Christianity is a Religion

boBo Hutches is currently serving as an Associate Pastor at Living Water Bible Fellowship in Alamosa, Colorado. Originally from Springfield, CO he made his way to Alamosa to study at Adams State University. While he was pursuing his studies, he began to feel the call to pastoral ministry. Plugging into the college ministry that Living Water offered he continued to pursue this call by stepping into a student-led leadership role for the ministry. The college ministry allowed him to be more fully integrated with the Living Water congregation at large, a congregation he began to know and love more and more, until the church decided to bring him on staff to continue to pursue the pastoral call through many specific pastoral opportunities including, preaching, teaching, discipleship, counseling, leadership development, and directing the Community Group ministry at Living Water.

In his spare time, he enjoys the spending time with his girlfriend, hanging out with friends, regularly visiting the local coffee shops and taking advantage of the many outdoor activities Alamosa has to offer.

Christianity is a Religion

If you were raised in contemporary Christian culture like me, you probably hate that word, “religion.” I hated that word when I first came to faith in Jesus. That word for me was tantamount to blasphemy. Today, when a Christian says this word it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, a feeling of guilt momentarily overshadows the soul, and a commitment is made to not say the “R-word” again. I hated the word religion, especially when it was placed in close proximity to “Christianity.”Anytime the words “Christian religion” came across the news or in conversation, I would quickly protest or explain, “Well, Christianity is really more of a relationship and not so much a religion.”

The intention behind the protest is correct in that I wanted to distinguish the Christian faith from that of Roman Catholicism, or Mormonism, or Pharisaism. I wanted to communicate that biblical Christianity is unique in its teaching of how a sinner is reconciled to a holy God. Sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and our religious deeds merit nothing before this holy God. In my thinking, to be religious was to be self-righteous, stuffy, and a slave to traditions. I certainly did not want myself nor my faith to be associated with that. The intention was right; the response was wrong.

James tells us that,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

There it is, right there in the Bible. That cursed R-word. Surely it’s a textual variant, or perhaps the translators were just being lazy that day. Or is it something different? Could that word be there intentionally? If the Holy Spirit has the wisdom and authority to inspire this word, maybe I should be comfortable describing my faith as a religion.

Slowly but surely, I came to realize that it’s true. Christianity is a religion, but it is also a relationship. It’s both.

A funny thing that Evangelicals commonly like to do is make needless, false dichotomies. Our Christian culture is full of them. Street evangelism or friendship evangelism? Hymns or contemporary music? Love for theology or love for people? Both is my answer to these false dilemmas and it is no different to the question, “Is Christianity a religion or a relationship?” My answer: it’s both.

Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ that is expressed in religious exercises.

My relationship with Jesus is not like my relationship with my father, co-worker or other church members, it is fundamentally different. My relationship with Jesus is transcendental and not earthly. He is not my significant other nor my personal ethics coach; rather, He is my Lord and my God.

I don’t meet Jesus for coffee down at my local coffee shop and catch up with what’s new in our lives; I meet Him in the early morning in the confines of my living room, hear from Him in His word and speak to Him through prayer. I don’t call Him up flippantly; I approach Him reverently. I don’t express my relationship with Him by talking about the good ol’ days; the highest expression of my devotion to Him comes through corporate worship with His people on a Sunday morning. I devote myself to religious activities and exercises to express the seriousness of this relationship to Him and to others.

I now see the word religion as old, sacred, and beautiful. As Christians, we should be comfortable using the R- word when talking about our faith. It is not a curse word to be avoided, it is rather a sacred word to be embraced.

Being comfortable with the R-word matters to our unbelieving friends, too. If I am constantly trying to reach my friends with the Gospel, and I continue to stress the one-sided relationship aspect of the Christian faith, what will be their perception when I invite them to my church? We do a lot of “religious” things at my church on a Sunday morning. In fact, it’s all we do on a Sunday morning. Fellowship, prayer, preaching, singing, taking of the Lord’s table, and baptism are all religious activities! And it is supposed to be that way; we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.  

Jesus holds the place of the most important relationship in your life, but He is also the founder of your religion. The Bible holds both of these truths in a beautiful tension, and so should we.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s