What do you think of when you think of the word "religious?" If you're like me, you probably have a bit of a semantics crisis when a non-evangelical asks you if you are religious. Let me explain. Growing up in a charismatic church, the word "religious" had a very negative connotation. A person thought to be "religious" was a person thought to be "old-fashioned, legalistic, not open to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit." Growing up with this definition of the word, it was rather strange for me when I finally went to a public high school at the age of 15 and met people who did not grow up understanding my religious lingo. When people would ask me if I was religious, I had to stop and think about it. Given the fact that I was very outwardly religious in the beginning (yes, I was the one who carried a Bible around and wore Christian t-shirts, I did mellow out after a while though), I am certain that it probably never occured to those who asked if I was religious that in my own context, the word "religious" was an insult.
Having had 10 years to sort through my identity crisis, I now ask the question: Why should the word "religious" be an insult? After all, didn't the Apostle James say "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
If we take James' criteria seriously, it takes a significantly moral life to be able to claim that one is religious. Why should the word "religious" have to mean self-righteous and legalistic? I think objections to this term within American evangelicalsim are far more cultural than Biblical. If the word religious or religion means compassion for the poor and an upright life, I hope to God that I get more religious in the years to come. Shouldn't we all?