"It's not a religion, it's a relationship." - Anon
"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." - James 1:27
I received a comment by a new reader named Angie who asks a great question about the content of an email she received. "I just want to know why Christianity is NOT a religion." Please read the comment. Well, I've certainly heard and seen the top quote above numerous times. It's on bumper stickers, it's in church advertising. Is Christianity, true Christianity, not a religion? This sentiment has troubled me for quite some time, and I always wonder what the motive and reasoning are behind such beliefs. In the second quote above, the bible itself gives a definition of what pure religion actually is.
I think the sentiment that true Christianity is not a religion but a relationship probably comes from an over reaction to very ritualized versions of religion. Some Protestants may use this sentiment to portray Roman Catholicism as simply meaningless rote and ritual without regard for the essence of Christ. This can be applied to other world religions, or to ritualized forms of Protestantism as well. I think I've also detected that for some people, any structure whatsoever in a religion should be shunned, and a "pure" relationship w/ Jesus - as if he were our boyfriend or something - is what God desires for us. It may also be that this idea is a poorly worded explanation for the concept that dead works mean nothing while a living faith being in Christ is the ideal.
Well, I consulted a bible search website, BibleGateway, and Webster's dictionary for the following lists of the bible's use of the words "religion" and "religious," as well as a dictionary definition of the word "religion." The uses in the bible of the word "religion" can be found here (New American Standard version), while the uses of the word "religious" can be found here. And Webster's definition of religion clearly shows in definition 1B that the service and worship of God is a legitimate one, as is a commitment to faith and observance. In the bible's own uses of the word "religion" there are a few references to the Jewish religion of Saul, a reference to man-made religion, a comment about religion in general that implies that if somebody can bridle their tongue then their religion can be true, and finally James gives an example of true religion in the way God himself sees it.
I believe that Christianity is a religion for the reasons shown in the bible's use and dictionary definition. I have no problem with that at all. I think we should shy away from the idea that it isn't a religion, but rather call attention to the differences between forms of true religion and false. Including bumper sticker religion.