Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Christianity IS A Religion, Not Just A Relationship

Time and time again I hear Christians say something like, "I don't have a religion, I have a relationship" or, "Jesus hated religion".

I understand what Christians mean when they say this. They are trying to express the idea that Christianity is different from all other religions— that Christianity isn't about doing a certain list of things or accomplishing so many goals. Christians often look at the Pharisees and call them "religious". Make no mistake about it, the Pharisees were definitely religious people. Christians, however, are also religious people (but in a different kind of way).

Take a look at this passage from James:
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)
Clearly, in this passage, religion is not a bad thing. James is basically saying that there is a lot of false religion in the world, but true religion is this: caring for orphans and widows and keeping oneself unstained from the world.

The word "religion," therefore, can be used in a negative way and in a positive way. There are many false religions, but there is one true religion. There are many man-made religions, but only one God-made religion.

It doesn't make sense for Christians to say that they don't have a religion, but a relationship. Why? Because anyone who isn't a Christian clearly recognizes the fact that Christianity is a religion— and they're right!

Some Christians seem to want to avoid using the word "religion" because of the bad connotation it has in today's culture. This argument, however, has some problems.

The word "Bible" also has a bad connotation in today's culture, should we avoid using it as well?

If you think about it, there are many Christian terms that have terrible connotations in today's culture, such as "holy" and "righteous".

It would be far better for Christians to abandon the phrase, "Christianity is not a religion," and instead explain what makes their religion unique. It would be better for Christians to say that they're the only ones who live out true religion. While it may be true that man-made religion is a cold, dead system of works, God-made religion is completely different.


  1. Kevin, I really like your take on this. It's logical and biblical.

    I've always cringed a little inside when I hear someone say those phrases you mention in your first paragraph, but I couldn't put my finger on "why" I cringed. You've put your finger on it. Well done.

    Terry Rayburn

  2. I think we would be wise to distance the truth (Christianity) from lies (every other religion) as much as possible.

    Though I don't disagree that the english word 'religion', in its traditional definition, is a general term that encompasses Christianity, I think we should, like the apostle Paul wrote (and taught by example), do whatever necessary to reach the lost - to become all things to all people, preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If that means we ditch a word such as religion, a word that elicits anger and disgust to almost all faithless people (giving us three strikes before we even get to the plate), I say so be it.

    So I will continue to reach out to a dying world by exalting Christ and decrying religion... not because Christianity is not a religion by definition, but because the world has twisted that definition to include such things as 'induces war', 'justifies heinous acts', 'requires blind faith', and 'is demonstrated by rituals and traditions'. These definitions don't accurately portray the purity of Jesus Christ in my humble opinion.

    God bless you all.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Chris K.

  3. I have to agree with you. The relegation of the word "religion" to the refuse heap is frankly disingenuous. This line of evangelism, which is what it is, was used in the '70's as a means to suggest that rituals in Christianity were the result of man-made defiance of God to delude people away from true faith in Christ. If you were religious you could not possibly know God, because, like the Pharisees (as you pointed out) were religious too. To know God, by implication, would mean to not have rituals or the structures of Church. I used to believe this. I no longer do. Religion is an appropriate word for what the Christian does. The whole argument is like saying I believe in George Bush and all he has to offer but I don't believe in politics. It doesn't follow.