religion or relationship?
I’m sure you’ve all heard people say, “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.” Why do people say that? Well, of course they understand Christianity to involve some sort of relationship. By atoning for our sins, Jesus put us in right relationship to the Father. As Paul put it, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). So Christianity does involve some kind of relationship.
But why deny that Christianity is a religion as if “religion” and “relationship” are mutually exclusive? Couldn’t Christianity be a religion that consists of a relationship? The answers I have heard usually involve a peculiar definition of the word “religion.” They’ll say something like, “Religion involves man-made ceremonies and institutions; Christianity is a personal relationship with the living God.”
As I’ve said before in an earlier blog, words are defined by their use. People do not use the word “religion” to refer strictly to man-made ceremonies and institutions. The word is often used to refer to devotion to a high power or spiritual beings (sometimes dead ancestors). That devotion certainly consists of relationships (or at least supposed relationships). By that understanding of “religion” Christianity is a religion. Prayer, worship, and devotion to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ make it a religion by the ordinary use of the word.
The Bible also uses the word “religion” in a positive light, which makes it all the more strange that Christians would object to having Christianity called a religion. For example, in James 1:27, it says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Religion in this context seems to be understood as a practice that exemplifies godly behavior.