There is this phrase that has been going around for a while that I used to buy into, and that phrase is “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship!”. You have to admit, it’s catchy, it sets Christianity apart from other world views and it’s easy to memorize. But, it simply is not true. At least not according to our cultural english use of the word ‘religion’, defined predominantly as |
- The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods
- Details of belief as taught or discussed
- - when the school first opened they taught only religion, Italian, and mathematics
- A particular system of faith and worship
- - the world’s great religions
- A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance
- - consumerism is the new religion
Today, it is quite trendy to insist that Christianity is not a religion, “Because after all, Christianity is true!”. Right, I am tracking with my evangelical pals? But to imply that orthodox, biblical Christianity does not meet the criteria above for the sake of making a point about the personal nature of God is simply rhetoric. “Well, (you might be thinking) if Christianity is just another religion, what makes it noteworthy?”
The Difference is that Christianity is the only Religion that meets its own demands.
Are you tracking with me here? Christianity IS a belief system, it is a set of doctrines taught, it is a pursuit to which one ascribes supreme importance, a set of divine demands… and it also meets its own demands. All religions operate under legal demands (interchangeable with the term ‘moral code’), for example the Jewish faith operates under the law of Moses, Islam under the 5 Pillars, Mormonism under the book of Mormon, Universalism under the law of tolerance and Buddhism under the law of self enlightenment. These laws are sought and followed to attain perfection and meet the demands of the deity being worshiped. And this is purely God designed, human nature in action in this worshiping and working. Paul addresses this ‘ universal theological understanding’ is the religious capital of the day, Athens. in Acts 17, saying|
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,  for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
(Acts 17:22-31 ESV)
Paul here doesn’t dismiss their spirituality, but offer the perfection of it. God did this when he sent Jesus to reconcile man to God on the cross. This happened by Jesus meeting the perfect requirements of God’s law completely and giving the title of perfect to his people ( theologians call this ‘Atonement’). Thus, God has fulfilled his moral, religious law FOR US! The man whom he appointed to judge the world was first condemned and then raised, thus making the Christian religion no work in progress but a finished righteousness and fulfilled law. Paul expands on this in his letter to the Roman church, saying frankly’
 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law (old religion) through the body of Christ (perfect religion), so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
(Romans 7:4 ESV, parenthesis added)
Christianity is the only perfect religion, because Jesus was the only one who was perfectly religious.
So next time you are tempted to say that Christianity isn’t a religion “but a relationship!!!”, consider why you think that and instead of making religion a dirty word, consider that your religion (if you are a Christian) has a moral law so strict that you could never hope to obey it and you have a savior who credits the whole of that moral code freely to you. By grace, through faith, for the glory of God.
So, if really need some catchy rhetoric (I don’t know why you would, personally, I am rather suspicious of all rhetoric…) try something a little more theologically bulletproof like
- “I’m not religious, Jesus was religious for me” -or-
- “My religion doesn’t depend on me”
- …or anything tweetable like that, feel free to chime in on that one.