Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thoughts on the Claim that Christianity is a Relationship and Not a Religion

The word religion has become somewhat of a negative term in our culture, both in Christian circles and non-Christian circles. As a result, some Christians have sought to distance Christianity from the term religion. Believers will say things like,“It’s not a religion, it is a relationship” or, “Reject religion, embrace Jesus.”  

I appreciate the desire of my fellow believers to emphasize the relationship with Jesus at the core of Christianity.  However, Christianity is, and always will be, a religion. And religion, properly defined, is not a bad thing.1 Religion deals with our duty toward God. What we as followers of Christ should claim is that Christianity is a religion that offers a relationship with the Creator of the universe. We do not trust in our religion to save us, but in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Religion becomes a problem when people begin to trust in their outward acts of worship to save them or their legalistic works to make them right with God.  Our good works are an outworking of the God who is at work in us.

Yes, Christianity is a religion.  Nevertheless, it is a religion that at its core centers on a living, active relationship with Jesus Christ. So Christianity is both a religion and a relationship.  I believe to suggest otherwise is to invite confusion.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Courage and Godspeed,

1. James didn't think so!  "Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27)

1 comment:

Youssarian said...

My understanding of people who try to make a dichotomy between religion and relationship, is that they're trying to distance Christianity from the legalistic and the traditional. There certainly are legalistic rules that ought to be rejected, and traditions that ought not be considered gospel. But people have been bad at doing these things. The "relationship not religion" people seem to be trying to discern out legalism and unhelpful tradition. And while that's a good thing, they muddy the waters by labeling these things "religion" and trying to shun "religion." Thus it almost becomes an emotional reaction.

These people would say, for instance, that "religion" says they aren't supposed to drink alcohol or be in a bar. That's not religion, though. That's legalism and misunderstanding the Bible.

Of course, some people trying to "embrace Jesus, not religion" go to the other extreme and start claiming you don't have to attend church or repent of sins.

Still others include under "religion" any kind of church that has a high liturgy. Therefore they won't go to a Catholic, Lutheran, or Presbyterian service because it's liturgical and has an orderly, "ruled" service style. It has "rules", it's "religious," but Christianity isn't about "rules." Being someone who is Lutheran and feels more comfortable in a high liturgy style, I have to personally disagree with this stance. High liturgy is often the result of centuries of traditions coming together. Many don't like this style of worship - and that's fine. But it's a disservice to those who DO like it to say it's "religion" (in the negative sense) and somehow "bad."