First, a contrast:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 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 1:26-27)
Is Christianity a religion? The viral video by Jeff Bethke with its attack against "religion" with its (*surprise surprise* NOT!) endorsement by Driscoll's The Resurgence has been making the rounds, and its answer is no. Pitting "religion" against "Jesus," Bethke denounced the outward forms of religiosity, attacking those who partake of the forms of religiosity while not being actually regenerate.
There is of course a certain truth in Bethke's attack against mere nominalism and hypocrisy. Christians should certainly be against hypocrisy. It is certainly not enough to partake of forms without truly following Jesus. The issue however lies with the false dichotomies made by Bethke. Are Christians supposed to choose between forms and piety? Are forms antithetical to true piety, such that those who are truly spiritual do not practice the forms of piety of the church?
The forms of piety of the Church (i.e. religion) that Bethke is attacking are what makes the Church an institution. These include the offices of the church (pastors, elders, deacons), the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) and most definitely church membership and church oversight over its members. They include things like weekly observance of the Lord's Day, tithing/ offering and corporate prayer and worship. Thus, Bethke, in positing the dichotomies he did, is denigrating the Church as an institution. As one reviewer puts it,
See the problem is, Bethke doesn’t mean religion either, but he’s rehearsing a popular evangelical trope, that the freedom that Christians find through Jesus is freedom from structure, organization, and authority. ...
Are there possible hypocrites within the church that merely observe the forms? Highly possible. But does that mean that true spirituality means that one throw the forms away altogether? Maybe they should just join an Emergent "church" and express their own "true spirituality"? Or maybe they should dispense with Church altogether and come together to do works of "social justice," as Bethke seems to alludes to in the beginning?
The fact of the matter is that Bethke is just plain wrong. Christianity is indeed a religion. Indeed, it is more than a religion, but not less than one. One wonders how Bethke can so blatantly contradict Jas. 1:27, but we digress. Christianity is about truly following Jesus, but doing so also though the forms. To disregard the forms altogether is basically mysticism (e.g. Joachim of Fiore), and that is not biblical Christianity.