Is Christianity a Religion, a Relationship or Both?

    In recent years, a phenomenon has cropped up in Christianity that’s defined through the following, oft-heard phrase:

    Christianity is not about religion, it’s about relationship.

    This phrase indicates a split between Christianity as a religion and the relationship with Jesus that all Christians have. The youth pastor, Reid, who trained my husband and me gets really irritated by the phrase above–let me explain why.

    The dictionary defines religion as:

    1. The belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God entitled to obedience and worship.
    2. The expression of this in worship.
    3. A particular system of faith and worship.
    4. A thing that one is devoted to.

    So religion is a system of faith in God who is entitled to our worship and obedience. Add to that definition the pursuit of a relationship with Jesus Christ and isn’t that the foundation of Christianity?

    James 1:27 says this:

    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 by the world.

    What James is saying is that the expression of worship (definition #2 above) that God finds acceptable is to visit orphans and widows and keep ourselves unstained by the world. Pastor Reid wrote once that focusing on the “relationship” only discounts the importance of the church in Christianity.

    When we talk about the “relationship” as the primary entity in Christianity, what we’re saying is that as long as you believe in Jesus, there’s no need to meet with other believers or listen to someone teach on the word of God. If that were the case, then there never would have been home churches like the ones Peter and Paul visited in Acts and wrote to in the Epistles.

    Meeting with other believers in fellowship is important. Other believers provide us with support and encouragement when we’re going through difficult times. We can provide support and encouragement for others. We become a blessing to both believers and unbelievers, and we learn new things about God and His word through the teachings of pastors.

    I’m not discounting the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m simply saying that support of other believers and expression of our worship and obedience to God is equally important as a relationship with Jesus Christ.

    James tells us that faith without works is dead. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the faith part and religion is the works part. To be healthy and whole Christians, we need both.

    What do you girls think about the Christian religion vs. relationship debate? Do you think Christianity is just one, or both?

    Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’ (James 2:17-18).

    Jenn Arman
    Jenn Arman is a youth pastor, freelance writer and blogger. She was born in San Diego, California and raised 2 hours north east in the Inland Empire where she lives with her husband David and their cats. Jenn desires to bring glory to God and a healthy dose of reality to Christians through both writing and preaching. Visit for more on her work. You can also connect with her on and


    1. Christianity my be titled as a religion, but for me personally, it is a relationship. One of my favorite sayings is “Jesus is my Savior, not my religion” and I totally agree with that. He is my friend, my protection, and my daddy. For me, Jesus is not some rule-maker, he is my way of living. I live through him and because of him. Thanks! (:

    2. Some people though get too caught up in the religion thing though. They focus too much on rules and “learn the secret handshake to get into heaven.” It’s not about just going to church, singing a few songs, listening to some guy talk, and then going home. It’s about building your relationship with Christ. I believe that it IS important to go to Church. It’s like a place of refuge from the cruelties and stress of life. It’s a place where you can worship Christ, and learn about Him. But going to Church won’t get you to heaven. It’s true that “Faith without works is dead.” But works without faith is just as empty.

      • I really like how you said “works without faith is just as empty”! That is so true!! I believe that Christianity is a relationship or a religion, it is both these things and more! it is a way of life! it is part of us! no matter what, this will probably be a never-ending debate because some people are against the standards of just religion or just relationship, but in truth, you can’t have one with out the other because God is Love and that’s as simple as it gets. Love IS going to church to worship Him, it IS knowing God and getting to know Him better over time, and it IS encouraging and supporting both other believers and non-believers!

    3. I understand why the relationship phrase came up, because religion is too confusing with too many meanings…I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but recently (after hearing a sermon on “what it means to be a Christian”) changed to calling myself a “disciple of Christ”.

    4. I’ve heard of the phrase “Jesus is my savior, not my religion”. It was on a lot of t-shirts and bags. I don’t think anyone considered Jesus to be a religion, so it’s a bit strange to see. Would that be considered under the same category?

    5. I like relationship over religion because if you truly have a relationship with Jesus and are living the way he calls us to live, you’re probably going to Church too, anyways. I just really dislike some of the connotations that come with saying “religion” or “Christianity”. Especially because so many people go to church and claim to be Christians even though they are far from it. I’d rather be grouped in with people like that.

    6. I believe that it is both, but I think a lot of the reason people dislike the term religion to describe Christianity is because of the baggage that the term carries. A lot of religions have caused people who don’t adhere to them so much pain, that anymore when someone mentions a religion, people immediately become silent and back away slowly. So we tend to back down from the term religion, because Christianity is different than the common understanding of religion. But I do agree that it is both. “Faith without works is dead.” You have to have both.

    7. I think why people say, ” Christainity is not a religion but a realtionship” is because they want it to be more focused on Christ! They want people to see Christ is not a religion, but a relationship!

    8. One way to connect with Christian girls for support is joining a forum, or going to a website like this. I am on a forum, and I love it. But it is a private forum, so you can’t get on it unless your mom is on the mother board, Gentle Christian Mothers. But these forums are great, because you don’t necessarily have to talk about God in every post. You can play games or talk about a book or movie you love, or whatever you want. And then when something happens and you need prayer and support, most Christian forums have a prayer section where you can ask for prayer.

    9. I believe it’s both. Feeling strongly about the relationship part of it is wonderful-unless we take it to mean that since Jesus will forgive us, we can do whatever we want and still be saved. THAT’s not a relationship, that’s trying to use God for something and it doesn’t work.

    10. THere’s a difference between truly being devoted to God and and going through the motions and just going to church like it’s just something to do. God is not a religion, but I guess the act of devoting your all to Him is.

    11. I think that the first phrase in the article talks about what religion has become in this world, not it’s definition, which is why I agree with it. Religion has become just a description and not something that one lives their lives by. Like one may say they are of the Christian religion because that’s what they mark on standardized tests and that’s what their parents believe. Unless they have that relationship with our Savior, their religion means nothing. So in this way, Christianity truly is a relationship and not a religion.

    12. Very well written!

      And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,NOT NEGLECTING to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

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