Years ago when I was working as a staff pastor at Back to the Bible radio ministries in Lincoln, Nebraska we had a website and programming called notreligion.com. The premise was that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Many Christians hold to this view, especially in the evangelical and fundamentalist ranks. In a sense, I would agree, but with some conditions.
The term “religion” is has some variances in its definition. Religions vary in their complexity, ritual, and theologies. In a sense any set of statements or beliefs about the existence of supernatural beings and phenomena can be called a religion. I would even argue that atheism or agnosticism are religions since they make statements about the nature and existence of the supernatural. I would even argue that everyone is religious to some degree.
From a sociological perspective there are several kinds of religions: panentheism, pantheism, polytheism, and monotheism. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism tend to fall into the panentheistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic classes, as would some forms of Wicca. The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Canaanites, Greeks, and Romans were polytheists worshipping many gods, while the ancient Hebrews gave us monotheism with the worship of one God that led to Judaism, Christianity, then Islam. In all of these faiths there are beliefs about the nature of the supernatural, supernatural beings, rituals, and laws. In all of these faiths God or the gods spoke to people through prophets, priests, seers, or other special people. Christianity fits into the same mold as the other faiths, so by those definitions Christianity IS a religion.
Where Christianity varies from other faiths is the distinction between transcendence and imminence. Christianity holds that the individual believer can know and experience God personally. It is a belief in the imminence of God. Judaism does not have it to the same extent, and Islam denies it entirely, but Christianity IS different.
God is transcendent in Christianity. There are elements about God and His nature, make up, person, etc., that cannot be known entirely by men, because God is an infinite person. A finite person cannot know all there is to know, so an infinite person cannot be entirely known by a finite person, but this infinite God is a God of relationship. This is where the Muslims get it wrong and our Jewish friends do not always comprehend. God has and does reveal Himself to His creation, especially man, since man is created in God’s own image. There is the imminence of God. God sacrificed Himself for His creation. He calls, adopts, redeems, sanctifies and prepares men and women for eternity with Himself so that He can have closeness and intimacy with men.
This IS why Christianity is a unique faith; a unique religion. This is why Christians can assert that Christianity is not a religion. When compared to other faiths, it so different than they are, and because Christians worship the God who is imminent it just does not fit in with the other faiths. It isn’t a religion by those standards, and it is a relationship.Tags: Christianity