bits from bob....

Understanding the Nature of Religion

by Robert J. Young
September 15, 2003
©, 2003, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Have you thought about your religion lately? The understandings of our world are constantly developing, changing, growing. What is religion? How can we define it? Literally, that which binds one back. At the heart of our understanding of religion is salvation, the restoration of relationship with God.
One philosopher has suggested there are six dimensions of religion. While these dimensions apply to religion generally, I am especially interested in the application of these ideas to Christianity. I believe his analysis is helpful as we try to understand some of the challenges we face in today's world.

1. The worship dimension.
This ritual dimension, as it is sometimes referred to, is composed of rites and ceremonies. This is what the believer does, including religious services, prayers, baptism, and so on.

2. The historical or story dimension.
This is often called the mythological dimension, in the sense that there are stories and history that undergird the Christian faith. Christianity has a story dimension, as do individual congregations and individual Christians. These are the foundations of our understanding of ourselves and our position in a longer line of believers in this world.

3. The doctrinal dimension.
Doctrine simply refers to the teaching of a religious community. Doctrine defines and systematizes central beliefs and world view. Interestingly, many Christians define whether another person is accepted or rejected solely in this dimension, i.e. does that person believe exactly what I believe?

4. The ethical dimension.
Religion obviously is designed to change one's life. Moral teachings guide the way in which a believer lives. Some tend to devalue this aspect of religion, and at times it may be possible to be identified as a Christian (or even a good Christian) when there are significant gaps in one's ethical life.

5. The social dimension.
Clearly religion is designed to establish relationships between believers in a religious community, thereby providing support and encouragement as well as the structures and organization necessary to sharing the faith journey. Every church must consider how the social (fellowship) needs of the membership will be met.

6. The experiential dimension.
In this dimension, the believer actively participates in the religious tradition--in worship, fellowship, lifestyle, and identification with the story. Many churches are plagued with people who have accepted one dimension of Christianity but have not integrated religion into their life by experiencing Christianity to its fullest.

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Last updated November 5, 2003.