Not religion but relationship

When I was a freshman in college, I have often heard some version of the following phrases from Evangelical Christians:

“Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
“I’m not religious, I’m a follower of Jesus.”
“Jesus came to abolish religion!”

If you are one of the Evangelicals that uses these phrases, please read this post with an open mind. Since you are reading this post, it is assumed that you are a speaker of the English language. The English language, like other languages, has a vocabulary of words with specific definitions. The reason we have specific definitions for these words is so that we can talk about the same thing and understand each other without any confusion. Sometimes confusion results despite our best efforts, but for the most part we are able to get our points across. A good standard among English speakers for agreeing upon definitions of words is through the use of the English dictionary, for example Merriam-Webster. For the sake of the topic at hand, I will here provide the definition of religion from various dictionaries:

  1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

  2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects:

  3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices.

Now I grew up an Evangelical Christian, and even when I was in college I attended a number of “gatherings” of these people who use the phrases listed above. I refrain from using terms like “church” or “worship service” because many of them did not like this kind of terminology, they often used words like “Christian center” in place of church or “fellowship” in place of worship. However, in my experience with evangelicals and a childhood of evangelicalism, I noticed a particular trend among them:

  1. They tend to believe in a specific God, and not just a vague notion of God, they believe in the judeo-Christian God of Abraham, and in a specific histoy of covenants, and they even profess belief in miracles, in the virgin birth and in the divinity of Christ. This satisfies the first half of definition number 1 and all of definitions 2 and 3.
  2. They tend to believe that the Bible is the written word of this God and emphasize the importance of reading the scripture and pray daily in order to know God’s will for your life. The scriptures also contain moral codes specific to religious belief, for example, not to have sex outside of marriage, not to use God’s name in vain, etc. This completely satisfies all of the second half of definition 1, regarding ritual observances (reading the Bible and praying) and the moral code.
  3. Evangelical Christians tend to gather for worship on Sunday mornings or other days of the week, where they often sing songs, and then hear a man talk (usually this man is referred to as a pastor and has had some training and is regarded as a leader in this community of believers) and then read the scriptures together and pray as a group. This further satisfies the first definition on the ritual observances part.
  4. Further, Evangelical Christians believe in the existence of an afterlife, namely in heaven and hell, and that people who are redeemed by the work of Christ go to heaven and those who die in thei sins go to hell.

So by the definitions of “religion” provided in the dictionary, not only are evangelicals extremely religious, they actually have more in common with the major world religions than many are willing to admit. If these definitions apply to you, I would encourage you to consider whether it is truly honest to use the phrase “I’m not religious, I just love Jesus.” To most people, this phrase has a very different meaning than what you are trying to convey.

I have no problem saying “My Religion is Christianity,” while also not having a problem understanding what an evangelical Christian (which would generally include me) means when they say it is a relationship not a religion. They aren’t using a secular, general, definition of religion like in the dictionary, but rather something like “Man’s attempt through ritual to communicate with or appease God.” The idea being that now that Jesus, God in the flesh, has come and sits as mediator between God and man, that the veil in the temple was rent, and we have free access via relationship to God, and it is God the Son Who has appeased God the Father. We now are allowed, individually, to go boldly before the throne of grace, whereas under the earlier religious system, there were hoops to jump through and even then only one individual was actually allowed through the temple veil, and him only in very limited circumstances.

Yeah, we’re Religious.

People who say that phrase; I wonder if they’ve ever read James?

I second this response. Relationship makes sense on all levels although I have no problem with the word religion. Maybe one day if all people accepted the Truth then the word religion may not be needed as it would be recognised as the reality and meaning behind all. But such as things are, religion is a word with meaning that sets apart living with a worldly spirit to living in the Holy Spirit of God. Although largely agreeing with the post quoted, I would say, in response to this sentence: 'We now are allowed, individually, to go boldly before the throne of grace, whereas under the earlier religious system, there were hoops to jump through…’; I see why this is said, but not thinking this is completely accurate, because these ‘hoops’ were due to the understanding available at the time but I have no doubt that holy people such as prophets recognised the loving side of God that didn’t make demands except to act and observe with love. These ‘hoops’ were largely born from imperfect understanding and not from God really making demands which He later would then stopped making.

Right; and I wasn’t slamming or doubting the “hoops” put in place by God Himself for the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Covenant. Sorry if it came across that way. :blush:

I understand what you were saying, I was just following on really, and quoting you to give a nod of acknowledgement to what you said as it would be rude for me not to quote you if you brought certain things to attention. The Mosaic commandments, for example, were commandments of love in order for a more loving community to exist, one which also invites God into account. Maybe it is just the word ‘hoops’, that got me. I think of them as rules born from love. Jesus didn’t just do away with these, He completed the Scriptures and the rules of love in them. Then again, now thinking about it, I like the word ‘hoops’ as we can always dance through the hoops accepting all He gives us with love; they say that to live in the rhythm of God is to live a little dance, so maybe ‘hoops’ is apt (?) :)…maybe hoops are what God gives us to dance His dance of love.

The OP is correct. Even non-denominational churches generally have a written statement of the fundamental beliefs they profess. Although christianity definitely involves a relationship with Jesus, it does fit the definition of religion. It seems that the statement about having a relationship, not a religion, came into vogue during the anti-establishment era of the 60s and 70s. It was a way of showing that they didn’t follow the ways of “the establishment”.

Maybe then, the link between the understanding about ‘relationship’ in Christianity and the evangelical’s angle on ‘relationship’, is the path along which bridges of communication can occur and possibly bind together one to the other, oneday? If I had friends who were ‘Evangelical’ Christians, I would definitely go down this route to see the similarities not differences between what I believed and what they believed. As far as when this evangelical thinking came into vogue, and the reasons why, the quoted post certainly rings true.

I find this to often be a darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation.

Part of it has to do with the surrounding subcultures definition and response to the word “religion”.

In areas where religion is a “dirty word” and people consider it to mean a set of rules and empty ritual that is used by a group to control others, many people who feel their relationship to God is anything BUT that, will bypass the term religion.

In areas where the term religion is a badge of honor showing a commitment, then many people embrace it.

I consider myself religious. I get told by other people I am not because I don’t practice a faith they consider valid and organized, nothing I believe or do will equate religion in their mind. I don’t eschew the term religion, but some are offended that I dare use it.

On the other hand, many of those same people bark in protest when some other groups say they aren’t religious.

Maybe it IS because people won’t agree to use the Merriam-Webster definition.

I think it often comes down to a matter of pride on both sides…does one group want to be “associate” with the other group by including them or excluding them from the set “religious” or their belief set as a religion.

I am aware of several groups in areas I have lived who referred to themselves as fellowships so as to avoid the distraction or “to be or not to be” when people had dissenting views.

I agree. “Spiritual” seems to be the phrase of choice amongst mainly non-Christians right now. “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” :shrug:

My answer just may be; why not be all 3? I’m religious, spiritual, and have a relationship with God the Father through His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. :smiley:

It’s too bad religion has become such a dirty word. Yes there are religions and people’s experiences with religion that have been negative or even dreadful and heinous.

But that doesn’t mean any set of beliefs, rituals and community of like minded believers is the worst case scenario.

It IS a wake up call though, to see just how many people have had terrible experiences in religious communities, It’s definitely worth looking at.

I like that answer very much.

Posting to subscribe to respond later…love this thread!

:thumbsup: Perfect.

That reminds me of a homily my parish priest gave on this topic once. He said religion is like the bones of the body, where spirituality is the blood and muscles. If you just have religion without a relationship, you’re dead inside. All you are is dry bones. And that can’t save you.

On the other hand, if you just have a vague spirituality without religion, then you have no solid structure, and you’ll end up just collapsing into a gooey mess. So just like our bodies need both to survive, our souls need both religion and a relationship to be fully alive spiritually.

I thought that summed up the issue perfectly. There’s no reason to separate the two.

This is wonderful, mind if I borrow it to post on my FB?

I understand the sentiment, though I disagree with it.

Lots of folks have been burned by religion in the past, I can see why they would want to dissociate with it.

Perhaps us followers of religion have not lived up to our job description given to us in James?

Another thing I really love about religion is the sense of connectedness I get from taking part, I feel my place in the larger body of humanity, and a sense of purpose and humility comes with that.

It’s such a clear reminder that this is not about ME, it’s about the entire human relationship with the divine that I am a living breathing part of.

The sense of connectedness through ritual, song, prayer, scripture, whatever it is that a particular religion hands down, is something I wouldn’t miss for the world.

Goodness gracious, I agree with you :smiley:

I don’t understand this post. Religion and spirituality are the same thing. To separate the two would not end up in a gooey mess because spirituality outside of Christianity is pagan worship to demons or an understanding of God far less all-loving and perfect than what we know God to be - a fake interpretation. So we would end up deader than what we were before classing oneself as a spiritualist. I am not sure what your pastor meant by this? Does he mean then that spirituality is belief in the soul and a Creator and religion is belief and attendance in the Church? Can you be more specific?

There was that rap song that was “I hate religion but love Jesus” or something like this. Me in a cheeky mood, always wanted to make a parody called, “I hate aerodynamics, but love airplanes.”

Yeah that rap made no sense. The guy hated religion as much as a militant atheist, but loved Jesus as much as a Jesus freak.

Contradictory it seems to be.

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