Faith first, religion follows. Faith (belief in God) is more important than religion. Faith should be the predecessor in pre-requisite for religion. Religion follows to fit one’s needs. There is a full array of available religions with many levels of orthodoxy and a wide variety of styles. Religion should facilitate one’s faith.
Also, more important than religion is being a member of a community of believers. In most cases this will be a church. The church/community of believers provides a structure for:
Structure enhances and strengthens these activities. (I won’t go into a justification for that here.) Put simply, “Together everyone achieves more.”
I do believe in Jesus Christ. (There are certainly other forms of faith in God, other than Christianity. Muslim and Jewish faith, for example. This paragraph describes my situation.) I find it very useful to be part of a community of believers. I believe God uses the power of the Holy Spirit through the church. Left to my own devices, I am faithful for a while, but at times I need support. I’ve found the United Methodist Church fits my needs. Our general direction is good. I respect our church leaders’ decisions and, at the same time, realize every decision is not perfect for every situation. I participate in the decision-making process as we precede into the future and chart our course — a course of faith in action.
Religion is an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. These grow out of the needs of the community to do the activities listed above. There are good reasons to have a system of practices. However, the system can be adjusted and modified with careful and prayerful considerations. As pointed out, there are a wide variety of religions available and one should find one that meets his/her needs.
If the practices of the particular religion of which I’m a member do not fit my needs as a growing Christian, then I need to find a different community of believers. (I believe loyalty has value, so I’m not continually looking to jump ship.)
Religion as an end unto itself is probably not good. I can happen that a church gets so wrapped up in the practices, rituals, buildings, and budgets that emphasis on faith development of the members is diminished. This is unfortunate.