Is Christianity a Religion?

Is Christianity a Religion? God’s Truth in the Bible

Share:

Is Christianity a religion? The “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship” movement would say no. They associate religion with rules and condemnation. As I understand it, the point of the phrase is to emphasize grace through Jesus Christ and connection with God as the main understanding of Christianity. That it’s a lifestyle not like other groups that our culture has used the word religion to describe them.  For people who believe Christianity is a relationship, it seems like there’s a hostility that almost rises to the level of how atheists feel about the word “religion”. They pit Christianity vs religion. Faith vs religion.

I think the intent behind this phrase “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship” is noble. You do want people to recognize the importance of grace through Jesus Christ and connecting with God and being forgiven by Christ. I think most Christians, whether they like the phrase or not, would agree about that. But what does the Bible say about if Christianity is a religion? I think a majority of Christians can also agree that’s the most important way to know how to understand Christianity.

The Bible on if Christianity is a religion

Does the Bible say, “Christianity is a religion”? To the best of my researching and knowledge, the answer to that question is no. There is no verse that explicitly describes Christianity in that way. But always remember, just because something isn’t explicitly stated in scripture, doesn’t mean it’s not implied. I’ll expand more on that thought later.

Let’s think about another question. Does the Bible say, “Christianity is a relationship”? or “Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”? To the best of my researching and knowledge again, the answer to that question is no. There’s no verse that explicitly describes Christianity in that way.

So with no direct yes or no answer, that would seem to tell us we have to dive deeper to really understand this. First of all, let’s look at all the verses that use the word religion in scripture.

Religion verses

Acts 25:19 “but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own [a]religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.”

Acts 26:5 “Since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”

Colossians 2:23 “These are matters which have, to be sure, the [a]appearance of wisdom in [b]self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

James 1:26 “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not [a]bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained [a]by the world.”

Description of Religion

Now based on the translation that I use, there are only five uses of the word religion in Scripture. Acts 25:19, Acts 26:5, Col 2:23, Jam 1:26, and Jam 1:27.

Acts 25:19, Acts 26:5, and Col 2:23 don’t directly describe what religion is, but James 1:26-27 gives us how the Bible defines religion.

Reading it again, James 1:26-27 states, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our god and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep onself unstained by the world.”

As we can read here, James warns of religion being worthless if one doesn’t control their tongue. He describes religion in purest form as being helpful to those in need (presumably given he mentioned orphans and widows) and being unstained (irreproachable) by the world.

The suggestion in James 1:26-27 also seems to be that religion itself isn’t bad. The bad is the inauthentic practice of religion by not bridling one’s tongue and not choosing to be unstained by the world while still thinking themselves to be religious according to James 1:26. As much as some preachers love to say the Pharisees are an example of religiosity as a bad thing, in actuality, it was because they were hypocrites outwardly displaying righteousness, but not reflecting it inwardly. That was the bad thing. As Matthew 23:23 states, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and [v]cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

(Sidenote: James 1:27 was the ending of chapter 1, and faith in Jesus Christ is mentioned in the first verse of the very next chapter of James. Prior to chapters and verses, these writings were just one full writing without any separation. Does that perhaps suggest James saw no difference between religion and Christianity, but instead, a connection?)

So we see how religion is described in scripture, but how is defined in Greek? For those who don’t know or remember, Greek is the original language the New Testament was written in. So that’s why it’s helpful to know the Greek word used for religion and what it means. It can provide us a more accurate understanding of these words written that were Holy Spirit inspired. 

Thrēskia

The Greek word translated to religion which is used the last 4 verses I listed is thrēskia. Just as a sidenote, in the first verse I listed, the word used there is deisidaimonia, which some Biblical translations translate this to the word superstition. But for the word thrēskia, the meaning of this Greek word is fearing or worshipping God. Strong’s Definition also notes it to mean ceremonious in worship.

Seeing the meaning of the Greek word translated to religion gives us a little more understanding, but the Greek word used for worship might help complete the picture for us. The Greek word that the word worship is translated from is proskyneo. Proskyneo means kiss the hand towards one, or kneel and bow towards one out of reverence or supplication (asking for something). Further definitions state kneeling before someone, but also again indicating out of respect.

I think the key word in these definitions of the Greek word translated for worship is respect. And also in that definition for proskyneo, it notes the respect being directed towards God.

Putting two and two together, or at least from what appears to be two and two, religion is essentially reverence (deep respect) towards God. It doesn’t appear to be defined as rules. It’s just showing and living in respect to God.

So if one says Christianity is not a religion, based upon the description in Scripture and the meaning of the Greek translated words, one is saying that Christianity is not respecting God. Of course none of us who are followers of Christ actually do think that, but to discount Christianity as a religion seems to discount Christianity as respecting God.

Verses on relationship with God

While there’s no verse that explicitly mentions the phrase “relationship with God” or personal relationship with Jesus Christ”, there are verses that perhaps signify some form of intimate connection with God. For example, Christians are referred to in the Bible as sons or daughters of God.

Romans 8:14 “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

2 Corinthians 6:18 – “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.”

Galatians 3:26 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 4:5 “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”

Ephesians 1:5 – He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

John viewed it as loving that God refers to us as His children. 1 John 3:1 states, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” The phrase of “children of God” is used in the New Testament, according to my count in the NASB, 11 times. Perhaps enough times to suggest God views those who practice Christianity with affection like that of one in a close relationship with a person.

Does the Bible mention the word “Christianity”?

While the word Christianity is not mentioned in the Bible, the word “Christian” is a found a few times. The Greek word for Christian is Christianos. In the Strong’s definition, it defines the word as a follower of Christ. The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives this interesting note.

“The name was first given to the worshippers of Jesus by the Gentiles, but from the second century (Justin Martyr (e. g. Apology 1, 4, p. 55 a.; dialog contra Trypho, § 35; cf. ‘Teaching etc. 12, 4 [ET])) onward accepted by them as a title of honor.”

So this term “Christian” was given as a means of identifying those who chose to be worshippers of Jesus. In a way, that connects back to what seems to be the Biblical understanding of religion, which is being worshippers (respecters) of God.

Is Christianity a religion or a relationship?

In my view, the “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship” movement would be better served in just strongly stating yes, I am religious (a respecter of God). Yes, Christianity is religion (respecting God). For one to discredit the word religion, would be to also discredit the sight of God and thus God himself. Because James explains what pure religion is in the sight of God, and if God acknowledges it, it must be acknowledged by Christians as well.

It’s neglectful of God’s word to only tie Christianity to the term “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. The intent is often to try to soften perception and attract more people to the faith. It would seem if in the end a person is that uncomfortable with the word religion where they aren’t even going to consider Christianity, they likely weren’t going to consider becoming a Christian at all.

But we should acknowledge that a part of what Christianity is involves a loving connection with God. He affectionately views us as children once we receive salvation through Christ. And there’s the example of Jesus referring to His disciples as friends in John 15:15. Ultimately though, perhaps the main phrase that should follow “Christianity is” is not religion or relationship, but following Christ.

As always, any questions, comments, or thoughts for further understanding, feel free to leave a response. Peace to all those who are in Christ.

Sources

Biblegateway.com

G2356 – threskeia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB)

G4352 – proskyneō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB)

G5546 –  Christianos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB)

Share:

5 thoughts on “Is Christianity a Religion? God’s Truth in the Bible

  1. I get the gist of what your saying, and in the Letter you are relatively correct, but your argument misses the spirit of the issue.

    Yes to poo-poo religion as ‘bad’ like the word ‘prodigal’ is bad which it actualky isn’t in ‘misguudef’.

    Yes your also right in that many try to use the covet of the word ‘relationship to ‘soften’ their stance your also right…thats just a copout!

    BUT Christianity IS more than religion!!!
    Whilst your not entirely divorced from some ‘religious rites’, the issue at hand is ‘Sonship’ (both teknon & huois)

    Jesus rightly rounded on the Pharisees for their self-righteous hypocrisy! But in John 8:39 he says to them “, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” (As he did)…..
    Jesus was making a deeper point here….that is “the motivation behind what you do shouldn’t be because of rote traditions (which often results in bondage) BUT it should come from a place of KNOWING who you are as ” Sons”/’Children’/’Heirs’……..

    Galatians 4:2-10 makes this poiny very clearly..!!!!!

    If Christianity was just religion then Chtistians are no better than ‘slaves’/’servants’… BUT GOD sent his son so that we would be MORE THAN THAT…we have received adoption as Sons!!!!!! (Sounds like relationship to me)

    Galatians 4:5-6 KJV

    “To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”

    I haven’t seen the youtube vid (pls send the link)…but in d context if how you describe it he may have just mouthed off without proper understanding of what he is saying..

    Sonship (to which we are ultimately moving toward) is HIGHER than religion, because you don’t need any ‘rules’ to keep you in check…you have the very life of the Father in you! And are conformed into his image! To the point that when the creation sees us, they WILL see the father’

    Grave to you.

    1. No worries about the typos, and nice to hear from you again. I agree with your statements. I don’t mean to denigrate the significance of what position we hold before God by stating the description of our faith as religion. We are His children, His heirs, His conformers to the image of Christ, His hiders in Christ (Col 3:3), His partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and so many more eloquently significant descriptions in Scripture of what we represent to God once sanctified, saved, and devoted to living in respect to Him. I probably should have added in my post that when I apply the term religion to Christianity, it’s not to place it in respect with other human traditions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) that culture categorizes as a religion, but to place it in significant standing as the only religion recognized by God, as Col 2:23 seems to state the term self-made religion in respect to all other traditions that God doesn’t recognize as true religion which is faith in Christ. Also agreed that our respect and devotion to God should all come from a genuine desire to want to please Him, and not felt to be done out of obligation, given that God has allowed choice for whether one chooses to live for Him or not. Always appreciate your thoughtful feedback. 🙂

      (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY) <<< This is the link to the YouTube video I referenced in this post.

  2. Thanks for the link…wonderful Vid…golly am entertained by it! Lol!

    I can see how this would be a great pallette for churches to latch unto to draw in the youth & that’s not bad at all (bur supreme irony: it would attract & transfer many unto the very ‘religious system’ of church which he decries! Just saying…)

    Though he makes very solid & scriptural points; your spot on in your assessment!
    There not ‘polar opposites in the sense that he is lyrically portraying 🙂
    Jesus wasn’t attacking religion…but rather
    the hypocrisy of the religious elite! You cant say religion is bad & Christianity is good!!! (The bible means us to observe pure religion)

    Perhaps its just me…but i detect a slight hint of ‘softening’ the stance on sin…..”he cant rise above it…and wont bother trying cos of the finished the work’?)

    (Laughs) Very entertaining & addictive video…can i confess to enjoying it ?:-)

    Bottom line though the ‘errors’ are in the minutiae..and that’s just like adjusting a ships course by 1°…the final destination is well off the mark….

    1. Lol, you can admit to liking it. It’s a very well produced video. I’ll give him that credit. Admittedly, I haven’t watched it in a few years, so maybe I’d have a slightly less rebuking view of it now. But as you noted in your comment about it, the point is still accurate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.