I’m sure you’ve all heard it before. Man gives us religion. Jesus gives us life. True Christianity is not a religion it’s a relationship. Religion kills. Jesus gives life. According to this line of thinking religion is bad and Jesus is good. I have often been told that my reactions and my objections to Christianity are really reactions and objections toward religion. In fact, I’ve been told, more than a few times, that I never had a real relationship with Jesus at all. I had religion but not Jesus.
The problems with this line of reasoning are many.
There is the assumption that if somehow, some way, we can get back to a pristine version of Christianity, first century Christianity, a Christianity that is pure and free from the trappings of 2000 years of history, we will end up with the Christianity of Jesus. (personally, I am of the opinion that Christianity is actually Paul baby)
Is there any such thing as pristine Christianity? Even if we go back to the time of Christ we find division and controversy among those who call themselves Christian. They were hardly unified. Shortly after the death of Christ we find a controversy between Peter and Paul over whether or not a person had to be circumcised to be saved. The early church was comprised mostly of Jews and many of them thought it proper to expect new converts to adhere to the teachings of Judaism. As history shows followers of Jesus were considered a subset of Judaism for many years.
From day one Christianity was a religion. Christianity was not something that was new. It was a culmination or the completion of something that was old. Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament types and shadows. The church, the elect, became the covenant people of God. Without understanding Judaism it is impossible to understand Christianity. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that Judaism was not a religion it was a relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say religion kills but Judaism gives life. Yet, one would be right to suggest that without Judaism there would be no Christianity.
Judaism is a religion and so is Christianity. I realize that some people want to distance themselves from the Christian church these days. The church is a monolithic behemoth full of corruption and there is little within the church that is worthy of emulation. But just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it is not what it says it is.
Who is it that gave us the Bible? Man. Who is it, then, that told us about Jesus? Man. Who is it that tells us everything we know about the church? Man. It is clear that men gave us Christianity. Using the logic set forth in the first paragraph Christianity is indeed a religion. After all, Man gives us religion. How could it be otherwise. If true Christianity is this mystical, I feel it, and I know belief, how would anyone know for sure that that they had the real thing? “Well, the Bible says___________,” yes and that brings us right back to man.
For those who believe in the distinction between religion and Christianity I would ask for them to describe the difference between the two. I. would ask them to tell me what this pure Christianity looks like and where I can experience it. I would ask them to explain to me how they can square the teachings of the Bible with their belief that one can have Christianity without the church.
This kind of thinking primarily exists in the United States. We are a nation of individualists and that’s why we are attracted to individualistic forms of religion. If the Bible teaches anything it teaches that Christianity is a communal religion with every Christian being a part of the whole. The Bible speaks of the church as a body and that every body part is vitally important to the rest of the body.
I think it quite impossible for a person to claim Christianity and reject the Church. Without the church, without the Bible, there is no such thing as Christianity.Since the Church wrote the Bible it is the Church that gave us Christianity. To be a Christian requires a communal connection with a visible body of believers. It has always been this way and it is up to the Christianity is not a religion crowd to show why it shouldn’t continue to be this way.
Feelings and personal opinions don’t matter here. What does the Bible say? (and I maintain there is no Christianity without the Bible and it us up to those who disagree to prove otherwise)
I’m sure someone is going to ask why this matters to me? After all I am not a Christian so why I do I care? This issue matters to me because I write a good bit about Christianity and religion. Whenever my writing gets too uncomfortable for Christians they like to suggest that I am not writing about their brand or their version of Christianity. They like to suggest that I have confused religion with Christianity. When their relatives do bad things they like to divorce themselves from their relatives and pretend there is no familial connection.
I will tell my Christian readers once again, it is your church live with it. When you attempt to have a Christianity without the church you are in effect starting your own new religion, the Church of the churchless Christ followers. You are simply doing what Christians have done for 2000 years. If you don’t like what you see start something new. But no matter how much you try, and matter how often you reinvent yourself, Christianity will always be a religion.
Wikipedia states it very succinctly:
Religion is the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or in general a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
Christianity was, is, and always be a religion.