Is Christianity a Religion?

christianity a relationship

I’m sure you’ve 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 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.

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 2,000 years of history, we will end up with the  Christianity of Jesus. I am of the opinion that Christianity is actually the Apostle Paul’s baby, and I doubt most of those trying to find authentic Jesus Christianity would really want it if they found it. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus makes it clear what it means to be his follower. Modern day Christians ought to contemplate these verses a bit before they say, I am a follower of Jesus.

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 weren’t unified and shortly after the death of Christ we find a controversy between Peter and Paul over whether a person had to be circumcised to be saved. The early church was made up mostly of Jews and many of them thought it proper to expect new converts to adhere to the teachings of Judaism. As history shows, the 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, completion, or extension 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 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 modern Christian church 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 teachings of the Bible? 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 could anyone know for sure 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 part is vitally important to the rest of the body.

I think it 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? I maintain there is no Christianity without the Bible.It us up to those who disagree to prove otherwise. Show me how it is possible to have Christianity without the church or Christianity without the Bible. From my seat in the atheist pew, the church and the Bible are joined at the hip and each need the other to survive.

I’m sure someone is going to ask why this matters to me. After all, I’m 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 family members do bad things they like to divorce themselves from their relatives and pretend there is no familial connection. But, like it or not, every Christian is connected to other Christians and the crazy uncles and aunts are part of the family.

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 religion, the Church of the Churchless  Christ followers. You are simply doing what Christians have done for 2,000 years, spawning tens of thousands of sects.  If you don’t like what you see start something new. But no matter how much you try, and no matter how often you reinvent yourself, Christianity will always be a religion.

Wikipedia states it 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 will be a religion.

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2 Comments

  1. Scott

    These are also the same people who call Atheism a religion. When you have to keep changing definitions of words or changing which sense of the word you are using, i.e. using “faith” as a form of belief vs “faith” as belief in something, as a way to derail a discussion it drives me crazy.

    A guest on one of the local Christian radio shows was arguing with a caller and said that we Atheist’s need to disprove God rather than the Christian having to provide the evidence. It makes me wonder if it’s worth having the discussion some days. It quite clearly shows that many people consider their Christianity to be “normal” and refusing to accept that it is possible to have any other beliefs.

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  2. Drew Costen

    To be fair, there are a few (although very few) antinomian type of people who I would classify as “religionless Christians.” Granted, it depends on the definition of religion you’re going with, but I would say that Martin Zender and Robert Farrar Capon both fall into that category based on the definition I tend to use (which has more to do with believing one must follow certain rules than with simply being a theist).

    That said, aside from those two people, and maybe a half dozen others, I’ve almost never met anybody who says Christianity is a relationship rather than a religion and actually believes that. Drill them a little harder (ask them if premarital sex or homosexuality is okay, for instance) and you almost inevitably find out they do believe there are certain religious rules they just can’t let go of.

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