I would disagree with this idea. Religion is defined as; “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.” (dictionary.com) Technically speaking Christianity is a religion.
The way I would phrase this cliché is: “Christianity is a religion that is experienced through relationship.”
We see this in the two great commands of Christianity: “And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31; NLT)
In many religions the most important things are doctrine and ritual. You need to believe the right thing and you to follow the right traditions. The most important thing in Christianity is the way we love. That is what the apostle Paul clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 13. We can have all the truth in the universe, but if we don’t love that truth means nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, correct doctrine is necessary, and our traditions are very important, but to focus on these things makes us religious, not Christian. Our religion must begin with our relationship with God, which flows into our relationships with other Christians, which then spills out in sacrificial service to the world. As James 1:27 says; Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (NLT).
The most important part of our ministry (the living out of our religion) is our relationship with God. Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God wrote; “The constant presence of God is the most practical part of your life and ministry” (Workbook, p. 55).
How do we experience the presence of God in our lives?
I think it comes down to inviting God to be part of our lives every day. Just as we build relationships with people by inviting them to join us in the things that we do, we need to invite God into our daily lives. We do this through prayer, through reading the Bible, and practicing other spiritual disciplines as we learn to trust Him.
This is what the apostle John wrote:
This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. (1 John 1:5-7; NLT)
Here John points out one of the reasons it is important to have a relationship with God. It is out of our fellowship with God that fellowship and unity within the Church exists. This highlights another reason what Christianity is a religion that is experienced through relationship: the Church exists out of our common relationship with God.
Arthur Harrington in his book, What The Bible Says About Leadership, wrote; “It seems that the emphasis of the word ‘church’ in its Christian context is upon the relationship of people to each other, due to their common relationship to God through Christ.”
While the doctrines and rituals of Christianity are important, what gives them significance is the fellowship that individual Christians have with God and with each other. Christians are not united by believing exactly the same doctrines. We are united because of Jesus.
For unity to exist in the Church requires making our relationship with Jesus the most important part of our lives. If Jesus is truly the Head of the Church, then he will hold the church together in unity. I also think we need to pray for unity, like Jesus prayed the night He was betrayed (John 17:11).
Remember our source of unity is found in our common relationship to Christ Jesus. We may disagree about some doctrinal issues, but if we share a common commitment to Jesus then we are family.