“Christianity is not a religion, its a relationship,” is a mantra I occasionally hear. The more I hear it, the more I am taken aback, wondering what exactly people mean. Whatever they specifically intend, the implication is that “religion” is something negative which we would not want to be in any way associated with. However, when I look up the word “religion” in the dictionary, this is what I get:
1) the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods2) details of belief as taught or discussed3) a particular system of faith and worship
I am honestly at a loss to discern which of these three definitions cannot be applied to Christianity? Is it not belief in and worship of a personal God, with beliefs and a system of faith? What is wrong with these things? Is Christianity just a “relationship” without reference to “details of belief” or a “system of faith?” Interestingly enough, the church in Corinth were enriched in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:5), had exuberant and passionate worship services (1 Cor. 14) and were extremely “spiritual” (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:12). However, Paul understood that if they did not believe in the resurrection (i.e., “details of belief”) their faith was useless. Furthermore, he asserted that there needed to be “order” in their worship services. In Paul’s mind, it was not enough for the Corinthians to “have a relationship with Jesus,” they also needed what the dictionary defines as “religion.”
When Christians use the term “religion” pejoratively is such a manner, they generally do not mean any of the definitions used in the dictionary. This means they are using a standard word in a non-standard or technical manner. Religion has become for them a jargon word meaning everything (or something) they dislike about how the last generation (or last sixty generations, or some other group) has practiced Christianity. It often has different meanings for different people. For some it means traditional styles of music or traditional religious language (“thee,” “thou,” etc.). For others it refers to structured patterns of liturgy and worship in which the people say and do certain things at certain specified times. For others, it means fixed and rigid rules for behavior. Still others speak of it as referring to a system of “earning your salvation,” and by this meaning doing enough good works to get into heaven. In none of these cases does it actually mean fundamentally what “religion” means. It only refers to someone else’s religion that the speaker doesn’t like. Everyone has a religion whether they think so or not. One’s religion may be atheism, but that is still their belief about God. Everyone has systems of belief or practice whether they use a historic liturgy to shape worship or think everything in worship is spontaneous (even though the “spontaneity” routinely uses the same limited set of elements).Read the rest here.