All too often I hear well-intentioned people say that Jesus didn't like religion, that He actually hates religion. Just look at the things He said about the Pharisees - the religious leaders of His day.
Let's see a show of hands if you've heard something like that.
Just as history has been revised by those with a political agenda, words and their meanings have been revised as well. (For example, tolerance, gay, and progressive come immediately to mind.) Many in the church today have accepted the world's new definitions of words. The word religion has been hijacked and redefined to mean hypocrisy, legalism, bigotry, arrogance - you name it, if it's a sinful human attitude, it's probably part of somebody's new definition of religion.
As a result, we sometimes misconstrue Jesus as someone who was opposed to the concept of religion. That's simply not true. He came to confront authorities who had distorted true religion, not to do away with the idea of religion itself.
That faithful Christian, Noah Webster, defined religion this way in his 1828 dictionary:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.
4. Any system of faith and worship. In this sense, religion comprehends the belief and worship of pagans and Mohammedans, as well as of christians; any religion consisting in the belief of a superior power or powers governing the world, and in the worship of such power or powers. Thus we speak of the religion of the Turks, of the Hindoos, of the Indians, &c. as well as of the christian religion. We speak of false religion, as well as of true religion.
When I hear that Jesus hates religion, it reminds me of the tired old line that, "Christianity's not a religion, it's a relationship." That's inaccurate and entirely nonsensical. To say that "Christianity is a relationship" isn't entirely wrong, but it's not the complete truth. The fact is, Christianity is a religion; it's listed among the religions of the world. It's included in any course on world religions.
Oh - and let's not forget what Scripture itself says:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 1:27 (ESV)