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