I remember back in one of my classes at my “Christian” high school where we compared major religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and of course Christianity. “God or divinity is like this in each religion; this is how each religion understands salvation; these are the foundational principles they require you to abide by,” etc.
Looking back, I can laugh at this way of viewing Christianity, but it also makes me very sad because it shows what most people, believers and unbelievers alike, consider Christianity to be – that it’s just another religion among many.
How dare Christianity be called a religion, as if it were even comparable to religions? It is nothing like religions. Some say, “But there are similarities, like believing in the existence of a deity or having a moral code to live by.”
Get this: Christianity is not a belief system or a way of life. And calling it a religion is tantamount to equating it to those things. Because that’s pretty much what religions are.
Here’s the first two definitions of “religion” that I came upon in my dictionary: 1. A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny 2. An institution to express belief in a divine power.
Once more, Christianity is not theology or an institution. Let me highlight some differences between religion and Christianity:
- Religion tells you what you have to do to be saved, the story of the Old Covenant in which it was all about you and your own efforts to follow the Law. But Jesus tells you what he’s done for you to get you saved.
- Religion tells you to do something so that God will respond to you. But the gospel tells you what God did for you and empowers you with the freedom to respond.
- Religion requires you to try to earn your blessings. But Holy Spirit shows you that every spiritual blessings has already been freely given to you.
- Religion makes you strive after an impossible standard. But the bible tells us that Jesus achieved it for us and continues to do so in and through us.
- Religion tries to motivate you through fear. But the Father motivates you in love.
- Religion reduces knowledge to intellectual facts. But the good news is that we can have intimacy with Jesus on a personal level.
- Religion is bad news. But the gospel is good news.
Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion but rather to proclaim the end of all religion. – Robert Capon
Most of you have probably heard this before, but it’s true, so I gladly repeat it: Christianity is not a religion but a relationship, namely a relationship with Jesus. And it is a relationship that affects all our other relationships with everyone and everything in the world.
So why the big fuss over this one word? For the people who don’t know that it’s a relationship. The fact that unbelievers perceive Christianity as a religion rather than a relationship with Jesus is a symptom of an underlying problem among those who claim to be Christians, namely that they themselves do not truly understand the nature of their relationship with Christ. Calling Christianity a religion only perpetuates their misunderstanding. We end up with a bunch of self-proclaimed Christians that in fact do not have a living breathing relationship with Jesus. For most of my life, I was one of those people. And churches tolerate this, acting as if “Christian” is a title anyone can give themselves (instead, in the bible, unbelievers called believers “Christians”; Acts 11:26).
Unbelievers see this toleration and conclude that anyone who says they are a Christian is in fact a Christian. Because it all comes down to having the same set of beliefs, right (cough, sarcasm, cough)?
What people claim to believe is not always what they really believe. You can only truly know what someone believes by how they live. You will know a tree by its fruit. As John Crowder puts it, “Religion kills, but Jesus thrills.” The world knows and understands the first part of that phrase, but they haven’t got a clue about the second. And it’s about time we show it – not just talk about it – to the point where it’s so obvious that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship that it doesn’t need to be stated.
I am allergic to the “Christian” religion and I have two symptoms: anger and hostility toward its lies, and love and compassion toward those who believe them. I encourage you to do yourself and everyone else a favor and never call Christianity a religion again, and to not let other people call it that either.
Religion is not the solution; religion is the problem. There was no religion in the Garden and there will be none in the City. Jesus is the end of religion. – Paul Ellis
By the way, Jesus was the greatest anti-religion dude of his day (and since he never changes, he still is). You can read all about it in the bible. Sometimes you have to upset established religious orders to bring the Truth to light. Ian Thomas sums it up well:
There are few things quite so boring as being religious, but there is nothing quite so exciting as being a Christian!…Most folks have never discovered the difference between the one and the other, so that there are those who sincerely try to live a life they do not have, substituting religion for God, Christianity for Christ, and their own noble endeavors for the energy, joy, and power of the Holy Spirit. In the absence of reality, they can only grasp at rituals, stubbornly defending the latter in the absence of the former, lest they be found with neither!
Here’s a video most of you are probably familiar with, but worth posting:
And finally, for those who, like me, like long but meaningful quotes:
The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious. From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side, by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements-or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behavior-we are all, at some deep level, committed to them. If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both…The point is, we haven’t got a card in our hand that can take even a single trick against God. Religion, therefore-despite the correctness of its insistence that something needs to be done about our relationship with God-remains unqualified bad news: it traps us in a game we will always and everywhere lose. But the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game. – Robert Capon
I’m tired of religion – and to be entirely honest I know of nothing quite so boring as Christianity without Christ. Have you ever tried to start a car without fuel, and there wasn’t a spark left in the battery? Then you will know exactly what I mean, for there a few things more frustrating than the car that will not go. Everything is nicely greased and in its rightful place, and all the working parts move dutifully, but try as you may, there isn’t the suspicion of a kick, the tiniest evidence of life in the engine. You might just as well dump the thing, for the chance you have of getting it to move!…Countless people have stopped going to a place of worship simply because they are sick of going through the motions of a dead religion. They are tired of trying to start the car on an empty tank! What a pity that is that there are not a few more people around to tell them that Jesus Christ is alive. I spoke of nothing more boring than Christianity without Christ, but I know of nothing so utterly exciting as being a Christian – sharing the very life of Jesus Christ on earth right here and now, and been caught up with Him into the relentless, invincible purposes of an almighty God, and with all the limitless resources of deity available for the job. – Ian Thomas