Lutheran Church

You may have heard the phrase, faith is easy, religion is hard.

I think there is much truth in that statement and have for a long time. I know what I believe about my faith. I believe that Jesus is God from birth to death and after. I believe in the Trinity. I believe in the real presence in the Sacrament of Communion. I believe in justification by grace alone. I believe that God loves me.

I can make all those statements without hesitation and those represent my relationship to our God.

As a minister I am currently serving at Gift of Grace Lutheran Church under an agreement from my Episcopal and Lutheran bishops. Religion is already getting a little vague in my life in this crossover agreement. The two denominations are in what we call full Communion so we think very much alike in the essentials. And yet….. There are a few slight differences in our traditions that make me stop and think about where I am at the time.

Denominations can cause crises in faith. I remind my confirmation students that if someone asks what religion we are, the answer is Christian. We practice our faith as Lutherans. I remind them that there are many denominations of Christian. Whether you are Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Assembly of God, or non-denominational, we are all a group of Christians worshiping the same God.

When the Christian clergy get together in Fernley we all agree on Jesus, but it goes in many directions from there. It is the practices that set us apart. It is the misunderstandings that can cause disagreement. It is our failure to understand each other that is the obstacle. It is religion that separates us.

Do I agree with everything my denominations teach…on the record…absolutely. Off the record…I am challenged by some of our positions and I think that is true of everyone no matter how you practice your faith. Liberal, conservative, orthodox, new age…we Christians have been challenged about how we practice our religion since the beginning. We had wars lasting a hundred years between Catholics and Protestants over who had the “correct” form of Christianity.

Of course this religious disharmony didn’t just happen in Europe. We can’t forget the Crusades. Not only did the Crusaders kill every Muslim they could find, but Jews and Orthodox Christians as well. All in the name of religion. We Christians are hardly alone in fighting over religion, Muslims, Jews, and the Orthodox also argue that their form of faith is the only “correct” way to worship God. About the only thing they can agree on is that Christians in the west have it wrong.

Faith is who we are in a relationship to the Creator, religion is how we express that faith. I believe that too often our religion can get in the way of our faith.

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