Bill O’Reilly has said many interesting things over the years on The O’Reilly Factor. His statement, “the tides go in, the tides go out” raised the eyebrows of viewers across the country during a discussion about American Atheists’ winter billboards with President David Silverman in January 2011.
But tonight Mr. O’Reilly surpassed even the tides. During the November 28, 2012, taping of an interview with Mr. Silverman, Mr. O’Reilly informed the world that “Christianity is NOT a religion, it’s a philosophy.” Really? I’m a former pastor, who served many churches for over 20 years. I would consider myself somewhat of an expert. Trust me; Christianity is a religion by any modern definition. According to my theology professors, Christianity has been and always will be a religion. Every priest, every pastor, every Sunday School teacher, choir member, deacon, usher, and pew sitter will tell you that Christianity is a religion. So where did Mr. O’Reilly come up with this idea? Oh! I know! The tides told him.
Maybe we should educate Mr. O’Reilly. Admittedly, it probably seems strange that an ex-pastor turned atheist is teaching “Christianity as a Religion” to Mr. O’Reilly, but somebody needs to set him straight.
Let’s take a look at what defines a religion, what the Bible has to say about it, and how the early church defined Christianity.
The Definition of Religion—
The Encarta World English Dictionary defines religion as:
- People’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life.
- A particular institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine.
- A set of strongly held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by.
- An object, practice, cause, or activity that somebody is completely devoted to or obsessed by.
Even Encarta knows better than Mr. O’Reilly! Just for the fun of it, let’s look to an earlier document.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines religion in this way:
- Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.
- Religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. James 1.
- Religion, as distinct from virtue, or morality, consists in the performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience to his will. Hence we often speak of religion and virtue, as different branches of one system, or the duties of the first and second tables of the law.
The Bible’s View of Christianity as a Religion
“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.” (James 1:27)
Jesus was not opposed to religion, for the Gospels tell us that He Himself observed the Judaism of his time. He kept all the Commandments contained in the Law of Moses (Galatians 4:4) and worshipped Jehovah every Sabbath in the synagogue.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16; also Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 6:6; John 6:59).
Jesus also made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for major festivals (Luke 2:41-42; John 2:13; 5:1; 7:2-10; 10:22-23) and celebrated the Passover Seder (Luke 22:7-15), a ritual meal complete with written prayers and hymns. Jesus demonstrated that following the Judeo-Christian God constitutes a religion.
There you have it; Scripture clearly teaches that Christianity is a religion! When confronted with this verse, no one who truly wishes to be faithful to Scripture could fail to acknowledge that. Mr. O’Reilly claims to be a Christian, which means he follows the teachings found in the Bible. If he denies that Christianity is a religion, well, he’s in hot water with God.
How the Early Church Fathers Defined Christianity
Throughout the history of the church, not only has Christianity been defined as a religion it has been held by most as the only true religion. The greatest church leaders and writers ALWAYS referred to Christianity as a religion.
The Augsburg Confession (1530) states, “that … one pure and true religion may be embraced and maintained by us.” Article 30 of the Belgic Confession (1561) insists that the church leaders are in place so “that by these means true religion may be preserved.” The Westminster Confession (1646) instructs, “in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto [the Scriptures].” Finally, consider the London Baptist Confession (1689) stating their goal, “to manifest our consent … in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion.” Mr. O’Reilly’s argument that Christianity is not a religion proves that he has not done his homework.
The dictionary, the Bible, and the church all agree that Christianity is a religion. The facts are veryclear from all sources. How is it that Mr. O’Reilly has missed the truth that is right in front of him? Maybe he was too busy watching the tides.