Yes, Christianity is a Religion

Many well-meaning Christians often say or post on social media, “Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship.” This, in logical terms, is what’s referred to as a false dichotomy—when something is declared to be either/or when another option is available. The other option is that both are true—Christianity is a religion and a relationship, but why do people oppose the term “religion?” It may have something to do with what they perceive to be empty rituals. I’ve heard other people say that they were spiritual but not religious, which I often take to mean that they have belief in deity but do not participate in an assembly of like-minded believers. If you were to ask a group of people to define what the term “religion” means, you’d likely invite vigorous debate. However, in our English Bibles, James 1:26 translates the Greek term threskeia as “religion” as well as in Acts 26:5. The term is translated as “worship” in Colossians 2:18. Religion, therefore, may have entailed the things one did in reverencing a deity, but the ancient people would likely not have understood religion as we do.

One scholar, Larry Hurtado offers this definition of religion, “A set of beliefs and rituals directed towards and/or concerned with deities and as serving to connect people and the material world with transcendence and to give ultimate meaning to life” (2016, 39). Another scholar, Bart Ehrman simplifies his definition, “Religion is all about what people believe and how they behave” (2018, 82). Taking the latter at face value, I would likely suggest that when people reject the term “religion,” it’s because they view it as rituals without a lifestyle that compliments the tenets of faith. That’s to say that Christians can do the right things and believe rightly but live wrongly. In this case, I would agree with the detractors.  

Scripture even rebukes this very notion. In several of the prophets of the Old Testament, there are not a few times that God wishes to reject the worship of His people, and the reason is because they are sinful. Sure, they observe the holidays, sacrifices and offerings, but they cheated their neighbor, exploited the poor, and even worshipped idols in addition to Israel’s God. For these reasons, God rejected their worship and told them to essentially stop worshipping Him because He was displeased with their assemblies. Religion is not just about rituals, it’s also about behavior. One cannot be orthodox without orthopraxy (right living).

Ehrman, Bart. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Hurtado, Larry. Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016.

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